In the United States a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree is a post-baccalaureate degree that takes 3 years to complete following completion of a Bachelor's degree. A DPT is considered as a clinical doctor who is educated in many areas of rehabilitation. A Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree is also offered for those who already hold a professional Bachelor or Master of Physical Therapy (PT or MPT) degree. As of 2015, all accredited and developing physical therapist programs are DPT programs. The DPT degree currently prepares students to be eligible for the PT license examination in all 50 states. As of March 2017, there are 222 accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy programs in the United States. After completing a DPT program the doctor of physical therapy may continue training in a residency and then fellowship. As of December 2013, there are 178 credentialed physical therapy residencies and 34 fellowships in the US  with 63 additional developing residencies and fellowships. Credentialed residencies are between 9 and 36 months while credentialed fellowships are between 6 and 36 months.
In 2000 the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) passed its Vision 2020 statement, which states (in part):
As this statement highlights, the DPT program is an integral part of the APTA's continued advocacy for legislation granting consumers (i.e. patients and clients) direct access to physical therapists, rather than requiring physician referral. Direct access is said to decrease wait times for access to care and even help reduce both cost to consumer and overall healthcare costs. As of January 1, 2015, all 50 states and the District of Columbia currently allow some form of direct access to physical therapists.
In 1992, the University of Southern California initiated the first post-professional "transitional" (DPT) program in the United States. This "transitional" DPT takes into account a physiotherapist's current level of knowledge and skill and purports to offer programs that upgrade clinical skills to meet the needs of the current health care environment. Creighton University followed by initiating the first entry-level DPT program in 1993.
The Doctor of Physiotherapy has since been adopted in other countries such as the United Kingdom, Australia and Taiwan. In the United Kingdom and Australia the PhD or Professional Doctorate in Physiotherapy is offered by a number of Universities. These programmes are usually professional entry masters level programmes with the opportunity to undertake research to lead to a doctorate degree. Alternatively, these programmes are masters pre-qualifying Physiotherapy courses with an enhanced research element in the final phase of the course that leads to undertaking a doctorate. The first full pre-qualifying doctor in Physiotherapy programme is offered in the United Kingdom at Glasgow Caledonian University in Glasgow.
|Undergraduate||Doctor of Physical Therapy||Residency (optional)||Fellowship (optional)|
|4 years||3–4 years||9 to 36 months||6 to 36 months|
The typical time frame for completion of a Doctor of Physical Therapy is 3 to 4 years after earning a bachelor's degree. Depending on residency and fellowship training, if undertaken, the doctor may have completed several years of additional training.
Admission to a Doctor of Physical Therapy program in the USA is highly competitive. According to the Aggregate Program Data Report from CAPTE from 2016-2017, the average GPA for enrolling students was 3.6 with a range of 3.09 - 3.89 for all programs. On average there were 500 applicants per program with an average of 44 students enrolled A bachelor's degree generally is required before beginning a Doctor of Physical Therapy program, but there is no requirement on the degree earned, as long as all prerequisite course requirements are met.
The t-DPT degree is conferred upon completion of a structured postprofessional educational experience that results in the augmentation of knowledge, skills, and behaviors to a level consistent with the current professional (entry-level) DPT standards. The t-DPT degree enables the US-licensed physical therapist to attain degree parity with therapists who hold the professional DPT by filling in any gaps between their professional baccalaureate or master's degree PT education and the current professional DPT degree education.
The post-professional DPT (Transitional) degree is designed to provide the doctoral credential to those who currently holding a master's or bachelor's degree in the field. Post-professional DPT (Transitional) degree programs are typically offered on a primarily online learning model and are often one year in length.
