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Physical Therapy

What is Physical Therapy?

The field of physical therapy (PT) is an ever-evolving job in healthcare. As research enhances the need for and effectiveness of physical therapy, the demand for it grows. Physical therapy started as a woman's only profession due to there being a need for reconstruction aides to help with wounded soldiers following WWI and WWII. In many instances, there is a misconception that the field is male dominant; however, it is heavily saturated by females. 

Physical therapists are movement specialists who focus on not only rehabbing their patients but also improving their quality of life. Physical therapy is big on optimal wellness. Through patient education, exercise, and hands-on (manual) care. There are various settings to the profession in terms of the work atmosphere. Physical therapy has but is not limited to an outpatient setting, inpatient setting--which has subsections of its own: acute, subacute, long term inpatient rehabilitation, sports rehab, neuro rehab, schools, skilled nursing facilities, aquatics, and more. Over the course of the last few years, physical therapists have gained the privilege to work independently of primary care physicians due to the direct access bill. While not in all 50 states, this bill allows patients to cut out doctor's visits and come straight to the physical therapist. 

Physical therapists are responsible for: 

  • Diagnosis 

  • Prognosis 

  • Intervention

    • Notes to communicate with the physicians and insurance 

    • Progression of therapy 

    • Regression of therapy 

  • Outcomes 

  • Discharge from therapy 

Things to Consider When Searching for a PT School:

Doctorate of Physical Therapy (PT) Program Search:

  • Diversity & Inclusion:

    • Diversity is important for many reasons! It is so important to see yourself in your profession. It is very daunting to the experience when you feel ostracized in an already high-stress environment. Especially when you have EARNED your right to be there as well as paying for it. 

    • Look at the school and program's diversity statement, does it align with what you see?

    • Does the program meet the quota for black and brown as well as minority students?

      • Are there patterns in terms of student selection?

    • In what ways do the faculty and staff work to educate their students on the cultural differences and backgrounds of others so that to promote a welcoming non-bias atmosphere?

      • Both as students and future clinicians.

    • ​During your search, don’t be afraid to ask “what does diversity look like within this program?”, “what efforts has this program made in the last 3 years to show your commitment to a diversified student body and administration?”, “what resources are in place to maintain a diverse academic environment, both inside and outside of the classroom (implicit bias training, workshops/ lectures on diversity-related topics, community outreach, clinical rotations, inter- and intra-disciplinary collaborations, etc.)?”.

      • Do not let them use you as a marketing strategy and fail you in seeing through this chapter successfully. 

  • Housing and Location:

    • Location is important, this is a serious commitment you are making in terms of your career, and it is very overwhelming at times. Being close to family and friends is vital. You need moral support outside the classroom and a sense of normalcy. If you can stay close to loved ones it is advised unless there are extenuating circumstances. The location also can be a contributor to the cost of tuition. 

    • In-state vs. out of state

      • Compare and contrast the cost of in-state schools versus out of state schools while also comparing your tuition cost. These figures can help you ballpark what your annual expenses will be, as well as help you decide on which programs you should and should not apply.

    • Living arrangements are not to be taken lightly. Although they are semi-permanent living conditions, your personal space is very important during this time, these are all things to be considered. Do not go into any situations blindly!

    • Estimate your commute! To and from school, it will give you an idea of the daily travel time and can aid in mapping out your study schedule.

    • Roommates

      • Having a roommate can be a great experience or the worse one. You will never know with certainty what you are committing to until you live with the person. Have as much of an idea of whom you are dealing with before signing the lease. Moving mid-semester is not ideal.

  • Cost:

    • Significant factors to consider in regards to cost include expected tuition increase based on the yearly budget, scholarship opportunities, as well as living expenses and cost of living.

    • The average PT education cost is approximately $75k, this does not account for miscellaneous expenses such as books, room/board, small program fees, livelihood, etcetera.

    • Look into scholarship opportunities both within (school's Office of Registrar) and outside the program. 

  • Other Factors:

    • It is also important to explore the structure of the curriculum, program strengths, accreditation, and class-size. In addition to the program overview, the program’s website may also have a student ambassador-run blog addressing various topics for prospective students. Questions to consider in evaluating program curriculum:

      • Does the curriculum seem innovative and/or progressive? When was the last time there was a change in curriculum?

        • Do you prefer traditional lectures, online learning, break-out workshops, case studies, or another method? Does this curriculum offer a learning style that works for you? (Keep in mind that your learning style may change throughout PT school, as this is a rigorous program.)

