Doctorate in Physical Therapy Online

An online doctor of physical therapy (DPT) offers flexibility and opportunities for lucrative and rewarding careers. Graduates possess the skills and knowledge needed for clinical practice and licensure. This degree differs from a Ph.D. in physical therapy, which emphasizes conducting research and creating original scholarly work.

While both degrees offer benefits for professionals, those who want to work as physical therapists may find the practice-oriented DPT most helpful in reaching their goals. Graduates work as rehabilitation specialists, physical therapists, and postsecondary teachers. This guide covers important information for anyone seeking to earn a doctorate in physical therapy online, including potential jobs, curricula, and accreditation.

Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy?

An online doctorate in physical therapy demonstrates expertise in the field, allowing for roles in leadership with high salary potential. Some degree candidates must continue working or focus on personal matters as they complete their degree, making the flexibility of an online degree ideal. Online students take courses from anywhere with an internet connection, allowing them to balance school with other responsibilities. Online students also often save money on their education compared to traditional students.

In any field, the most successful professionals typically dedicate themselves to lifelong learning. Doctorate graduates demonstrate dedication and commitment to learning about the field, which makes them appealing to employers and positions them for high-responsibility roles.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Physical Therapy?

An online doctorate in physical therapy can lead to diverse roles with opportunities for advancement. Physical therapy jobs exist in hospitals, clinics, and treatment centers. These careers often involve working with patients that require physical rehabilitation and mobility assistance. Graduates can also work in the military, rehabilitating wounded soldiers. Some physical therapists work with home-bound patients, offering therapy services in clients' homes.

Graduates with strong leadership skills may take roles leading a team of physical therapists or nurses. These healthcare managers ensure high-quality service delivery and efficient daily operations. Graduates may also pursue careers in academia, enjoying careers as researchers and tenure-track professors. The following list delves into common careers for graduates with an online doctorate in physical therapy.

Physical Therapist - Hospital
These professionals assist ill, injured, and recovering hospital patients in managing their pain and increasing mobility. They use exercises, stretches, and other hands-on techniques to promote patient recovery.
Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists provide therapeutic exercises and kinesthetic movements to individuals with disabilities. They typically help develop skills necessary for activities of daily living. They may also suggest modifications for the patient's home or work life to promote accessibility.
Postsecondary Teacher
Professors teach classes each semester on various physical therapy subjects. These courses may take place during the day, at night, or online depending on the school's needs.
Physical Therapist - Military
Physical therapists in the military provide treatment for injured military personnel. These treatments may include exercises and stretches that promote recovery and ongoing mobility.
Contract Physical Therapist
Contract physical therapists travel to locations experiencing a shortage of physical therapists, providing services until patient numbers decrease. They perform the same work as other physical therapists, just in a temporary work environment.

Physical Therapy Ph.D. Program Overview

When considering an online doctorate in physical therapy degree, students should research programs aligned with their interests and goals. The following sections discuss different types of physical therapy doctoral degrees, application requirements, curricula, and program outcomes. Although each program differs by school, students can generally expect these details to remain consistent at most schools.

Types of Doctoral Degrees in Physical Therapy

A DPT prepares professionals to practice physical therapy, while graduates with a Ph.D. focus on developing new research that becomes the basis for industry techniques and best practices.

Individuals seeking hands-on experiences with patients benefit from earning a DPT. Ideal candidates identify as outgoing and physically active and possess a passion for helping others. Ph.D. candidates need strong critical-thinking and analytical skills in addition to the desire to contribute to the existing body of knowledge in physical therapy.

Ph.D. and DPT programs feature similar timelines for completion, but the curricula differ. Both programs cover the latest research and best practices in physical therapy; however, DPT candidates participate in more hands-on learning experiences, while Ph.D. students focus on research methods. Each degree takes about 3-5 years to complete.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

Applicants to online doctorate in physical therapy programs typically must submit official transcripts from all prior learning, statements of purpose, and GRE results. Schools also often request two or three letters of recommendation from professors or supervisors who can speak to the candidate's readiness for graduate study.

In addition to these common requirements, some schools require work experience or a specified number of observation hours within the field. In these cases, students must provide proof that they completed the minimum required hours shadowing an established professional.


The curricula in online doctorate in physical therapy programs vary by school, but certain classes remain common among most programs. Most doctorate programs don't require general education classes, focusing on advanced topics and specialty knowledge instead.

Some online schools may require on-campus visits, while others deliver coursework fully online. Most DPT programs require a field experience, but students can often complete this at a local facility. Before graduation, students must often produce a dissertation or final research project.

The following list contains common classes found in online doctorate in physical therapy programs.

Therapeutic Exercise: In this course, students learn exercises that produce therapeutic results in patients. Learners study what techniques to use depending on the issue hindering the patient.
Clinical Experience: Most physical therapy programs require students to complete clinical experiences under the supervision of established physical therapy professionals, gaining hands-on experience in the field.
Physiology: Physiology classes examine normal bodily functions of living creatures and how physical components, such as cells and organs, work together.
Basic Clinical Skills: Students in this course study the basic skills they must employ on the job. Students learn how to communicate with patients, examine medical histories, and administer proper care.
Motor Control and Development: This class covers fine and gross motor skills and development. This knowledge helps physical therapists develop appropriate rehabilitation techniques.
Principles of Disease: Patients suffering or recovering from a demobilizing disease often require physical therapy. This course covers various relevant diseases, including symptoms and treatments.
Radiology for Physical Therapists: Radiology uses medical imaging technologies, such as X-rays, magnetic resonance imaging, and ultrasounds, to diagnose health issues. Students study how physical therapists use this technology to make informed treatment decisions.
Functional Anatomy: Anatomical expertise helps physical therapists provide appropriate treatment to patients. This course examines anatomy with a focus on its applications in the field.

Program Outcomes

Online doctorate in physical therapy students graduate with a high level of expertise in the field. A large part of a doctoral student's time includes studying how the body works and what it needs to heal specific ailments. Students then learn how to put these remedies into practice, gaining real-life experience in immersive settings. Students may work with people with disabilities or individuals recovering from surgery, applying the knowledge they gained in class to practice.

Students also learn how to make informed, quick decisions and use critical-thinking skills to determine the best treatment modalities for patients. Thanks to their advanced knowledge and experience, graduates enjoy high-level careers in settings such as hospitals, treatment centers, postsecondary schools, and rehabilitation facilities.

Accreditation for Online Physical Therapy Doctorate Programs

Accreditation ensures the academic rigor and quality of schools and programs. It also expands employment, financial aid, and education opportunities. Schools may receive national or regional accreditation, but regional accreditation remains more prestigious. Accrediting bodies vary by region and include agencies such as the Higher Learning Commission, New England Commission of Higher Education, and Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Physical therapy programs within a school may also receive programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.