For some patients, it’s pretty hard to distinguish between a medical doctor and a physical therapist. While such patients may assume that their (physical) therapist is also a (medical) doctor, this isn’t actually the case.

Due to their failure to appropriately distinguish between these two health professionals (medical doctor and physical therapist), patients may end up approaching the wrong professional when in need of medical attention. We could therefore imagine somebody with body pain visiting a medical doctor whereas he/she should have considered approaching a physiotherapist.

While there’s the need for patients to know the difference between a doctor and a physical therapist, this post provides an explanatory answer to the question “Are physical therapists doctors?”

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Reading this post, you’ll learn a lot as the post covers much information about what is meant by physical therapy, what physical therapists do and the steps to become a physical therapist. So that readers are able to clearly see the difference between a doctor and a physical therapist, this post further explains what is meant by medicine, what medical doctors do and the steps to become a medical doctor.

An Overview of Physical Therapy

Physical therapy is a therapeutic field concerned with the care and management of injuries that can hamper patients’ physical wellbeing. It is a care-specific profession aimed at enhancing or restoring patients’ physical fitness such that the patients can be more productive in their day-to-day activities.

When viewed as a career, physical therapy comprises several sub-specialties including orthopedics, wound-dressing, musculoskeletal, electromyography, endocrinology, neurology and cardiopulmonary.

In physical therapy, experts look into a patient’s history and combine this with a thorough physical assessment of the patient in order to appropriately diagnose them. Following the diagnosis, these experts (physical therapists) can then design the ideal exercise regimen for the patient. Experts in physical therapy may also integrate CT-scans, MRI findings and X-rays into their diagnostic approach.

Some of the activities involved in physical therapy are diagnosing a patient’s condition, drawing up an injury management plan for the patient, provision of manual therapy, manipulation (of the patient’s body) and assisting the patient with selected exercises.

Who Are Physical Therapists?

Physical therapists can be defined by what they do.

Basically, physical therapists are specialists who work towards patients’ achievement and maintenance of physical fitness. In doing so, physical therapists perform various functions including working out the appropriate exercise program for restoring their patients’ physical health.

In discharging their duties, physical therapists use varying devices including assistive devices, orthoses and prostheses. They also rely on the integration of electro-physical properties including sound waves, cold, radiation, electricity and heat.

Physical therapists are commonly hired by sports clubs and fitness centers where their knowledge is needed for the management or care of physical injuries as well as restoration of overall physical fitness and bodily balance. Athletes largely depend on physical therapists for the optimum management of physical injuries.

Physical therapists help their patients achieve healthy lifestyles by working out ideal wellness or fitness programs for them. The overriding objective here is to ensure the patients do not suffer immobility.


What Are the Steps to Become a Physical Therapist?

Anyone with genuine interest in physical therapy can become a physical therapist and quite frankly, the steps involved in becoming one are almost the same as those required for becoming a medical doctor.

To become a physical therapist, you may have to complete about five steps but because some of these steps are plainly optional, you might just end up completing a fewer number of steps.

Basically, here are the steps to become a physical therapist:

Completing a Bachelor’s Degree in a Relevant Discipline

Owning a bachelor’s degree in a relevant program is most certainly the first requirement that prepares you for a career in physical therapy. Essentially, that bachelor’s degree must have extensively taken you through some crucial courses including Anatomy, Biology, Physiology, Physics and Chemistry.

Your admission for a doctoral degree in physical therapy will most likely demand that you complete a bachelor’s program in any relevant discipline such as Physiology, Anatomy, Physiotherapy, etc. You may as well make more enquiries about the requirements for your preferred doctoral degree program.

Earning a Doctoral Degree in Physical Therapy

This is what you’ll normally proceed to after having completed your bachelor’s program in a relevant discipline. Without mincing words, it is a mandatory requirement that you earn a doctoral degree in physical therapy before you can serve as a physical therapist.

Averagely, a degree program in physical therapy spans three-year duration and currently, there are hundreds of CAPTE-accredited physical therapy programs that you can enroll in. CAPTE relevantly stands for Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

Also, there’s the Physical Therapist Centralized Application Services (PTCAS) which is the recommended route for applying to a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) degree program.

Attached to your DPT program is a clinical internship that you are expected to complete in orthopedic care or similar area. Expectedly, you’ll be thoroughly supervised during the internship.

Some of the subjects you may be required to take in the course of your DTP program include Life Span Development, Complex Conditions, Applied Physical Therapy, Pharmacotherapy, and Functional Anatomy.

Undergoing a Clinical Residency Program

Completing a residency program isn’t one of the mandatory requirements for becoming a physical therapist. However, it is a great way to acquire extra hands-on training as well as expand your experience in a given care specialty.

At the end of your DPT, you may consider it befitting to enroll in a one-year clinical residency program. In fact, such a program will aid your chances of mastering a particular area of care. With your residency program complete, you may as well progress in a given advanced clinical area by enrolling for a fellowship in that area.

Fulfilling Your State’s Licensing Requirements

There are key licensing requirements that you must fulfill before you can comfortably practice as a physical therapist. Specifically, the licensing requirements for becoming a PT can vary from one state to another but in general, every PT must have passed FSBPT’s National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). FSBPT relevantly stands for Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

In addition, a background check of criminal record and a law exam may constitute the licensing requirements. To find out specific licensing requirements for your state, the state board would be the best source for adequate information.