The use of the title doctor by physical therapists and other non-physician health care professionals is controversial. In a letter to The New York Times, the president of the American Physical Therapy Association responded:
The DPT degree has been described as an example of "credential creep" or degree inflation in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Citing concerns that the DPT, and similar professional doctorates in areas such as occupational therapy, do not meet the standards of traditional doctorate degrees, the journal states: "The six-and-a-half-year doctor of physical therapy, or DPT, is rapidly replacing a six-year master's degree ... The American Physical Therapy Association ... has not set separate requirements for doctoral programs. To be accredited they need only to meet the same requirements as master's programs."
Critics question whether the rigor of the physical therapy curriculum and the current scope of practice warrant the conferral of a professional degree similar to that characteristic of medicine, dentistry, or nursing. Proponents counter that the existing curricula are "victims of 'curricular inflation'." As Rothstein and Moffat noted, the previous master's and even baccalaureate curricula rival that of most other doctoral programs, and these curricula often require more than the typical 72 credits mandated for a doctoral degree. The 2000 Fact Sheet from APTA reported that the mean number of credits required for the professional phase of the typical baccalaureate program was 83.0 credits and that the typical master's degree program required 95.5 credits. As of 2009 the typical number of prerequisite credits was 114.2 and the total number of professional credits was 116.5 for a total of 230.7 credit hours. This is well in excess of the typical 72 professional credits mandated for a doctoral degree. Additional credit hours may be earned in residency and fellowship as well. Threlkeld et al. suggest that the scope of existing physical therapy curricula already matches that of a professional doctorate, further submitting that students of a well-defined DPT program will have earned the right to be recognized with the doctoral title.
The professional (entry-level) DPT degree is currently the degree conferred by all physical therapist professional programs upon successful completion of a three- to four-year post-baccalaureate degree program in the United States, preparing the graduate to enter the practice of physical therapy. Admission requirements for the program include completion of an undergraduate degree that includes specific prerequisite coursework, volunteer experience (or other exposure to the profession), and completion of a standardized graduate examination (e.g., GRE).
Typical prerequisite courses may include two semesters of anatomy and physiology with labs, two semesters of physics with labs, two semesters of chemistry with labs, a general course in psychology, another course in psychology, statistics, two semesters of biology, and may include other courses required by specific schools.
The physical therapist curriculum consists of foundational sciences (i.e., gross anatomy, cellular histology, embryology, neurology, neuroscience, kinesiology, physiology, exercise physiology, pathology, pharmacology, radiology/imaging, medical screening), behavioral sciences (communication, social and psychologic factors, ethics and values, law, business and management sciences, clinical reasoning and evidence-based practice), and clinical sciences (cardiovascular/pulmonary, endocrine and metabolic, gastrointestinal and genitourinary, integumentary, musculoskeletal, neuromuscular). Coursework also includes material specific to the practice of physical therapy (patient/client management model, prevention, wellness, and health promotion, practice management, management of care delivery, social responsibility, advocacy, and core values). Additionally, students have to engage in full-time clinical practice under the supervision of licensed physical therapists with an expectation of providing safe, competent, and effective physical therapy.
The "advanced clinical science" doctorate (e.g., DPTSc or DScPT, DHSc, ScDPT) is one of several degrees conferred by academic institutions upon successful completion of a post-professional physical therapist education program. This program is intended to provide an experienced clinician with advanced knowledge, clinical skills, and professional behavior, usually in a specific specialty practice area. These programs typically culminate work that contributes new knowledge to clinical practice in the profession. Completion of these advanced clinical science doctoral programs may include credentialed clinical residencies and lead to ABPTS clinical specialization or other advanced certifications.
Glasgow Caledonian University in Glasgow is the first in the United Kingdom to offer a 3.5 year Doctorate in Physiotherapy (pre-registration) programme which is the first clinical doctorate which leads to qualification as a Physiotherapist eligible to register with the CSP and HCPC in the United Kingdom. This programme provides a focus on researcher development as well as professional development within a health and social care context. Some UK universities offer a DPT as a post-professional qualification, but the qualifying degree remains Bachelor or Master of Science in Physiotherapy (with honours). This is offered at the University of Sussex in Brighton, Nottingham University and Robert Gordon University.