Is a Physical Therapist a doctor?
It depends on the PT.
Not all Physical Therapists (PTs) have a Doctorate degree (DPT).
Some PTs only have a Bachelor’s degree, while others have a Master’s of Science in Physical Therapy (MSPT).
This is because prior to the mid-90s, all Physical Therapists held either a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. After the first DPT degree was issued in 1996, Master’s degrees continued to be offered into the early 2000s, but have since been phased out, as have Bachelor’s degrees.
However, there are thousands of older PTs with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees still working in clinics all over the country. So to answer your question, a Physical Therapist is not necessarily a doctor – because not all PTs hold a doctorate degree (DPT).
So let’s ask a more specific question:
Is a DPT considered a doctor?
Technically, yes. Completing a 3-year Doctor of Physical Therapy program qualifies you to use the title “Dr.” in front of your name.
And while a DPT could be considered a “Doctor,” so can many other healthcare professionals: for instance, chiropractors who complete 3 years of graduate studies, or audiologists who earn a doctorate within a 3-4 year AUD program. Heck, earning your Ph.D in Nursing makes you a Doctor of Nursing, though I don’t know how that would work for introductions: “Hi, I’m Tim the Nurse doctor” – or is it Dr. Nurse? Talk about confusing.
What’s important is not to assume a healthcare provider with the title “Dr.” is a medical physician with a medical degree (MD). My 3-year DPT degree does not equal a 4-year medical degree (MD), requiring a minimum of 3 years in additional residency training.
So how do you know whether the “Dr. So-and-So” you’re talking to is a Medical Doctor?
In short, you don’t know one way or the other unless the provider qualifies what kind of doctorate they hold.
How I Introduce Myself To Patients
As a Physical Therapist with doctoral level training, I value my hard-earned expertise of the movement system. But I rarely refer to myself with the two little letters of “Dr.” – and when I do, I always include the full title. It would sound something like this: “Hi, I’m Tim, a Doctor of Physical Therapy.”
I include my full title for two reasons:
- To ensure the patient isn’t confused. I want it to be clear to them that I am not a medical doctor, despite practicing Physical Therapy in a hospital setting.
- To concisely clarify my specialty. After introducing myself as a “Doctor of Physical Therapy,” I almost always follow with, “but you can call me Tim.”
I am not shy about my title, but I don’t insist on being called by it. The three years I spent earning my doctorate degree are certainly worth my acknowledgment and pride.
But ultimately, I pursued healthcare to help people move better – not to get a fancy title.
You’ll find most Physical Therapists feel this way. Although a DPT is technically a doctor of physical therapy, it’s rare for a DPT to insist you refer to them as “Doctor.” (I’ve never met one who does, but I’m sure it’s possible!)
Personally, you’ll only hear me refer to myself as “doctor” when I use my full title: Doctor of Physical Therapy.
Doctor of Physical Therapy Salary
Now that you know there are some PTs with a doctorate, but others with a master’s of bachelor’s, you may assume the different degrees fetch different salaries. This assumption is generally false. In the world of physical therapy, degree does not dictate salary, and a DPT does not necessarily make more money than an MSPT does.
Further, a DPT is not the final rung on the learning ladder. Just because you have a DPT doesn’t mean you’re done learning! To continue developing your career, consider Physical Therapy continuing education in a CEU (Continuing Education Unit). With so many courses available, it may be challenging to find quality continuing education for cheap. Check out my blog to find cheap CEUs, as well as other resources for physical therapists and healthcare professionals alike – regardless of the “Dr.” title.
Read Next: Physical Therapy Salary
Is a Physical Therapist a Doctor
While many PTs have earned a doctor of physical therapy degree, they are not medical doctors or physicians.