Doctor of Physical and Occupational Therapy Programs

Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Programs include first and post-professional clinical degrees in the fields of physical therapy (PT), Occupational Therapy (OT), Athletic Training (AT), and Exercise Science (Kinesiology). Most doctorate programs in physical and occupational therapy typically aim to meld knowledge with evidence-based practitioner skills. Students might therefore learn through a blend of academic coursework and clinical rotations.

How to earn a doctorate degree in Physical & Occupational Therapywritten by Rana Waxman

Occupational Therapy vs Physical Therapy

It may be easy to confuse Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Programs with each other. For instance, the fields of occupational therapy and physical therapy both entail essential hands-on rehabilitative work to help clients perform everyday tasks as independently as possible. However, each field takes a distinct approach to help people get back to their usual way of life. The different skills required by practitioners are likely to be reflected in Doctor of Physical and Occupational Therapy Programs and their curricula.

What Is Physical Therapy (PT)?

Physical Therapy, or PT, is a rehabilitation profession that helps injured or ill individuals improve their range of motion and manage their pain. Physical therapists are health professionals who work with clients that are impaired. They do so with the aim to promote functional mobility through various (physical) interventions and therapeutic modalities. Students who pursue a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree might therefore study some of the following five topics.i

  1. Biomechanics
  2. Anatomy
  3. Physiology
  4. Neuroscience
  5. Pharmacology

What Is Occupational Therapy (OT)?

Occupational therapy, or OT, is a type of therapy that treats injured, ill or disabled persons and to help them perform tasks in their daily lives. Occupational therapists might, for

instance, teach a stroke victim how to get dressed, or instruct their patient how to use a new wheelchair.ii

Entry-level occupational therapy degrees might be offered at the master's or doctoral levels, and either of these might prepare graduates to take the national exam given by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).iii

That said, some students who pursue a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree might already be licensed practitioners. Their course of study might therefore include topics such as the five examples listed below.

  1. Organizational Leadership
  2. Healthcare Administration
  3. Advanced Statistics
  4. Clinical Education
  5. Research Methods

So, what is the difference between OT and PT? The main difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy is that OT focuses on helping a client holistically to optimally perform activities of daily living. By comparison, PT focuses on helping a client to optimally move parts of their body.

Kinesiology vs Physical Therapy

Perhaps more like physical therapy is kinesiotherapy. Exercise physiologists, sometimes called kinesiotherapists, work to improve overall patient health. Many of their patients, for instance, might suffer from health problems such as cardiovascular disease or pulmonary (lung) disease.iv One might not find too many doctoral level programs in kinesiology, although some universities might award a Doctor of Exercise Science, Doctor of Osteopathy or related program (e.g. Bioenergetics).

Another difference between Doctor of Physical and Occupational Therapy Programs is that in the case of occupational therapy, a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree is considered a post-professional degree; the Master of Occupational Therapy is typically considered the entry point to licensure and professional practice.By contrast, a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree is required for those who want to pursue initial licensure, which is compulsory for physical therapists in all states.i

What Is Athletic Training (AT)?

Athletic Training, or AT, is all about prevention, diagnosis and treatment of muscle and bone injuries and There are several schools that may offer Doctor of Athletic Training Programs. Course content for a DAT degree may vary, although you could review some potential topics of study below.vii

  1. Biology
  2. Anatomy
  3. Physiology
  4. Nutrition

Explore Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Programs

Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs could prepare students to pursue (often compulsory) licensure in their chosen technical field. It is therefore important to check with your state board to see what these requirements are.


When surveyed about their education level, 37% of Pediatric Physical Therapists reported they had a Doctorate degree.viii

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Programs

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs could provide initial and post-professional physical therapist education. There are two types of Doctorate in Physical Therapy programs: (1) Doctor of Physical Therapy (2) Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy.

Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) Degree

A Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) entry-level program is a post-bachelors degree and first professional degree in physical therapy. As a clinical doctoral degree, it is designed for the individual without a physical therapy degree. Often a three-year program, a DPT program may require full-time attendance and includes at least 30 weeks of supervised clinical internships as well as a strong academic component. i

DPT Program Curriculum

First year DPT courses could include human anatomy, biomechanics, and patient care skills. Students might also learn applied human physiology and basic therapeutic exercises. By their second semester, DPT students may study pathophysiology, gait analysis and neural conditions, and might begin their clinical rotation.

Second year students could learn advanced musculoskeletal and rehabilitation courses, CPR, pediatrics and acute care. By the second term, DPT courses might delve into pain and wound management, geriatrics, and imaging.

In the third year of a DPT program, students might complete clinical internships, an applied research project and a comprehensive exam.

Admission Requirements (DPT)

Most DPT programs require applicants to apply through the Physical Therapist Centralized Application System (PTCAS). I This service allows applicants to use a single application and one set of materials to apply to multiple DPT programs. In terms of application materials, prospective students need a bachelors degree that was earned at an accredited university or college with a minimum GPA. Students also need to have satisfactorily completed coursework in human anatomy, biology, chemistry, physics, statistics, psychology and exercise psychology. Other application materials include GRE and TOEFL scores, letters of reference, and PT observation hours. Also, PT schools may set up an interview.

