The Doctor Debate: Physical Therapists Share Their Thoughts on the DPT

If it’s been awhile since you earned your PT degree, you may be surprised to learn that of the 211 accredited physical therapy education programs in the US, only 13 are at the master’s level (MPT, MSPT, MS), while 198 are doctoral (DPT). This shift is largely a result of the American Physical Therapy Association’s “Vision 2020,” a series of goals for the profession to achieve by the year 2020. One of the goals states that “by 2020, physical therapy will be provided by physical therapists who are doctors of physical therapy.” By encouraging physical therapists to pursue doctoral-level studies, APTA hopes physical therapists will eventually be recognized as “practitioners of choice” to whom consumers have “direct access” for diagnosis and care. But is the shift toward to DPT really necessary? What incentives do practicing PTs have for going back to obtain the DPT? And are Doctors of Physical Therapy faring better in the workforce? surveyed our database of physical therapists to learn the answers to these questions and more. With nearly 300 individual respondents and over 500 comments, the topic is definitely generating some debate.


Who is a Doctor of Physical Therapy?

According to the survey, 24% of respondents are Doctors of Physical Therapy, and 5% are presently working toward the DPT or transitional DPT (t-DPT). Another 15% have plans to obtain the DPT or t-DPT. That leaves 56% of respondents without the DPT or plans to obtain the DPT.


More Money?

As for those who already have the DPT, just one in four believes the advanced degree has increased their earnings. Although one might think the additional training would command a higher salary, in reality, insurance companies do not currently reimburse at a higher rate for DPTs, so there is no immediate reason for employers to pay them a higher salary. The lack of reward is a common point of contention for those who have earned the DPT.  After all, the extra schooling means more tuition and more student loans, and many PTs believe they should not have to go to the additional expense if they cannot expect to make more money.


More Respect?

Don’t count on it. According to 62% of our survey respondents, Doctors of Physical Therapy do not receive more respect than physical therapists without the degree. Just 17% said they believed those with the DPT do get more respect and the remaining 20% weren’t sure. Several respondents clarified their responses in the comments section, saying that employers give more weight to experience (than advanced degrees), while patients initially grant more respect to a Doctor of Physical Therapy. However, almost all of the comments suggested that a patient’s respect is earned over the course of treatment, and how a therapist treats the patient – as well as the outcome – matters far more than years of experience or an advanced degree.


Is a DPT a “Real” Doctor?

While the DPT is a doctoral level degree, does it earn you the right to be called “doctor”? Opinion is split in this area. According to the survey, 31% say yes, 42% say no, and another 27% are undecided. Comments on the question are equally divisive, with many saying that PTs who use the title “doctor” are misleading patients and confusing coworkers. Others insist that DPTs have earned the right to be called “doctor” through advanced education, the same as a chiropractor or anyone with a PhD. A few suggest that while a differentiation in title is deserved, a term other than “doctor” is needed to ease confusion.


What’s the Point?

If APTA achieves its “Vision,” all physical therapists will be doctors of physical therapy by the year 2020, but with no real incentive for MPTs or BSPTs to go back to school, is this a realistic goal? 54% of survey respondents say no, primarily citing the cost of additional education as the barrier. 22% say the goal is realistic because almost all physical therapist education programs are doctoral and many older PTs are retiring. 24% of respondents are undecided.


Regardless of the letters behind your name, job security for all physical therapists still appears to be solid. The most recent projections from the Bureau of Labor Statistics predict 30% growth for the physical therapy profession over the ten year period ending 2018. With the demand for physical therapists on the rise, it seems fears that MPTs and BSPTs could be forced out of the profession are unfounded.


The debate surrounding both the value and significance of the DPT continues. View the full results of the survey on the Facebook Page and be sure to share your thoughts on the value and importance of the DPT in the discussion area.