Is a physical therapist a doctor? It depends on who you ask.
Not all Physical Therapists (PTs) have a doctorate degree (DPT).
Some PTs may only have a bachelor’s degree, while others have a masters degree in physical therapy (MSPT).
This is because the DPT or Doctor of Physical Therapy degree was first issued just back in 1996. Prior to this, master’s degrees were offered in the 80’s and 90’s, and even into the 2000s, but bachelors and masters degrees in physical therapy have since phased out.
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Since thousands of PTs with bachelors and masters degrees are still working in clinics all over the country, the answer to the question is really this: no, because not all PTs have their doctorates.
So let’s ask a more specific question: Are DPTs considered a doctor?
Personally I’ve completed a 3 year Doctor of Physical Therapy program and technically I can use the title “Dr.” in front of my name.
The same is true for chiropractors who complete 3 years of graduate studies or audiologists who earn a doctorate degree within a 3-4 year AUD program.
Physical Therapists who earn a doctoral degree are just as much as ‘doctor’ as a doctor of audiology or doctor of chiropractic is a doctor. But make no mistake, a 3 year doctor of physical therapy degree is not the same as a 4 year medical degree along with at least 3 years of residency training that medical doctors complete.
A lot of health care providers can be referenced by the title, “Dr.” but it should not be confused with the title of “Dr.” as used by medical physicians.
Heck, you can even earn your Ph.D in nursing, making you a Doctor of Nursing. I don’t even know how that would work, “Hi I’m Tim the Nurse doctor – or is it Dr. Nurse? Talk about confusing.
Now if you’re thinking – wait a minute, how do I know what kind of doctor I’m talking to if they simply introduce themselves as “Dr. So-and-so.”
Well, you can’t. Unless they qualify what kind of doctor they are before they start throwing around the term Doctor before their name.
Don’t Confuse a DPT for a Physician
As a Physical Therapist with doctoral level training, I value the expertise I have when it comes to the movement system. But I rarely refer to myself with those two little letters and when I do I always include the full title. So if I do feel the need to use the word doctor I’ll say: Hi, I’m Tim, a “Doctor of Physical Therapy.”
I do this for two reasons:
- So the patient is not confused. I don’t want the patient to think I am a medical doctor, especially as I continue to practice Physical Therapy as a part of a hospital clinic setting.
- If I feel the need to supplement my name with the title “doctor of Physical Therapy”, it is clear and to the point. And I almost always follow that up with the line, “but you can call me Tim.”
It’s not that I don’t value my doctorate degree or the 3 years of graduate studies. I earned the degree and I’m very proud of the work I put in to achieve my DPT.
But I went into healthcare to help people move better, not to hear them refer to me based on the degree I earned.
So yes, a Physical Therapist who earned their doctorate is technically a doctor of physical therapy. I’ve never met a DPT who insisted you refer to them as doctor, but I’m sure they’re out there. But personally, you won’t hear me refer to myself as doctor unless I say the full title: Doctor of Physical Therapy.
Doctor of Physical Therapy Salary
Many people assume the salary for a Physical Therapist with a doctorate is higher than a PT with a masters or bachelors degree. The truth is that your degree does not determine your salary in physical therapy.
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