10 Tips on Picking the Right Physical Therapy Program for YOU

Recently, a pre-DPT student commented on the Pre-Doctor of Physical Therapy Students Facebook Group that she was overwhelmed by the number of DPT programs.  She wasn’t sure where to start.  That’s not surprising; in the national rankings of DPT programs, there are almost 200 schools!  How do you narrow down that list?  Applying to a single program through the PTCAS site is $150!  If you decide to apply to 10, expect to pay $550.  PT school itself isn’t cheap, so it is necessary to do your research and find the best program(s) for you.

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After I thought about her question, I came up with the top 10 things that I think are important when considering which PT programs to apply to.  Check them out:

1. What is your learning style?

Have you had an online course? Did you enjoy it? Many programs are doing a flex program, which has lecture and online material. Some programs are more focused on the online portion. If you learn best from lectures, focus on avoiding schools with a heavy emphasis on online learning.

2. How best do you remember material?

For example, do you remember things from lectures, hands-on work, demonstration, or through active problem solving best? If you like to learn through researching a problem, you might want to consider a school that focuses on a problem based learning process. PT school is tough, and you need to know what works best for you.

3. How long do you want to commit?

There are some programs that are accelerated and are only 2 years long. Most programs are 3 years long, but there has been an increase in non-traditional programs like the USA Flex programs. These programs tend to be 4 years long and are ideal for someone who wants to work part-time, doesn’t want to relocate for school, and is willing to spread out their learning. This does not mean that the 4 year long program is ‘easier’ by any means! It’s just a different schedule, with a focus on meeting in person 2x a month to work on hands on skills.

4. Cost.

The return on investment on physical therapy can be low. (You aren’t stuck there of course, if you know how to market yourself, start a side hustle, brand yourself, network, etc.  I learned a lot about this from Greg Todd through his PT builder classes like Smart Success PT).

Private schools versus public schools tend to have a big price difference. Also in-state/out-state makes a HUGE difference. As an in-state student, I pay roughly 5 grand for one semester. My out of state peers pay more like 15 grand.

5. Clinical setups.

Do you want to travel? Would you like to specialize? Don’t have any idea? That’s fine. My recommendation is to pick a program that is flexible and encourages rotations that best match their students. Beware of schools that say ‘we don’t have many clinical options, it is more like a draft, we can make a custom rotation, but it doesn’t really happen, etc.’

How important is clinical experience to you? My clinicals were 4 8 weeks rotations. Some schools have 12 week rotations, 6 month rotations, or even as short as 4 week rotations!

Another thing is that one program, MGH Institute of Health Professions, has a PAID rotation. It’s closer to an internship/residency. Your pay is lower than a PT, but you aren’t paying to work for free like I was.

6. Program philosophy.

Different programs treat their students differently. Would you like to have a closer/personal relationship with your professors? Do you want someone to talk to about your personal life and how it interferes with school? Are current students terrified of ‘disappointing their professors, getting kicked out, or facing consequences for critics of the program?’

If it is the latter, avoid this like the plague. It is most likely not a positive learning experience, and you don’t need that negativity and additional stress in your life. DPT school is hard enough without feeling like you aren’t being supported.

What is the program’s goal for patient care? High caseload or patient focused care? Do they prepare you for management? These questions are important, too.

7. Technology

If you are a technology lover, you want to avoid schools that are using ‘out-dated tech’ or refuse to acknowledge the societal change in communication towards social media. At the same time, don’t get too distracted by programs with lots of bells and whistles. An ideal program shouldn’t jump on a bandwagon, and they should be flexible in changing their attitudes towards technology.

8. Class Size

Some schools have fewer classmates than others. This can be important to consider.

9. Electives?

This was another area that varies between programs. One of my best friends had the opportunity to take elective courses like medical Spanish, aquatics, study abroad service projects, etc. I’ve heard of programs that specialize in hippotherapy, too.  Programs with electives can provide unique learning opportunities and great networking!

10. Their Approach To Conferences.

This was one thing I liked about my program, even though it seemed odd at the time. My program required us to attend a state and national conference in PT. These conferences are vital to expanding your horizons as a PT and can seriously change your life.

So where do you go from there? I would start a chart of ‘must haves, ‘wants’, and ‘dislikes.’ Rank your interested schools and narrow down your search. From there, FIND A RECENT ALUMNI. Someone who has gone through the program will have great insight to what you might experience.

The great thing about the Pre-Doctorate of Physical Therapy Students Facebook group is that within there is a network of pre-DPT students, DPT students, new DPT grads, and PT professionals who have been practicing for any number of years. The members there ARE a great resource.

Feel free to comment below or message me at my Facebook business page, Rebekah James – Facts, Fitness, Fun.  I’d love to help if I can.

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Much of what I have learned about physical therapy and online health/wellness, I have learned from Greg Todd, the founder of Physical Therapy Builder.  He is a fantastic physical therapist whose mission is to help physical therapy students and physical therapists provide patient focused care without becoming overwhelmed.  Greg Todd is also known as a “social media guru,” and I have a lot of thank him for.  I highly suggest his courses, especially Smart Success PT.  In May, I attended Smart Success PT Live, a business, marketing, and branding course by some of the top PT entrepreneurs in the field.

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