What does DPT mean?
We as physical therapists get a lot of questions regarding the letters after our names. Most commonly, you will see “Mary Jane, PT, DPT” if that person has graduated in the last 10 – 15 years. Breaking that down, “PT” simply indicates the person’s title of Physical Therapist and means that they have passed their national licensure exam to treat patients. “DPT” indicates the degree that person has earned and stands for Doctor of Physical Therapy. If you see “MPT” that person just graduated before the transition to “DPT” and is no less qualified to treat you. The MPT was traditionally 2 years post-baccalaureate whereas the DPT is now 3 years. The next question that inevitably follows is, “Oh! So, you have a PhD?” The answer to that question is “no”, but the semantics of it all can get confusing, so let’s clear that up.
The term “PhD” stands for Doctor of Philosophy and is the highest degree you can achieve in nearly every other discipline except medicine. This is a research degree which focuses on scholarly/professional development. People often go on to teach in their respective area after completing this degree.
A Doctor of Physical Therapy is typically considered a professional or clinical degree. It focuses on the development of skills / knowledge needed to carry out the requirements of their profession. This involves a didactic classroom approach as well as in-clinic experience under the license of supervising practitioners in the field. Also different from a PhD, though similar to the DPT, is a Doctor of Medicine (MD), a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP), and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degrees. Though these programs differ significantly in length and content of the curriculum, they also do not result in a PhD.
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