        • Does the program provide​ hands-on clinical experience and at what stage throughout your schooling? Are you provided with "in-field" opportunities?

        • Do you prefer to work/study independently or to work with classmates on projects? (Programs aim to distribute learning evenly among both methods, but ultimately utilize one more than the other at various stages in the curriculum.)

      • The cohort size is pertinent to the learning environment. Some classes can be as large as 75-80 people and as small as 25-30.

        • Knowing yourself in terms of what works for you is important. Do you do well in big classes or do you absorb more from smaller, more intimate learning environments?

      • When assessing the program's strengths consider the graduation rate, boards pass rate, employment rate following graduation, the average student's income to debt ratio post-graduation, and student retention.​​

Things to Consider

Tips for Prospective Students

Tips for Prospective Students

Once you have decided you would like to pursue a career as a Physical Therapist, it is important to tailor your academic studies, extracurricular activities, and leadership roles toward strengthening your PT school admission application. Below are my top 9 tips and strategies to become the strongest candidate possible.

  1. Make the best and highest grades possible.

    1. Learn your study habits

  2. While GRE scores and GPA are important factors, being a well-rounded applicant plays a more significant role (community involvement, extracurricular activities, work, and life experiences, in addition to academics). Being a well-rounded student works in your favor a little more than the student that is socially introverted but has a 4.0 GPA. Once you finish and start working, your patients will never ask you what grades you received. However, they might need a listening ear as they adjust to their new normal that is associated with their reasoning for being in therapy. Proper bedside manner is the difference between being a good clinician and a great one.

    1. ​Join student organizations that are meaningful to you.

    2. Become a leader in at least one organization

    3. Make connections, build your resume

  3. Stay in consistent contact with your prospective PT schools (at least once per year).

    1. Go visit the programs you are most interested in, this is your future be as proactive as possible. Get a feel for how they run their program, class dynamics, etcetera.

      1. Not all programs have interviews, you would not want your first experience with the school to be orientation day, only to find out this is not the program fit for you.

      2. Meet with the admissions office, ask questions and show interest

      3. Be open to feedback – provide an updated transcript and resume during these informal meeting

  4. Make a genuine effort to form relationships with science professors and academic counselors.

    1. Having STRONG LORs is important—the content of your LOR is just as important, if not more than the title of your reference. Make sure the person writing on your behalf can speak not only to your academic strengths but your overall character. The admissions committee can see your academic strengths from your records. Use the LORs as a way for them to get to know you better. Be sure that your references can advocate for you strongly and positively speak to your experiences.

  5. ​Find a professional mentor (a practicing physical therapist or PT student). Having a connection with someone who has already walked this line is very helpful.

    1. ​Connect with a local PT for shadowing and volunteer opportunities. Get as many observational/shadow opportunities as possible and be versatile with the settings. Make sure that these are experiences you can confidently speak to (bonus if you can shadow over an extended period of time to build a network).

  6. Prep early for the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

    1. Research ways to fund your test prep and test (remember if the score is not what you hoped for, try again. your score does not reflect your capability to do the job.) 

    2. While there are numerous prep materials, Princeton Review and Prep Scholar are great study tools. Some of the practice questions can also be found on Quizlet.

  7. Professional Development

    1. Practice interviewing.

    2. Keep your resume updated.

    3. Begin to draft a personal statement and have your professional mentor proofread it.

    4. Take advantage of research and internship opportunities

  8. Social Media: Be mindful of how you utilize social media. Believe it or not, programs do check sometimes. If you use your social media to follow PT-related accounts and wish to engage with them, be sure to keep it professional (this includes current students, organizations/associations, official program accounts, etc).

    1. ​Social media is a great way to connect with current students as well as prospective students

    2. Some great pages to explore, that connect, promote and highlight Black women and men in PT are listed below:

      1. @ptalk__

      2. @theptspotlight 

      3. @thisptlife

      4. @nabpt

      5. @olu_dpt

      6. @tourdedpt

      7. @ptsofcolor 

      8. @minorities_of_pt

      9. @themultifaceted.dpt

  9. ​The last tip is knowing yourself and your capabilities, this is not directly related to admissions; however, this is more so for life after acceptance. You have worked hard and earned your place. In the worst times, you can and will succeed, the hardest part is over. You have been accepted, now just see it through! Best of luck to the prospective student. ​​​

Additional Resources

  • American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)

  • Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE

  • If you have any questions or looking for a mentor please contact: 

Contributions by: Tiara Cates, DPT Candidate

Additional Resources
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