The correct degree nomenclature for the professional (entry-level) and the postprofessional transition clinical doctorate is "DPT." In these FAQs, the nomenclature "postprofessional DPT " has been used to distinguish the DPT degree conferred upon completion of a transition program from the DPT conferred upon completion of a professional (entry-level) program.
"Postprofessional" in the FAQs does not signify the acquisition of advanced clinical knowledge, skills, and behaviors; rather, it is used to signify that the postprofessional DPT program and degree is for US-licensed or licensure-eligible physical therapists who have successfully completed their professional (entry-level) education prior to enrolling in a postprofessional DPT program.
1. What is a postprofessional DPT (transition) degree?
The postprofessional DPT degree is conferred upon completion of a structured postprofessional educational experience that results in the augmentation of knowledge, skills, and behaviors to a level consistent with current professional (entry-level) DPT standards. The postprofessional DPT degree enables the US-licensed physical therapist (PT) to attain degree parity with PTs who hold the professional DPT by "filling in " any gaps between their professional baccalaureate or master's degree PT education and current professional DPT degree education.
2. Is the postprofessional DPT just another professional (entry-level) degree?
Yes and no. Yes, it is analogous to the professional (entry-level) DPT degree, in that the majority of transition program curricula include coursework that reflects additions to professional (entry-level) content that have occurred during the past 5-10 years. Put differently, the postprofessional DPT is fully consistent with the current professional DPT standard; it does NOT indicate the acquisition of clinical knowledge, skills, and behaviors beyond that standard.
While the postprofessional DPT degree is most analogous to the current professional DPT:
- The program offers content in areas that have been significantly augmented over the course of the past 5-10 years,
- Experienced PTs may augment their knowledge and skills in areas that, together with any specialized knowledge and experience acquired over the years, positions them more strongly as providers in a health care system that often is characterized as uncertain and competitive,
- A postprofessional DPT program is a valuable and exciting context for learning, including rich and diverse interactions between PTs whose respective experiences provide an invaluable source of shared learning,
- A postprofessional DPT curriculum may be customized to particular learners based on their knowledge and experience—minimizing the possibility of content duplication. (One way of documenting that knowledge and experience is through APTA's physical therapist evaluation tool, or PTET, which will be referenced later in this document), and
- A postprofessional DPT program is not "just another " professional (entry-level) education experience, because the learning context, including the learner's experience and discourse, reflects a breadth and depth of experience that cannot be present in a professional degree program conducted alongside students who have no clinical experience.
3. What's the difference between the postprofessional DPT and an advanced clinical doctorate?
The postprofessional DPT degree does not reflect the acquisition of advanced clinical skills (eg, clinical specialization); rather, it reflects an augmentation of the physical therapist professional body of knowledge and practice over the last 5-10 years. The outcome competencies of the graduate of a postprofessional DPT program are most analogous to those of the current professional (entry-level) DPT standard. The postprofessional advanced clinical doctorate (eg, DPTSc, DScPT, DHSc) reflects the acquisition of advanced level knowledge and skills associated with clinical specialization, clinical residencies, fellowships, etc.
4. What's the difference between the postprofessional DPT and the PhD?
Both degrees involve mastering a body of knowledge in the particular field of study. The DPT degree (conferred at completion of a professional PT program or a postprofessional DPT transition program) is considered a clinical or applied doctorate similar to those for medicine (MD), dentistry (DDS), education (EdD), clinical psychology (PsyD), optometry (OD), and podiatry (DPM). The postprofessional DPT degree signifies that the learner will apply the newly acquired knowledge—most likely in a clinical setting.
The PhD is an academic degree that reflects, in addition to mastering an advanced body of knowledge in the particular field of study, completion of an original scholarly work that adds to the body of knowledge within the discipline.
5. Can I practice without a DPT?
Absolutely! The right to practice physical therapy is granted by states through licensure. Licensure requires graduation from an accredited professional PT education program, passing the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), and meeting state/jurisdiction licensure requirements. Graduates possessing a professional baccalaureate, masters, certificate, or doctoral degree are currently licensed in the workforce. However, students who graduate from a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)-accredited program after January 2015 and are eligible to sit for the licensure examination will hold the DPT degree.
