In 2015, the primary accreditation body for physical therapy programs, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, aimed to set stricter standards for physical therapy practitioners. The determination was made that by 2020, graduate schools should elevate their master’s in physical therapy programs to Doctorates of Physical Therapy (DPT) to maintain accreditation.
Best 15 Doctorates in Physical Therapy Programs
Texas Woman’s University
The Entry Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Texas Woman’s University is a highly competitive program with attendance possible at both a Dallas and Houston campus. Between the two campuses, 108 students are accepted into the program each year with a start in early fall only and full-time attendance required throughout.
Qualified applicants will have a 3.0 GPA and no more than three outstanding prerequisites at the time of application. Additionally, 80 of observation/volunteer/work are required, and no less than 20 hours of direct patient experience.
Qualified students enrolled in the DPT program can participate in the University’s DPT to Ph.D. fast track program if they are interested in furthering their careers in education and research.
East Carolina University
The East Carolina University Department of Physical Therapy transitioned from a Master’s in Physical Therapy program to a doctoral degree program in 2005. However, the department has been in existence for over 50 years.
Full-time students can earn their DPT in three years, including a 32-week clinical. Research is also a large part of the ECU DPT experience. All of the department’s faculty are involved in ongoing research projects in which student participation is required. Also, candidates get further experience by practicing pro bono at the university’s on-campus student-run clinic.
Arkansas State University
Earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Arkansas State University’s Physical Therapy Department requires three years of full-time study, including summers and clinical hours.
With the Physical Therapy Department in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, the PT program exposes candidates to several disciplines and interdisciplinary research and practice.
The faculty is research-driven, and the facilities are cutting edge. Hands-on learning opportunities on-campus are available in all-ages physical therapy, wounded veterans specific practice, straight research, scoliosis rehabilitation, as well as interdisciplinary research and clinical at the University’s Speech and Hearing Center.
Bradley University offers a Doctor of Physical Therapy program that prepares candidates as generalist practitioners. A required, non-consecutive 36 weeks of clinical experience gives candidates the opportunity to participate in specialties of interest.
The well-rounded curriculum requires candidates to complete 105 credit hours in an assortment of coursework, research, case study, and practical experience.
Students gain further hands-on experience volunteering in the program’s on-campus pro bono PT clinic.
University of Central Arkansas
The University of Central Arkansas’ Doctor of Physical Therapy program is open to applicants from Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee, Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, at the in-state tuition rate. However, preference is given to residents of Arkansas.
The program is designed to maximize a candidate’s hands-on experience and requires participation in a 39-week practicum. While the core curriculum prepares students for generalist practice, elective courses in gross anatomy, advanced spinal cord injury, cervical spine, sports therapy, and women’s health, among others, expose students to specializations.
Upon completing one year of the DPT program, students interested in furthering their education and research careers can apply to the DPT/Ph.D. program.
University of New Mexico
The University of New Mexico School of Medicine’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program is open to candidates from anywhere but gives acceptance priority to New Mexico residents. Beyond the curriculum specific to physical therapy, candidates prepare to serve and meet the unique needs of the diverse communities of New Mexico.
At the end of their coursework and before graduation, students participate in 33 weeks of full-time clinical training. Candidates complete clinicals at several hospitals and healthcare facilities in Albuquerque, rural healthcare clinics throughout the state, as well as other locations throughout the country.
Howard University offers one of the shortest Doctor of Physical Therapy programs with completion possible in just two and a half years. The seven-semester program centers on four pillars of practice; cardiopulmonary, integumentary, musculoskeletal, and neuromuscular. Additionally, as a university that emphasizes service to traditionally underserved communities, ethics, law, and diversity play a large role in all curriculum development and student experience.
The faculty consists of several Ph.D., highly regarded in their field, and students can participate in several research projects each year. The faculty average seven publications per year, and the 1:8 student ratio allows students one-on-one instruction in the midst of cutting edge research.
Throughout nine consecutive semesters, candidates in the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Marshall University participate in a diverse curriculum centered around interactive labs, group discussions, seminars, lectures, and clinicals. During the program, the required 35 weeks of clinical experiences are broken up into segments that allow candidates to practice various treatment stages from investigation and decision-making processes to diagnosis and management.
Before being granted the degree, candidates will complete their study with a 27-week clinical rotation with a licensed physical therapist instructor’s supervision.
Applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree with a 3.0 or higher GPA, including an extensive list of prerequisite courses. Additionally, applicants will provide proof of 30 hours of clinical observation, GRE and CASPer test scores, and two professional references, one of which must be a licensed PT.
