North Carolina Doctor of Physical Therapy Programs

A doctor of physical therapy, or DPT degree, has become the standard when it comes to physical therapy education to meet the increasingly high demands of modern medical practices.

Physical therapists play an important role in the medical industry because they help people rehabilitate from injuries, improve their motion, and manage their pain. They may also support patients with chronic conditions, injuries, and illnesses.iThose who are compassionate, dependable, and have a high stress tolerance, might want to consider earning a doctor of physical therapy degree.iiYour skills and knowledge could be put to use in a potentially growing field, while making a difference in patients’ lives.

How to earn a doctorate in Physical Therapy

Why Consider DPT Programs?

Professionals who wish to become Physical Therapists need a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree to qualify to sit for the licensing exam.i All states require physical therapists to be licensed. If you are looking to jump start a career as a physical therapist, or just expand your knowledge, then DPT programs may be a great choice for you.

In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment of physical therapists to increase 34% during the years 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. That’s because the baby boomer generation will likely remain active as they age. Additionally, medical technology and procedures may allow for more outpatient surgeries, which could require physical therapy.iii For these reasons, and many others, now may be a great time to explore doctorate in physical therapy programs.

Earning Your DPT Degree

To practice as a physical therapist in the United States, you must earn a doctorate of physical therapy from a CAPTE- accredited program and pass a state licensure exam. Masters degrees, such as the Master of Physical Therapy (MPT) or Master of Science of Physical Therapy, are no longer offered. iv  Typically, DPT programs require students to have earned a bachelors degree before entry. Some may also request the completion of specific coursework, such as anatomy, physiology, and biology, among others.

Normally, doctor of physical therapy programs take 3 years of full time study to complete. However, some schools may offer a 6 or 7-year program that allows students to graduate with a bachelors and a DPT degree.iv Schools for physical therapy vary, so contact your preferred DPT programs to learn if this might be an option.

Doctorate in Physical Therapy Curriculum

The primary areas of study in the doctor of physical therapy curriculum include, but aren’t limited, to the following.

  • Biomechanics
  • Physiology
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Biology and Anatomy
  • Pathology

Most doctorate of physical therapy programs require students to spend about 80% of their time in classroom or didactic classes and lab study. The other 20%, or 27.5 weeks on average, may be spent in clinical education. Clinical experience may give students the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills in real-world situations under the supervision of professionals. Contact programs for details.

Application Process for Doctor of Physical Therapy Programs

The application process for DPT programs is somewhat unique. Most schools require potential students to apply through the Physical Therapists Centralized Application Service (PTCAS).v The PTCAS is a service portion of the American Physical Therapy Association and allows applicants to use a single application and one set of materials to apply to multiple DPT programs. This could save potential students the time and hassle of filling out and filing multiple

While the PTCAS doesn’t determine whether an applicant is eligible for admission to a certain program, or make admissions decisions, it does make it easier for both applicants and programs. For the PTCAS to consider an application complete and ready for transcript verification, the following items must be completed.

  • PTCAS application
  • Official transcripts from all accredited United States institutions attended
  • Payment of the PTCAS fee

Students may also post other materials required by certain schools that might help their chances. These could include the following.

  • Up to 4 letters of recommendation
  • Official GRE scores sent through the Education Testing Service
  • Signed PT observation hours
  • TOEFL scores

Application requirements vary by school, so contact DPT programs directly to learn more.

What's the Difference Between the DPT Degree and tDPT Degree?

There are two main types of doctorate in physical therapy degrees. The first is the doctor of physical therapy, or DPT degree, which now all students are required to have in order to sit for the licensing exam. Besides this section, that is what the rest of this page is focused on. The second is a transitional doctorate of physical therapy, or tDPT degree, which has been created for those already working and licensed as physical therapists. This is also referred to as a post-professional DPT degree.

Transitional Doctorate of Physical Therapy (tDPT)

The tDPT program was created for those already working as physical therapists to provide them with the standard degree in the field. Prior work experience and knowledge are taken into account through the Physical Therapist Evaluation Tool (PTET). This allows applicants to show his or her knowledge, skills, and experience through a portfolio and a tasks-performed component. The PTET also might show skills applicants still need to learn to meet the standards of a tDPT degree. This may help students avoid having to duplicate knowledge by taking classes in areas they are already proficient in. However, requirements vary from program to program.

While tDPT programs are not accredited by CAPTE, often they are available at institutions that offer DPT programs that are. (Read on to learn more about CAPTE.) Also, CAPTE believes that regional accrediting bodies may hold tDPT programs to the same rigorous standards as DPT programs. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), which is the governing body of CAPTE, provides all tDPT programs with a consensus-based outcome competencies document and a preferred curricular guide to help ensure high levels of consistency and quality.iv

Some Options for DPT Programs

DPT Option Program Avg. Time
Direct Entry DPT Declare your major as a freshman in undergraduate 6 years
Transfer With approved transfer coursework, many DPT programs will allow students to transfer Depends on transfer credits accepted
Graduate Professional DPT For PT's who have earned a bachelor degree and wish to pursue a doctorate in Physical Therapy 2 1/2 years


Post-professional physical therapy degree, also called Transitional DPT, is designed for Physical Therapists who work in clinical practice and are interested in enhancing their skills while earning the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree 1-3 years

Accreditations for Doctorate of Physical Therapy Programs

Accrediting agencies strive to ensure that educational institutions provide students with the skills and knowledge potentially necessary in a field. The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) is the only accreditation agency recognized by the United State Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) to accredit entry-level physical therapist and physical therapist assistant programs.vii This accreditation process may help the public, students, institutions, and the profession as a whole ensure quality educational experiences and that programs continue to produce high-caliber students.

As of 2015, there were more than 200 physical therapist education programs accredited by CAPTE. Attendance of a CAPTE accredited school is required to sit the state licensure exam.iv Therefore, when choosing an institution to pursue your doctorate in physical therapy degree, this may be an important factor to consider.

Potential Licensing Requirements to Become a Physical Therapist

After gaining work experience, physical therapists may also seek licensure as a board-certified specialist.iv Typically, this requires passing an exam and completing at least 2,000 hours of clinical work in a specific specialty within physical therapy. Or, you may be able to complete a residency program at an American Physical Therapy Association-accredited school. 

Currently, the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) offers board-certification in eight specialties.

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports
  • Women’s Health

Consider your career and personal goals to see if this might be a great option for you.

Find DPT Schools for Physical Therapy in North Carolina

If helping people recover and rehab from injuries, surgeries, or chronic illnesses and conditions interests you, earning a doctorate in physical therapy degree may be a perfect next step. Click on the listings below to learn about specific doctor of physical therapy or tDPT programs. Or filter your search by format (online or on campus) and location.

SOURCES: [i] |[ii] |[iii]|[iv] |[v] |[vi] | |[vii]

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