6. If I get a postprofessional DPT, will I get a better job? Will I be paid more?
Data do not currently suggest that DPT practitioners get better jobs. Although there are instances in which the practitioner has benefited, lack of data prevents any generalization to the overall DPT population. There are no data to suggest that, as a matter of course, a PT with a DPT will be paid more than one who possesses a master's or baccalaureate degree. Although there are exceptions, they should not be used to generalize to the DPT practitioner population. According to APTA's 2010 Median Income of Physical Therapists Summary Report, the number of years of experience in clinical practice exerts a larger influence on the variation in reported salaries than does the degree level of a PT's professional education.
7. What is a postprofessional DPT program?
A postprofessional DPT PT education program is one that: 1) allows the US-licensed PT to obtain the clinical doctorate by demonstrating knowledge commensurate with that of current professional (entry-level) DPT program outcomes, and 2) takes into account a learner/applicant's knowledge and experience.
8. Where can I find information about postprofessional DPT programs?
Postprofessional DPT programs are listed on APTA's website by state and program delivery method, with links provided to each academic program for more detailed information. This list of postprofessional programs does not necessarily mean recognition, approval, or endorsement by APTA, or accreditation by CAPTE.
Information about postprofessional DPT education programs and related resources can be found on APTA's website at www.apta.org/PostprofessionalDegree/TransitionDPTPrograms/. Prospective learner/applicants are strongly encouraged to contact postprofessional DPT programs electronically or by phone to learn about all program aspects.
9. Will postprofessional DPT programs always be available? If not, for how long will they be offered?
No. When demand for the postprofessional DPT essentially has been met, postprofessional DPT programs will lack an economic incentive to remain in operation. The exact timeframe is uncertain, but it is unlikely these programs will exist beyond 2020. While the trend from 1999–2006 was of increasing enrollment in postprofessional DPT programs, since 2007 programs have reported enrollment declines. Twenty-seven programs closed between 2005 and 2013.
10. Why are postprofessional DPT programs different from one another? What are some of the differences?
Postprofessional DPT programs vary in many ways. Because the educational mission of each institution of higher education—including the policies that govern graduate education—is unique, the configuration of each postprofessional DPT program is different. Many of the important distinctions can be found at www.apta.org/PostprofessionalDegree/TransitionDPTPrograms/. Postprofessional DPT programs are intended to conform to institutional mission and policy, but the prospective learner/applicant should evaluate program differences such as curriculum, length, delivery method(s), and price. These differences should be considered in assessing whether the program's goals serve the learner/applicant's interests and career pathway needs.
11. Why do programs vary in length?
The length of a program ordinarily correlates 2 factors: a) the graduation requirements of the institution, and b) the method of coursework delivery. Of course, whether a learner enrolls as a full-time or part-time student makes a significant difference in program length.
12. Are postprofessional DPT programs accredited by CAPTE? If not, how is quality ensured?
No. Postprofessional PT education programs are not accredited by CAPTE, which accredits only professional (entry-level) programs. In most cases, quality is ensured, however, by the facts that rigorous standards are applied to higher-education institutions by regional accrediting agencies, and by CAPTE to professional (entry-level) programs that offer postprofessional DPT programs. The vast majority of postprofessional DPT programs are located at institutions of higher education that have professional (entry-level) DPT programs that are CAPTE accredited, and at which regional accreditation of graduate programs is recognized by the US Department of Education (USDE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Several postprofessional DPT programs, however, are offered by a higher education institution or organizational entity without a CAPTE-accredited professional DPT program.
13. How many practitioners have enrolled in a postprofessional DPT program?
As of October 2012, academic programs reported more than 17,600 physical therapists were or had been enrolled in postprofessional DPT programs, with more than 15,000 reported graduates.
14. Do postprofessional DPT programs admit clinicians who have a baccalaureate PT degree? A certificate? A master's?
The majority (80%) of transition programs admit US-licensed or licensure-eligible PTs who have a minimum of a baccalaureate degree. In all cases, the learner/applicant is strongly encouraged to contact programs of interest directly to determine their admission requirements. As of October 2012, 7 programs reported that they would accept students who have licensure equivalency or Canadian licensure.