Earlier-mentioned NPTE is a computerized assessment test which can be taken three times in a year. While the test (NPTE) follows the style of a multiple-choice exam, there’s an FSBPT-developed tool which lets you practice ahead of the test. This practice tool is termed Practice Exam and Assessment Tool (PEAT).


Applying for Board Certification

Board certification is another non-mandatory requirement for practicing as a physical therapist. In other words, you can legally engage in physical therapy without being a board-certified specialist in any given specialty area.

However, it’s advisable that you obtain board certification in a preferred area of clinical specialty. You’ll need to have completed an APTA-accredited residency program or a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical work before you can attain the status of “board-certified physical therapist”.

Where Can I Work as a Physical Therapist?

Physical therapists are professionals who can partake in both patient and non-patient care activities. With regard to their involvement in patient care activities, physical therapists work in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, wellness clinics, outpatient clinics and private physical therapy centers.

As for their roles in non-patient care, physical therapists may be involved in healthcare administration. They can as well be involved in the formulation of health insurance and policies.

Generally, physical therapists contribute immensely to the healthcare framework and they may be seen holding crucial positions as medical-legal experts conducting independent medical exams or performing peer reviews.

An Overview of Medicine

Medicine is a broad scientific field which involves diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illness. It further transcends the integration of various healthcare practices for the purpose of promoting the overall wellness of the body.

Ancient medicine was more or less an art as its practice was heavily influenced by the philosophical, religious and cultural beliefs of the practitioners. Contemporarily however, the practice of medicine vastly incorporates biomedical research, medical technology, genetics and biomedical sciences for disease diagnosis, treatment and prevention.

Who Are Medical Doctors?

Medical doctors are experts saddled with the responsibility of diagnosing, treating and preventing diseases. The specialty of a particular medical doctor may further broaden the doctor’s responsibility but in general, medical doctors are responsible for running diagnosis, preparing treatment programs, providing medical advice and prescribing medications.

What Are the Steps to Become a Medical Doctor?

The steps involved in becoming a medical doctor are almost the same as those for becoming a physical therapist. The most noticeable difference is that in becoming a medical doctor, it is compulsory to enroll in a medical school.

Here are the steps for becoming a medical doctor:

Completing a Bachelor’s Degree Program

You may first have to attain a bachelor’s degree before proceeding to a medical school. Do well to enroll in a relevant bachelor’s degree program as your undergraduate education is expected to incorporate a good deal of scientific studies.

Earning a Medical School Education

After attaining a relevant bachelor’s degree, you should proceed to a medical school.

Your medical school education can span four-year duration or even more. At the medical school, the coursework for your first two years incorporates the fundamental knowledge of bodily systems, diseases and medical practice.

On the other hand, your final two years is the period during which you’ll be exposed to an experience of how patient care is done. You’ll be placed under faculty supervision in the different specialty departments of the hospital where you’ll gather relevant experience.


During your final year in the medical school, you’ll be required to take the Medical Licensing Examination and probably a number of other exams.

Enrolling in a Residency Program

After graduating from a medical school, you’ll need to enroll in a residency program in order to gather more hands-on experience in your preferred medical specialty.

Your residency program can span between three and eight years during which you’ll be expected to engage in relevant activities such as attending conferences, taking patients’ histories, interpreting lab information and conducting physical exams.

Getting Licensed

Owning a medical degree (obtained from an accredited medical school) and completing a residency program are parts of the conditions that qualify you for the license to practice as a medical doctor.

It is noteworthy that without a medical license, you won’t be deemed qualified to practice as a medical doctor.

Obtaining a Specialty Certification

One may argue that a specialty certification is more or less a supplementary requirement. But owning certification in a specialty area is definitely one of the prerequisites that will boost an individual’s medical portfolio and even their employment chances.

Long and short of what has been said is that for an individual to become a medical doctor, the individual must have received medical education, undergone medical training and obtained the license to practice medicine.

Where Can I Work as a Medical Doctor?

As a duly licensed medical doctor, you’re qualified to work in different healthcare facilities. However, the specific places where you can work may largely depend on your specialty area as a medical doctor.

Generally, medical doctors are employed to work in surgical centers, hospitals, community health centers, clinics and other healthcare facilities.

Rather than attach themselves to public healthcare structures, medical doctors may choose to establish their own clinical structures thereby operating privately. Whichever way an individual chooses to practice their medical profession, it is compulsory that they get licensed before they can legally practice.

Distinguishing between Doctors and Physical Therapists

Without any doubt, a doctor and a physical therapist are both considered health professionals. Nevertheless, there is a clear distinction between these two professionals and that is why a physical therapist is not a doctor.

While a physical therapist prepares and administers treatment plans that help restore patients’ physical health, a (medical) doctor particularly diagnoses patients and provides them with treatment (usually involving drugs).

Depending on their specialty areas, medical doctors may treat various diseases but physical therapists are mainly concerned with the care and/or management of physical injuries. This may clarify that the roles of medical doctors can appear more general while those of physical therapists are largely specific.


Irrespective of the distinction between a doctor and a physical therapist, we can’t downplay the essential roles that they both play in promoting the general health care sector.





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