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Raising the Bar in Rehab

DPT Degree

Published August 4, 2011 8:12 AM by

I haven't really written before about the transition to the DPT degree, or the APTA's vision 2020 that all therapists hold DPT degrees. Practitioners, educators and other health care providers have very strong feelings about the DPT degree. When I started my graduate degree for physical therapy, my school had already transitioned to the DPT program, so I didn't have the option of finishing with a master's degree. I was OK with it, because I liked the extra coursework and better understanding of the cardiac system, pharmacology and evidence-based research.

There were a lot of times while I was in school when my class and I would discuss the DPT degree, our reputations in a world of bachelor's and master's degree clinicians, and the expectations of an entry-level new graduate. Sometimes we heard a lot of feedback, reminding us that nothing replaces experience, and other times telling us that the DPT degree is the step our profession needed toward attaining direct-access rights. 

I wrote an article for ADVANCE a few months ago about early mobility in the ICU, developing collaboration with other disciplines and its impact on patient care. It was an article about standards of practice and implementing a protocol to maximize mobility with critically ill patients. Following its publication, a Letter to the Editor was written by a physical therapist, who basically reminded me that other therapists have been practicing in the ICU for years and I wasn't writing about anything new. I agree with that, and I wasn't implying that therapists hadn't worked in an ICU before. But the response continued to outline how my DPT degree somehow gave me a know-it-all-attitude, how "disheartening" my lack of research was and how "disrespectful" I was to experienced therapists. 

I was surprised. The article I wrote was not about education or my degree but somehow my critic connected the dots and interpreted it that way. I wasn't sure if I should write a response, potentially adding fuel to the fire or to bite my tongue and somehow feel guilty about my education. I don't like disappointing people, and I certainly wasn't trying to offend any readers or clinicians when I wrote the article. Aren't we supposed to be educating others, sharing our treatment techniques and our practice experience?

What do you think? Why is there so much discussion about the DPT degree? If I had written that article as a therapist with a bachelor's degree, would the responses been any different? Is there a reason why our degrees define us?


I'm kind of late to this party, but I'm pretty interested in this issue, and I thought I'd chime in.  Just in my very limited experience, I've seen plenty of academic snobbery in my DPT program (when my classmates compared themselves to MEDICAL doctors no less), so it seems like, if this same attitude is what BSPTs and MSPTs are encountering from DPTs, it's not surprising that DPTs have acquired such a know-it-all reputation.  Obviously this is unfair to the many quietly brilliant and not ostentatious DPTs out there, but...that whole one bad apple thing. :/

As a quick aside, does anyone think the APTA has a bit of a moral obligation to help bring down the cost of getting the DPT?  Seeing as it was their brainchild to upgrade everyone to an education costing $100K or more to get.... (I've already mortgaged my future with student loans, so change will do me no good, but I hate to see anyone else do the same to themselves.)  My reservations with the mandatory DPT are many and varied, but I just wondered what other folks thought.  Thanks! :)

Jill, DPT student February 29, 2012 3:45 AM

Lisa, I think this is an interesting article, but not for the reason that you wrote it. I think people need to get over themselves and not get focused on degrees and experience. There are pluses to having an advanced degree, but there are minuses, too, just as there are pluses for experience and minuses for not enough educatio. The point to that is, though, that, no matter what the education or experience level, everyone "fits in" to their particular niche and does just fine. They bring valuable skills to every interaction with the patient. If the practitioner doesn't have the in-depth education, he or she can go ask someone for more conceptual understanding, if needed. Likewise, if someone has a whole lot of educatio and is perplexed about how to treat a patient, he or she can go ask someone with experience.

The drive of the national PT groups, though, to demand doctorate level training completely misses that concept, which is reality. Does it really seem reasonable that every single practitioner will need to have the ability for direct access and thus necessitate the advanced degree training? Of course not. I believe that about 40% of PTs work in hospitals. There is no direct access issue there, but by demanding the advanced training, APTA sets up a completely artificial training need that does not reflect the reality in which we practice. In addition, I would imagine that many therapists, after 6 years of training, may be expecting more pay than a hospital pays for inpatient work than they would typically get. This would be the same as all residency programs demanding everyone to be a specialist - soon we lose an important part of the practitioner population. Is it really reasonable to, as time goes on, set up a system in which every single PT practitioner has an advanced degree? Why would that be needed? Do no PTs need an advanced degree? No. Do all need and advanced degree? No. The truth is in the middle.

Scott Hardin, PM&R - MD, St Luke's October 5, 2011 5:36 PM
Milwaukee WI


I thank you for your kind responses.  I could go on and on about my feelings on the degree, but I don't really think it's the degree that matters. It's the way you treat patients, interact with others and advocate for what needs to be done.  I'll keep speaking my mind if you keep reading it!


Lisa West August 4, 2011 4:22 PM

Lisa - I am also a BSPT having graduated in 1971 when there was nothing else. The world was rocked when the Masters Program became mainstream, but there was no good reason for me to go back to obtain that degree - same salary, same position, same duties, same respect from those around me. Then the Doctorate Program came along, Yes, there was plenty of discussion. The only animosity I had was against PT's who flashed their degree and wanted to be called "Doctor". I thought the extra education was great. You never have anything to apologize for. Like Dean, I read the post much different from the other reader. If the DPT is the entry level now, great! Experience trumps most other stuff after you get whatever they call that degree. I have been a PT for 40 years, love my profession, and although I have very strong reservations against direct access, I applaud all discussions with other PT's and if some have a know-it-all attitude, I guarantee you Lisa, they had it before ever entering PT school. Keep up the great posts and keep giving your opinion - AL

Al DiMicco, Ortho/Sports - Director of PT, UAB - West August 4, 2011 1:25 PM
Bessemer AL

I am a BSPT who read your article and did not interpret it in the same way as the other reader. I read your posts on this site regularly and have never experienced the 'us vs them' feeling regarding the DPT from your writings. I have experienced that from other APTA material however.

You should never feel guilty about your education. You've earned your degree and should write DPT after your name with pride. I really don't think my career or my patients would be any better served if I were to get a DPT at this point in my career. I do resent the condescension from some in the profession. I'll stack up my experience (in older adults) against a new DPT any day! In time it won't matter as geezers like myself will have moved on, retired, or may have actually gotten the darn degree.

Keep writing! Remember that the perfect recipe for failure is trying to please everyone. Speak your mind, check your evidence, and keep being nice to the guys who have been around a while.

Cheers, Dean

Dean Metz August 4, 2011 12:02 PM

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