15. What are the prerequisites for a typical postprofessional DPT program?
- A baccalaureate, master's professional degree, or a certificate from a CAPTE-accredited professional degree program,
- A valid US license to practice physical therapy, or eligibility for licensure,
- Completion of an application to the academic institution,
- Transcripts from all professional and postprofessional degree programs.
- Specified standardized examinations and/or evaluation tools (such as the Graduate Record Examination [GRE], Physical Therapist Evaluation Tool [PTET]), and
- 2-3 letters of recommendation.
16. What content typically is found in a postprofessional DPT program?
Program content may include any of the following: clinical decision-making; diagnosis and medical screening; diagnostic imaging; pharmacology; health care systems; business and economics; outcomes measurement; patient/client management; clinical research; principles of evidenced-based practice; content specific to the musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular-pulmonary, and integumentary systems; health promotion and wellness; professionalism and professional issues; and applied case-based analysis or capstone.
17. Is there any agreement about what should be in a postprofessional DPT curriculum?
Among and between postprofessional DPT programs, there is a core set of courses about which there is some agreement. There likely will be a higher level of consistency among and between postprofessional DPT programs electing to use APTA's preferred curricular guide for the postprofessional DPT program as a foundation for designing a program-specific curriculum. Although its use is voluntary, the guide represents a consensus on preferred content in a postprofessional DPT program. The curricular guide is fully consistent with the Guide to Physical Therapist Practice and A Normative Model of Physical Therapist Professional Education, Version 2004.
18. Do work and life experiences count when applying for admission? If so, how?
Yes. However, the manner in which the learner/applicant's knowledge and experience are taken into account will vary from program to program. Some programs have less flexibility in adjusting graduation requirements based on knowledge and work/life experiences. Others can and do make significant adjustments—if, that is, the learner/applicant's knowledge can be documented. These adjustments may take the form of course/content waivers, substitution of required coursework with electives, or reduction in total credits required for graduation.
19. What is the cost of a postprofessional DPT degree? Why does it vary from program to program?
The price can range from about $6,200 to $28,000. It depends primarily on the number of credits required for graduation, the type of institution (public vs private), and whether one is paying in-state or out-of-state tuition. Although this is a critically important viable, there are other differences that also should be taken into account by the learner/applicant. Learner/applicants should consider, too, such factors as faculty expertise, geographic location, delivery mode, institution/program reputation, institution/program mission, and, most importantly, the learner/applicant's personal and professional long-range needs and career goals.
That written, 1 of the major variables in pricing is the degree to which a postprofessional DPT program chooses to account for the learner/applicant's knowledge and experience. Often, that determination directly affects the design of a learner-centered curriculum, including the number of credits required for graduation. For that reason, it is important to discuss pricing with each programs being considered.
20. If I enroll in a postprofessional DPT program, must I relocate or travel?
It depends on the program. Some postprofessional DPT programs deliver coursework entirely online, through distance education. In those cases, you needn't be geographically nearby, but you must have the necessary hardware, software, and high-speed Internet to participate in distance learning. Programs vary in the amount of coursework they deliver in distance mode. Some use it for all coursework, while others employ a combination of distance learning and onsite class-based learning (a hybrid approach). Again, the learner/applicant should discuss distance learning opportunities and/or onsite classroom requirements with each program being considered.
21. If the postprofessional DPT is delivered online, what computer hardware do I need? Software?
A. Minimum hardware requirements:
- 128 MB of RAM, 16-bit video card capable of 1024x768 screen resolution or better
- Microsoft Windows 98 SE, Windows NT 4.0 SP6a, Windows 2000 SP4, or Windows XP Service Pack 1,Service Pack 2, or Service Pack 3, Windows Vista, or Windows 7
- Mac OS X 10.3 or later
- Speakers or headphones
- CD-ROM drive or combination DVD/CD-ROM Drive or USB
B. Minimum software requirements:
- MS Office Suite or equivalent (word processing program, presentation/graphic program, and e-mail program)
- Antivirus program
- Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher
- Safari or Firefox
- Flash Player
- Adobe Acrobat Reader X or higher
22. How does the postprofessional DPT fit into APTA's Vision 2020?
APTA is committed to a fully inclusive transition to the status of a doctoring profession. Inclusiveness means that every US-licensed PT is afforded the opportunity to attain degree parity with practitioners who possess the professional clinical doctorate (DPT). In addition to the benefits to the PT, an inclusive transition benefits the profession, with a greater critical mass of PTs being prepared to practice using the most current body of knowledge and skills, including all aspects of patient/client management (see Guide to Physical Therapist Practice).
