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Online Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy (tDPT) Degree Programs

Like many healthcare professions, physical therapy is a field that has evolved to incorporate new technologies and new approaches to data-driven, evidence-based practice. It is also a profession that is strictly regulated by the states, which require physical therapists (PTs) to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for licensure. In most states, eligibility to sit for the exam is extended to graduates from training programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Prior to 2015, graduates from CAPTE-accredited baccalaureate and master’s in physical therapy programs were eligible for licensure. However, the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) has recommended that all licensed PTs hold a doctoral degree in physical therapy (DPT) by 2020. As a result, master’s in physical therapy programs have been phased out and there is now a two-tiered system for PT training: bachelor’s programs that offer pre-physical therapy curricula, and DPT programs that prepare students for licensure as professional PTs.

What is a tDPT Degree?

A tDPT degree, which may also be designated as a post-professional DPT degree, is a training program specifically designed for licensed PTs who have not yet earned a doctoral degree in physical therapy. These programs provide advanced instruction in areas of professional practice outlined by the APTA, including medical imaging, pharmacology, pathophysiology, clinical research, evidence-based practice, and professional and ethical conduct in an autonomous practice. In contrast to standard DPT programs, which can include up to 90 weeks of full-time supervised internship experience and take three or more years to complete, tDPT programs do not include internships and can be completed in roughly two years by PTs with a master’s degree. PTs who enter a tDPT program with a bachelor’s degree may take closer to three years to graduate.

Online tDPT Programs

In addition to campus-based tDPT programs, which require students to commute to a campus for classes, there are online tDPT programs that offer all or most of their instruction through distance learning technologies. These programs provide a more flexible and convenient alternative to attending a campus-based program, particularly for students who cannot or would prefer not to relocate or commute in order to earn their degree. Students in an online tDPT program access lectures and other instructional materials through a school’s learning management system (LMS). An LMS is an online platform that supports the streaming of lectures, facilitates online discussion forums, and allows students to complete assignments and interact with instructors using a secure Internet connection.

How Identifies and Classifies Online tDPT Programs conducts independent research into online degree programs and identifies programs that offer a transitional or post-professional doctorate in physical therapy for PTs who are licensed by the state in which they practice. These programs must be offered by regionally accredited, non-profit colleges and universities, and they must have programmatic accreditation from CAPTE. In addition, they must offer all or most of their coursework online. Programs that require students to attend more than two campus-based sessions per year are not included on the site.

What Students Learn in an Online tDPT Program

The tDPT curriculum is designed to augment and enhance the practicing PTs knowledge of physical therapy in several key areas. Students in a tDPT learn about advances in diagnostic imaging technologies and how to incorporate this knowledge into their practice. They receive instruction in pharmacology, physiology, nutritional health, and evidence-based innovations in healthcare that are relevant to the practice of physical therapy. And they cultivate strategies for effectively managing a physical therapy practice, and for communicating with patients, insurers, and other healthcare professionals. Students entering a tDPT program with a bachelor’s degree take additional coursework in the treatment of patients with various pathologies, including musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, and neurological disorders. In addition, some tDPT programs provide elective coursework in physical therapy specializations, such as orthopedics, pediatrics, geriatrics, advanced nutrition, and women’s health.

Online tDPT Program Courses

A typically tDPT program curriculum includes ten to twelve courses, some of which may be electives. While course names and descriptions vary by program, the table below offers a representative overview of the types of classes generally offered in an online program.

