Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science

  • DPT Program FAQ

    What academic degree is needed to become a physical therapist?

    To practice physical therapy one must be a graduate of a program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education and have satisfactorily passed the National Physical Therapy Exam for Licensure. For a list of accredited and developing programs write to the American Physical Therapy Association, 1111 N. Fairfax Street, Alexandria VA 22314, or call 1-800-999-APTA.

    What is the best undergraduate major as preparation for the physical therapy curriculum?

    There are a number of undergraduate degrees that a student can obtain to be eligible for a physical therapist program. The best advice is to follow your area of interest. No one major is looked upon more favorably than another. At The University of Iowa, the most popular undergraduate majors of pre-PT students are Human Physiology, Biology, and Psychology.

    What are some suggested elective courses to take during undergraduate years?

    Courses in anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, psychology, kinesiology, and computer science would be helpful. Most students say that the more science they have as undergraduates, the easier and more meaningful the profession curriculum is. An economics course would also be beneficial, as would an accounting course since many therapists find a need for business skills in their practice.

    Will I have a better chance of being admitted to the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at the University of Iowa if I complete my undergraduate work at The University of Iowa?

    No. As long as you are a graduate of an accredited college or university in the U.S. and meet the required GPA, applicants from all schools are treated equally. In 2014, the students enrolled came from 21 different colleges. Almost all colleges and universities have courses which will allow one to complete the prerequisites.

    Do you give preference to residents of Iowa in admission to the DPT program?

    Some preference is given to Iowa residents. Once invited for a personal interview residents and nonresidents have an equal chance for acceptance. In 2014 we offered admission to 11 nonresidents. Five (5) accepted and enrolled.

    Can I specialize in one area, for example sports physical therapy, in the entry-level program?

    No, the emphasis in entry level education is on training a generalist in practice. However, an introduction to the specialty areas is available during clinical internships. Formal certification as a clinical specialist requires clinical experience as a physical therapist and the passing of a specialist certification examination. Clinical specialty areas in physical therapy are: orthopaedics, geriatrics, sports, neurologic, pediatrics, cardiopulmonary, clinical electrophysiologic, and women's health.

    What can I do to enhance my chances of successful admission to a physical therapy program?

    • Pay close attention to the admission criteria for a minimum of 3 or 4 programs to which you intend to apply. Be certain to meet their prerequisite coursework.
    • Do well academically.
    • Research the field and try to get volunteer or work experience in a variety of health care or physical therapy settings. We recommend a broad exposure of 50-60 hours to physical therapy in more than one setting. For example, an in-patient setting and an out-patient setting.
    • Develop your rationale as to why you want to be a physical therapist.
    • Meet with your undergraduate advisor and a physical therapy faculty member to discuss other strategies to improve your application.

    2014 Applicant Pool - The University of Iowa

      Applied Interviewed Enrolled
    Residents of Iowa 156 72 35
    Non-residents 293 22 5
    Total 449 94 40

    Mean cumulative GPA of the students enrolled in 2014 was 3.72 (Range 3.14-3.99).The science GPA mean was 3.64 (Range 2.95-4.00). The mean verbal GRE score was 154 (61%) (range 146-161) and mean quantitative score was 154 (58%) (range 147-166).

    What qualities are needed to be a good physical therapist?

    As with most health professions, a practitioner should be intelligent and have an ethic of caring. Communication and interpersonal skills are vital. These traits are needed to deal both with the patient and the patient's family. Manual dexterity and physical stamina are important as is a commitment to life-long learning.

    Are physical therapists licensed?

    Yes, a license is needed to practice physical therapy. The same licensing exam, the National Physical Therapy Examination, is given in all 50 states. To take the exam one must be a graduate of an accredited program in physical therapy. The purpose of licensure is to protect the public from unqualified practitioners. Other requirements for physical therapy practice vary from state to state according to physical therapy practice acts or state regulations governing physical therapy.

    Is a referral from a physician needed to practice physical therapy?

    No. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have some form of direct access. Iowa achieved direct access in 1988 and it is legal for a physical therapist to examine, evaluate and treat a patient without referral.

    How much do physical therapists earn?

    In 2013 the median annual income of salaried physical therapists who worked full time in hospitals was $92,000. Starting salaries for new graduates average around $64,000 and vary depending on geographic regions and practice settings. Salaries in the Midwest range from $75,000 - $85,000 for physical therapists with 0-3 years of experience.

    Where do physical therapists practice and what is the employment outlook?

    Hospitals are the largest single employer of physical therapists, providing about a third of all jobs. Many other jobs are in rehab facilities, home health agencies, nursing homes, school systems, sports clinics, fitness centers and industry. A substantial number of physical therapists are in private practice. Some teach, conduct research, or serve as consultants. Indications are that the need for physical therapists will remain high as the population both grows and ages and as physical therapists become more involved in the areas of health and wellness promotion. Physical therapy continues to offer great opportunities.