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What Courses Are Needed to Become a Physical Therapist?

by Gale Thompson

Physical therapists are health professionals who assist patients in regaining mobility and strength and decreasing pain after an injury or illness. To practice professionally, they must undergo years of training and education, usually resulting in a doctor of physical therapy degree. Proper undergraduate courses prepare students for a future career and for more rigorous coursework in graduate school. These recommended courses help develop critical thinking, writing, speaking and other skills considered necessary for the field. Common majors include biology, kinesiology or exercise science and public health.

Introductory Science Courses

Future physical therapists may major in any discipline; however, they must show a mastery of science knowledge. Students should begin by completing at least two semesters each of introductory biology, chemistry and physics, complete with labs. Students in these classes will become familiarized with basic concepts in anatomy, physiology and other physical processes in nature. These initial sequences are required before going on to more rigorous and specific coursework.

Additional Prerequisites

The wide-ranging work of physical therapists requires much more than knowledge of the sciences. Two semesters of English or composition are often required to establish analytical and communication skills. An introductory psychology course, examining human behavior and interpersonal communication, is often required as well. A foundation in mathematics, including precalculus and statistics, is commonly required to understand basic formulas and data collection and analysis.

Advanced Courses

Once the introductory sequences are complete, move on to advanced coursework that examines topics more relevant to physical therapy. Courses in human anatomy and physiology are crucial, as they delve deeper into the structure and function of bodily processes. A class in child growth and development or developmental biology is often required as well. Other higher-level classes may include abnormal psychology, calculus, sports science, exercise physiology and kinesiology.

Recommended Electives

Electives in both the sciences and humanities are beneficial for future physical therapists. Specialized biology electives including biopsychology, microbiology, biomechanics and embryology may prove helpful, as will a higher level math course such as calculus. Recommended classes in the social sciences include history, sociology and anthropology. A course in sports psychology is often recommended as well. A foreign language can also be quite helpful for the career of a prospective physical therapist. Other recommended humanities courses include education, speech and the fine arts. Finally, related internships are highly recommended; volunteer and work experience are often required for graduate school applications.

About the Author

Gale Marie Thompson's work has been published in "Denver Quarterly," "Los Angeles Review" and "Best New Poets 2012." Thompson holds a BA in English and creative writing from the College of Charleston, a MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is working on a PhD at the University of Georgia.

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