23. What is APTA's role in the postprofessional DPT?
APTA cannot have a direct impact on postprofessional DPT programs, which are configured, administered, and evaluated by their respective institutions of higher education on the basis of their own educational prerogatives. However, APTA completed and approved a 4-phased plan in 2000. The APTA Board of Directors' plan supporting the transition DPT is intended to serve the interests of postprofessional DPT programs and learner/applicants. A task force was appointed to oversee the plan's 4 phases and ensure its implementation. The fourth phase was dependent on transition DPT programs' need for faculty. Programs have been able to function without implementing the fourth phase of providing a faculty course/content pool.
Each phase concludes with a specific outcome or product. They are:
- Consensus-based competencies for the postprofessional DPT graduate, including "indicator " tasks that demonstrate achieved competencies,
- A preferred curricular model (modular) for the postprofessional DPT program,
- PTET—a valid instrument for evaluating the knowledge and experience of the learner/applicant, and
- A faculty course/content area pool—a resource for postprofessional DPT programs that wish to augment existing faculty to provide quality coursework for which institutional credit can be granted.
24. What is the Physical Therapist Evaluation Tool (PTET)?
Again, the PTET is the physical therapist evaluation tool. It is a valid mechanism for documenting the knowledge and experience of a learner/applicant who is applying to a postprofessional DPT program. The tool has 2 major components: 1) a professional portfolio, and 2) a tasks performed component. The items in the professional portfolio are linked to the tasks in the tasks performed component. This linkage can be used to further document that a learner/applicant possesses the knowledge needed to achieve some of the consensus-based outcome competencies of the postprofessional DPT graduate. The portfolio and tasks performed components help postprofessional DPT programs more easily and accurately make decisions about how to customize the learner/applicant's curriculum.
25. What are the benefits of the PTET?
The PTET provides:
- A consistent mechanism for the learner to document his/her knowledge, skills, and experience for admission to a postprofessional DPT program (depending upon program preferences),
- A mechanism for obtaining a self-evaluation score relative to a DPT-norm reference group,
- A valid basis for negotiating a customized learner-centered curriculum, depending on the academic program, that may reduce the total number of courses required for completion of the postprofessional DPT degree, and
- A consistent way to evaluate all users electing to complete the PTET.
26. Is there a fee for the PTET?
Yes. The fee is $400 for APTA members and $700 for nonmembers. To order the PTET from Credentialing Services Inc, go to www.apta.org/PostprofessionalDegree/PTET/Requesting/.
27. Does the PTET measure how well I perform? If not, what does it measure?
The PTET does not measure how well a learner/applicant performs the identified tasks. Rather, it documents the learner/applicant's knowledge and experience, using a scored frequency-based assessment of tasks. The tasks performed component of the PTET measures the frequency (number of times) the practitioner performs 148 possible tasks during daily clinical practice. Each of these tasks is correlated with a set of competencies that describe the knowledge, skills, and behaviors of a graduate of a transition DPT program.
The second component of the PTET, the professional portfolio, provides an opportunity for the applicant to fully describe degree-based experiences he or she has completed since graduating from the professional PT education program, as well as practice, education, and scholarly experiences completed in the past 10 years. All of the items included in the professional portfolio are related to the 148 possible tasks included in the tasks performed. Thus, the applicant has more than 1 way to demonstrate his or her knowledge, skills, and experiences when applying to a postprofessional DPT program.
28. What does the frequency with which I perform tasks have to do with competency?
Although a practical examination is ideal, the frequency with which designated tasks are performed can and does relate to competence. However, as in the case of the PTET, the tasks must be linked to the desired outcome competencies of the postprofessional DPT graduate. Using a norm-referenced group, a scoring key can be developed based on the frequency with which tasks correlated with desired clinical outcome competencies are performed. An instructive analogy is choosing a surgeon by using a recommended criterion: the frequency with which the surgeon has performed the surgical intervention in question.
