The primary physical therapy practitioner is the Physical Therapist (PT) who is trained and licensed to examine, evaluate, diagnose and treat impairment, functional limitations and disabilities in patients or clients. Currently, most Physical Therapist education curricula in the United States culminate in a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, but many currently practising PTs hold a Master of Physical Therapy degree and some hold a Bachelor's degree. The World Confederation of Physical Therapy (WCPT) recognizes there is considerable diversity in the social, economic, cultural, and political environments in which physical therapist education is conducted throughout the world. WCPT recommends physical therapist entry-level educational programs be based on university or university-level studies, of a minimum of four years, independently validated and accredited as being at a standard that accords graduates full statutory and professional recognition.WCPT acknowledges there is innovation and variation in program delivery and in entry-level qualifications, including first university degrees (Bachelors/Baccalaureate/Licensed or equivalent), Masters and Doctorate entry qualifications. What is expected is that any program should deliver a curriculum that will enable physical therapists to attain the knowledge, skills, and attributes described in these guidelines. Professional education prepares physical therapists to be autonomous practitioners, that may work in collaboration with other members of the health care team. Curricula in the United States are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). As of 2011, APTA reports that 222 out of 227 entry-level professional degree programs accredited in the United States are at the doctoral level. According to CAPTE, as of 2012 there are 25,660 students currently enrolled in 210 accredited PT programs in the United States.
The physical therapist professional curriculum is rigorous and includes content and learning experiences in the clinical sciences (e.g., content about the cardiovascular, pulmonary, endocrine, metabolic, gastrointestinal, genitourinary, integumentary, musculoskeletal, and neuromuscular systems and the medical and surgical conditions frequently seen by physical therapists).
Curricula for the Physical Therapist professional degree include:
- Screening to determine when patients/clients need further examination or consultation by a physical therapist or referral to another health care professional.
- Examination: Examine patients/clients by obtaining a history from them and from other sources. Examine patients/clients by performing systems reviews. Examine patients/clients by selecting and administering culturally appropriate and age related tests and measures. Tests and measures include, but are not limited to, those that assess: a. Aerobic Capacity/Endurance, b. Anthropometric Characteristics, c. Arousal, Attention, and Cognition, d. Assistive and Adaptive Devices, e. Circulation (Arterial, Venous, Lymphatic), f. Cranial and Peripheral Nerve Integrity, g. Environmental, Home, and Work (Job/School/Play) Barriers, h. Ergonomics and Body Mechanics, i. Gait, Locomotion, and Balance, j. Integumentary Integrity, k. Joint Integrity and Mobility, l. Motor Function (Motor Control and Motor Learning), m. Muscle Performance (including Strength, Power, and Endurance), n. Neuromotor Development and Sensory Integration, o. Orthotic, Protective, and Supportive Devices, p. Pain, q. Posture, r. Prosthetic Requirements, s. Range of Motion (including Muscle Length), t. Reflex Integrity, u. Self-Care and Home Management (including activities of daily living [ADL] and instrumental activities of daily living [IADL]), v. Sensory Integrity, w. Ventilation and Respiration/Gas Exchange, x. Work (Job/School/Play), Community, and Leisure Integration or Reintegration (including IADL)
- Evaluation: Evaluate data from the examination (history, systems review, and tests and measures) to make clinical judgments regarding patients/clients.
- Diagnosis: Determine a diagnosis that guides future patient/client management.
- Prognosis: Determine patient/client prognoses.
- Plan of Care: Collaborate with patients/clients, family members, payers, other professionals, and other individuals to determine a plan of care that is acceptable, realistic, culturally competent, and patient-centered.
- Intervention:Provide physical therapy interventions to achieve patient/client goals and outcomes. Interventions include: a. Therapeutic Exercise, b. Functional Training in Self-Care and Home Management, c. Functional Training in Work (Job/School/Play), Community, and Leisure Integration or Reintegration, d. Manual Therapy Techniques (including Mobilization/Manipulation Thrust and Nonthrust Techniques), e. Prescription, Application, and, as Appropriate, Fabrication of Devices and Equipment, f. Airway Clearance Techniques, g. Integumentary Repair and Protection Techniques, h. Electrotherapeutic Modalities,
- Provide effective culturally competent instruction to patients/clients and others to achieve goals and outcomes.
- Prevention, Health Promotion, Fitness, and Wellness: Provide culturally competent physical therapy services for prevention, health promotion, fitness, and wellness to individuals, groups, and communities. Apply principles of prevention to defined population groups.
- Students completing a Doctor of Physical Therapy program are also required to successfully complete clinical internships prior to graduation.