Course TitleCourse Description
Foundations of Autonomous PracticeAn exploration of concepts related to physical therapy diagnosis, screening for underlying pathology, and application of a Disablement Model to clinical cases.
Prevention & WellnessThe role of the PT in primary care and patient management, with a focus on the use of epidemiological research and the prescription of exercises for wellness.
Pharmacology in RehabilitationAn overview of primary drug classes, with an emphasis on drugs that are commonly used to treat patients receiving physical therapy.
Legal and Ethical Issues for PT's: Considerations in Risk ManagementAn examination of legal, ethical, and administrative considerations in clinical practice, including PT malpractice, legal aspects of documentation, informed consent, sexual harassment and misconduct, professional responsibility, preparation for a deposition, contract law issues, and liability risk management.
Business & MarketingA comprehensive analysis of factors that influence the economics, organizational management, and ethical and legal aspects of physical therapy practice.
Medical ImagingThe tools needed to interpret and apply specialized medical imaging in the practice of physical therapy.
Coding and ReimbursementAn overview of compliance, documentation, coding, billing, and payment procedures for physical therapy services in outpatient settings.
Screening Medical DisordersThe DPT’s role as an interdependent practitioner working within a collaborative medical model, and the DPT’s responsibilities regarding the identification of clinical manifestations requiring referral to a physician.
Clinical NutritionThe fundamental role of nutrition in promoting health, with special emphasis on the physiological functions of energy-providing nutrients in the body and their interrelationships.
Educational Strategies for Effective Healthcare DeliveryAn exploration of the diverse and growing teaching expectations and opportunities for physical therapists, including their role as educators with students, patients, family members, and in the community. 
Comprehensive Case AnalysisStudents write a comprehensive and publishable case report, refine it, and analyze it as a final capstone project.

Admissions to Online tDPT Programs

Admissions guidelines and criteria for online tDPT programs vary by program and by an applicant’s prior level of educational attainment. By definition, tDPT programs restrict eligibility to candidates who are state licensed, practicing PTs, which means applicants must hold either a bachelor’s or a master’s degree in physical therapy. While most tDPT accept applicants who were trained in master’s programs, not all programs have a track for PTs who received their training in bachelor’s programs. Potential applicants should examine a program’s guidelines carefully to determine whether or not they are eligible for admission. Finally, applicants are typically asked to submit two or three letters of recommendation and a short written statement of purpose with their application materials. Some programs may request a phone interview or video conference with candidates as part of the admissions process.

Online tDPT Program Formats

Online tDPT programs are generally structured to accommodate PTs who intend to continue working while earning their degree. However, there are several formatting factors that vary by program and that can impact the relative convenience and flexibility of an online program. Prospective applicants should be aware of and may want to consider the following three components of an online degree program:

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Instruction: These are the two primary modes of online instruction and they can have a significant impact on a student’s online learning experience. Courses that employ synchronous instruction have designated meeting times for classes and lectures. Students in a program that utilizes synchronous instruction must align their schedules so that they can be logged on to the school’s LMS for real-time instructional activities. Asynchronous instruction does not include a real-time component. Instead, students in a course that utilizes asynchronous instruction can log on to the school’s LMS at their convenience in order to view lectures and complete assignments. While asynchronous instruction does afford more flexibility than synchronous instruction, it requires more self-discipline, as students are responsible for keeping up with course lectures and turning assignments in on time.

Part-Time vs. Full-Time Enrollment: A typical online tDPT program can be completed in roughly two years by students who enter the program with a master’s degree and take two or three courses per semester for five semesters, including one summer session. Candidates entering with a bachelor’s degree generally take two or three courses per semester for two additional semesters, which leads to graduating in roughly three years. That plan of study constitutes full-time enrollment in most tDPT programs. For students who would prefer to take fewer courses per semester, there are some online tDPT programs that offer part-time enrollment. Part-time enrollment generally equates to taking one or two courses per semester and graduating in three or more years.

Campus Visits: While there are tDPT programs that are 100% online and do not require students to attend on-campus sessions, there are some online programs that incorporate campus visits into their curricular requirements. A campus visit is typically a three- to ten-day session during which students participate in workshops, seminars, and other in-person instructional activities. They can be a valuable addition to an online degree program, but they may cause scheduling conflicts for some students. Programs that require more than two campus visits per year are not included on this site. However, prospective applicants to online tDPT programs should be aware that some programs require attendance at a limited number of on-campus sessions.