As is the case with any other specialty in the medical field, educational programs for physical therapy schools are highly regulated and closely monitored. This is to ensure that all students who attend physical therapy schools receive an equivalent education, including classroom courses, labs, and hands-on training opportunities, like weekly practicums and extended internships.
The organization responsible for reviewing and approving physical therapy training programs is the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Because accreditation by CAPTE requires a specific curriculum is offered by each physical therapy school in the nation, there are certain courses everyone takes when attending physical therapy colleges. Here are four of the main disciplines covered by physical therapy programs.
Health and Physical Sciences
The majority of student’s coursework while attending physical therapy school is focused on learning about the human body, including the inner workings of body systems and how they interact with one another. Courses in the health sciences include general biology, chemistry, human anatomy and physiology. Additionally, students must complete courses in physics in order to understand the manner in which the natural laws of science affect human and mechanical movement.
Every program specifies its own semester hour requirements for each of the previously mentioned subjects. The majority of physical therapy schools require students to complete 4 credits each in general biology, anatomy and physiology, and 8 credits each in physics and chemistry. Most of the health and physical science courses have accompanying labs required as well, though labs usually factor into the overall semester hours requirement and count as 1 credit hour of the total for each course.
Statistics is the primary course related to mathematics that’s required by most physical therapy schools, though mathematical and scientific calculations are a component of courses in the health and physical sciences as well, including chemistry and physics. The ability to understand statistical analysis and probability is crucial in any medical career, including physical therapy, which is the reason statistics is part of the core curriculum.
Social and Behavioral Sciences
Physical therapy students are usually required to take 6 credits in social and behavioral sciences in both sociology and psychology. A minimum of 3 credit hours in psychology is typical in physical therapy programs, and another 3 semester hours in sociology is also a common requirement. Some programs however do allow students to choose from elective courses in either sociology or psychology for satisfying the 3 additional social and behavioral science credit hours.
Clinicals and Internships
Because physical therapy is a hands-on field in which practitioners work directly with patients, hands-on training opportunities are a central part of any physical therapy school’s curriculum. Most schools offer students some amount of clinical training either during or immediately after completion of the second semester of study.
Additionally, all physical therapy schools require multiple clinicals or internships of their students, usually including at least two shorter rotations of four to six weeks, and minimum one longer internship of at least eight to twelve weeks. Again, every program has its own standards for number, duration and type of internships required for graduation, but all physical therapy students must complete extensive hands-on training in the clinical environment.