29. What will I learn in a postprofessional DPT program that I don't know already?
You may already know some or all of what is included in a postprofessional DPT program as a result of ongoing review of professional literature, completion of continuing education programs, postprofessional education degree-based programs, clinical residencies or fellowships, earning board-certified specialist certification, and ability to remain current with professional issues. However, it also is possible that you have not learned and applied all the content associated with knowledge that has been added in the past 5-10 years to professional (entry-level) PT programs. For specific content typically found in postprofessional DPT programs, refer to question 16.
30. Why is it important for clinicians to acquire the postprofessional DPT?
The DPT is not currently required to be licensed to practice physical therapy. But there are several reasons to acquire a DPT:
- There is value in any educational experience that augments knowledge, skills, and behaviors in a way that helps better position the practitioner in a very uncertain health care environment,
- The postprofessional DPT program provides practitioners with a degree-based opportunity to acquire new knowledge, skills, and behaviors, and to do so among colleagues who have a wealth of experience in applying the science and art of physical therapy,
- Today, preparation to be a PT requires an educational experience that is, in fact, commensurate with doctoral preparation, and the DPT is the appropriate degree for that preparation,
- The postprofessional DPT program offers US-licensed PTs the opportunity to achieve degree parity with graduates of professional PT education programs,
- The DPT is the foundation of a doctoring profession, and the doctoral-prepared practitioner will be perceived as possessing all the rights, privileges, and obligations associated with membership in a doctoring profession, and
- The DPT is fully consistent with the profession's intentions regarding the role and responsibilities of the PT expressed in APTA's Vision 2020.
31. What factors should I consider in deciding whether to pursue the DPT?
There is little data regarding the consequences of having or not having the DPT. Learners should consider a variety of factors in deciding on a particular professional development pathway, including: a) available personal resources (time, money, energy), b) perceived value of additional degree-based learning, c) experiences of mentors and colleagues who can attest to the benefits of certain professional development/educational opportunities, d) benefits to patients/clients, and e) prospects for job opportunities and career enhancement.
32. Is the postprofessional DPT only for practicing PTs?
No. The postprofessional DPT degree is available to anyone who has a US license or is licensure eligible, and who has earned a professional baccalaureate, certificate, or master's degree in physical therapy. Thus, PT practitioners, educators, administrators, managers, and researchers can pursue a postprofessional DPT degree. Specific requirements for graduation may vary, however, depending on the professional PT degree earned; current knowledge, skills, and experience; and the specific program selected.
33. Can I get a postprofessional DPT degree if I am not US-licensed or licensure eligible as a PT?
For 85% of the programs offering the postprofessional DPT degree, US licensure and licensure eligibility are required. The remaining programs consider licensure equivalency and Canadian licensure on a case-by-case basis. APTA has a position, Transition DPT: Accessibility to Degree Programs (HOD P06-02-29-52), that states:
"All transition Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree programs should be accessible to graduates of baccalaureate, masters, certificate, or equivalent physical therapist programs. Transition DPT degree programs should allow for a learner-centered curriculum that takes into full account the knowledge and experience of the physical therapist applicant who is licensed in a US jurisdiction."
34. Once I earn a postprofessional DPT degree, can I be called "Doctor ______ "?
Yes. Conferral of the DPT degree means that the graduate is entitled to all of the rights and privileges associated with the doctoral degree. APTA has a position, Use of the Title "Doctor " By Physical Therapists (HOD P06-06-21-14) that states:
"The American Physical Therapy Association supports the use of the title of 'Doctor of Physical Therapy' only for those physical therapists who have graduated from a DPT program. In order to provide accurate information to consumers, physical therapists who have earned a Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree (DPT) and those who have earned other doctoral degrees and use the title 'Doctor' in practice settings shall indicate they are physical therapists. Use of the title shall be in accordance with jurisdictional law. "
The choice of whether, where, or when a practitioner exercises rights and privileges to be referred to as doctor is a matter of professional judgment and jurisdictional law. In addition, employers may have individual facility policies on this matter.