Licensure: All physical therapists must complete a Doctorate in Physical Therapy program (DPT) that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) or is its equivalent. A graduate could then be eligible to take the National Physical Therapy Exam, administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.ix All states require PTs to be licensed, and some also require a law exam and a criminal background check.

Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (tDPT) Degree

A transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (tDPT) degree program is a post-professional doctor of physical therapy, academically equal to the entry-level DPT degree.

It is often designed specifically for licensed physical therapy professionals with BS/MS degree credentials. These practitioners may want to advance their education as the standards for the profession are elevated to doctoral status by the year 2020. "Vision 2020"—set by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)—states that physical therapy by 2020 “will be provided by physical therapists who are doctors of physical therapy and who may be Board specialists.”x

The length of a tDPT program could vary based on a student’s prior education background and how many credits they need to graduate. In addition, the number of courses students take each term will also impact the length of time it takes to complete the program.

tDPT Program Curriculum

Often, a transitional DPT program is a custom degree program. It may be configured around the needs of a current practitioner or professional who wants to maintain relevancy. Also, it is geared to students who already have clinical experience and may wish to fill in some gaps. However, it typically offers what the APTA refers to as “content in areas that have been significantly augmented over the course of the past 5 to 10 years.” viii Curricula could include a wide range of required courses in areas such as diagnostic imaging, evidence-based clinical practice, pharmacology and pathophysiology. Students may also need to complete a practicum.

Admission Requirements (tDPT)

Applicants to a tDPT program typically need a Bachelor’s degree or higher in physical therapy from a regionally accredited college or university as well as licensure as a physical therapist. Further requirements could include an expanded portfolio, letters of reference, transcripts and TOEFL scores if applicable. Interested students should refer to individual schools for more details.

Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD) Programs

A Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) is a post-professional terminal degree designed for currently practicing Occupational Therapists. OTD programs might entail about 36 credit hours and may take about 3 years to complete. Aside from academic courses, students may be required to conduct a research study or scholarly project, and conduct at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork.iii Interested students may want to look for occupational therapy programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education.

DOT Program Curriculum

A DOT program curriculum might help an occupational therapist learn to apply and integrate occupation-based models and theories in various professional practice settings. Students might also study to gain leadership skills and/or explore issues and solutions related to clinical education and supervision.

Because students who pursue their Doctorate in Occupational Therapy may have distinct interests and career goals, some DOT programs offer areas of emphasis. These could target students whose interests are teaching, clinical leadership, OT program development, or clinical research. As a result, courses could be intricately linked to a professional student’s practice focus. Examples of required courses might include occupational science, evidence-based practice, education theory, and leadership.

Admission Requirements (OTD)

Applicants to some OTD programs may need a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy. Applicants with a Bachelors degree OT might also need to have earned a Masters degree from a regionally accredited institution in a related field of study. Other required material could include transcripts, a copy of your current OT licensure, a resume or CV, a personal essay, and a list of references. Some OT schools require interviews.

Doctor of Athletic Training (DAT)

A Doctor of Athletic Training (DAT) degree is a post-professional academic degree with an applied clinical focus. It is typically planned-out for certified athletic trainers who might want to improve their professional clinical skills as a practicing certified athletic trainer.

DAT Program Curriculum

Students who pursue a Doctorate degree in athletic training may need to complete about 66 credits which might include a culminating clinical practice. Coursework in a DAT program could cover foundations, theory and integration of advanced and novel patient care. Students might also study advances in manual therapy, holistic foundations of pain in patient care, and applied research in patient care. Aside from instructional courses, students may need to fulfill a clinical residency.

Admission Requirements (DAT)

Applicants to a DAT degree program may need a Bachelors or Masters of Science degree. For further details, make sure to refer to individual universities.

Doctor of Education in Athletic Training (EdD)

A Doctor of Education (EdD) in Athletic Training is a terminal practice doctorate in education. Some EdD programs might entail a three-year, full-time study commitment, comprised of about 60 credits of coursework. Participants may also need to complete a dissertation, in which they address a real-time issue and make an original contribution to a body of knowledge in their field.

EdD Athletic Training Curriculum

Core EdD coursework might help students build their instructional skills in topics such as curriculum development, educational theory, and classroom delivery. Athletic training coursework might discuss ethics in healthcare, concussion in sport, and evidence-based injury prevention.

Admission Requirements (EdD)

Applicants to an EdD in Athletic Training program may need to have completed a Masters or Doctoral degree. Aside from transcripts, candidates may need to furnish a resume, copy of professional license, recommendations, and a writing assessment.

Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy Program Formats

Aside from the type of degree that you want to work towards, you could give some thought to program delivery. Some Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs may be offered in several formats: online, on-campus, and hybrid.

  • Online programs could help students fit in coursework while they maintain other demands on their schedule, but may still require a hands-on component on campus.
  • Campus programs are hands-on, and students could build relationships as they study to earn their DPT or DOT degree at set class times.
  • Hybrid Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs are a blend of online and on-campus coursework.

Take the Next Step

Easily compare Doctor of Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy programs next. Use your preferences to find Doctor of Physical Therapy programs, Doctor of Occupational Therapy programs, or Doctor of Athletic Training programs in your preferred format. Check out the sponsored degree programs to find the perfect one for you, then use the buttons on this page to contact physical and occupational therapy schools directly!

[i] | [ii] | [iii] | [iv] | [v] | [vi] | [vii] | [viii] | [ix] | [x]

Find Schools