MGH Institute of Health Professions
Recognized as one of the world’s premier medical facilities, Massachusetts General Hospital provides stellar instruction in several fields. The Doctor of Physical Therapy program at the MGH Institute of Health Professions admits applicants from various baccalaureate disciplines, many pursuing second careers, as long as they have completed the prerequisite coursework.
Further acceptance requirements include a 3.0 GPA, hours of PT observation, three professional letters of recommendation, GRE scores, and TOEFL or IELTS scores for international students.
Adequately preparing candidates for a future in an ever-changing healthcare field, the program has a collaborative focus while encouraging self-direction and independent clinical decision-making.
Louisiana State University
The Louisiana State University Doctor of Physical Therapy program is led by an experienced PT faculty with various specialties, including generalist practice, geriatrics, neurology, ortho, and wound management. Supplied with the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment equipment, professors and instructors in this program prepare students for a future in an ever-changing medical landscape.
While many programs expose candidates to various clinical experiences, LSU’s School of Allied Health Professions level 1 trauma center delivers a unique experience that you will find nowhere else. Recognizing the disparities in healthcare throughout the United States, the program architects directed the curriculum’s focus toward rural health initiatives and inequities of treatment, particularly in the South.
Plymouth State University
Plymouth State University immerses Doctor of Physical Therapy candidates in clinical and practical experiences from their very first semester. The curriculum is split between foundational coursework, clinical theory coursework, and practice.
Panther Physical Therapy is an on-campus pro bono clinic run by doctoral candidates. Members of the Plymouth State community can seek this free treatment from students under licensed physical therapists’ supervision.
Applicants to the PSU DPT program should have attained a minimum 3.0 GPA in an accredited Bachelor’s program, completed the required prerequisite courses, and be able to submit GRE grades at the time of application.
University of Washington
The Doctor of Physical Therapy program is one-third of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Washington. Along with the students in occupational therapy and prosthetic/orthotics programs, DPT candidates benefit from the interdisciplinary study.
In addition, these students have access to an abundance of resources available through the university’s Medical School and Health Sciences Center.
The DPT program at UW is intense, requiring eight consecutive quarters of 15 credit hour coursework followed immediately by three quarters of full-time clinical experience. To be considered for acceptance, a candidate must have a minimum of 50 hours of direct observational, volunteer, or work experience under a licensed practitioner’s supervision.
Thomas Jefferson University
Thomas Jefferson University’s Department of Physical Therapy offers world-class education for students hoping to pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree. As part of a larger academic medical center, the DPT program allows students to interact and practice alongside candidates from several other disciplines. This interaction provides a broader understanding of how PT fits into the big picture of treatments and rehabilitation.
Beyond the practice of physical therapy, candidates are challenged to promote equity in healthcare, strike a balance between science and humanity, and treat all patients with dignity. At the end of their coursework, candidates participate in a 42-week full-time clinical. While there are several options available, the faculty encourages students to engage in communities where healthcare disparity and inequity have traditionally been present.
University of Mary
Earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Mary is one of the faster tracks to practice. Achievable in only 32 months, the program focuses on the fundamentals of evidence-based practice, education, and scholarly activities.
In this program, candidates work closely with professionals from several disciplines and participate in clinical experiences throughout the United States, Guatemala, or Peru.
One of the cornerstones of education at the University of Mary is a desire to optimize the human experience. Beyond the practice of physical therapy, the faculty and administration’s goal is to produce practitioners that administer healthcare focusing on compassion, competence, ethics, and advocacy.
The Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at Emory University is considered by many to be one of the best. While the program’s cost is significantly higher than the others, candidates will find an extensive list of grants, scholarships, loans, veteran’s benefits, and payment options to help offset the cost.
One of the many benefits of attending the DPT program at Emory is the option to enroll in a dual degree program. Many candidates hoping to run a PT business, work in healthcare administration, or engage in educational or research pursuits opt into DPT-MBA, DPT-MPH, DPT-Bioethics MA, or DPT – Ph.D. programs.
Our Ranking Methodology
The practice of physical therapy has undergone significant changes in the past few decades. A greater understanding of how bodies work and move led to a need for more stringent requirements for practitioners. A career that was once attainable with a master’s degree now requires a doctorate.
For this list, we attributed a point system and ranked each program, one through 15, based on estimated in-state per-credit tuition (minus room, board, and other fees) and the required number of credit hours per program.
Please reach out to us if you represent one of these programs and have questions or corrections for us. If you represent a program that you would like us to review, we’d appreciate hearing from you as well.