Last week when I received the statement telling me the current amount of my student loans, I could have cried. To think that number will be double by the time I graduate with my DPT puts a serious pit in my stomach.

According to CNN, the average debt from undergrad is $27,000. According to the APTA the average cost of a 3 year DPT program (obviously this varies by public vs private school and other factors) is $86,204. That is a whopping $113,204 in student loans.

In the early 2000s the push was made for PT programs to be 3 year doctorate programs. With this came an increase in tuition cost, but no increase in salary. Is there anything we can do about it? Do we just have to suck it up and pay back student loans for the majority of our lives if we want to be physical therapists? Does the passion for the profession out weigh the cost? I have to admit that I almost didn’t leave my job as an accountant because of the cost of the DPT program.

What are your thoughts? Let’s talk about it this Wednesday at 9pm EST!

Tell us what you think about #DPTstudent, here


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  1. Lauren, thank you for asking such a salient question, the answer to which may shape the profession in years to come. I began PT school at age 31, after serving in a medically intensive job in the military and working as a civilian paramedic. Consequently, I view PT and my graduate education through a slightly different lens than most of my classmates and even my professors. Let’s be honest, PTs have the smallest scope of practice of any “doctors” in the health care system. Reflecting on my scope of practice in the military isn’t fair because the circumstances and legalities are completely different. As a civilian paramedic (a program that requires approximately 8 months of full-time schooling and no undergraduate degree), however, I could defibrillate patients in cardiac arrest, administer narcotics and ACLS medications through an IV that I inserted, intubate, and perform a surgical cricothyrotomy.
    And yet in some states, doctors of physical therapy cannot dry needle, manipulate spines, or sharp debride. Any PT advocate who thinks this is acceptable is completely delusional. RNs with associates degrees have higher earning potentials than many DPTs. PTs have such a unique skill set but as a profession have not established much of an identity. We should be the ones referring patients to surgeons, not the other way around. We should be the first medical practitioners people seek for any non-traumatic musculoskeletal injury.
    The sentiment I get from speaking with students in other programs echos my own- mainly that I often feel like I’m being trained more as a researcher or a wannabe MD than a practicing physical therapist. Can I get good at PT before I try to do somebody else’s job? Not to trivialize the importance of research but it’s as if we have such an inferiority complex that we use the word “evidence” more than the law students. I genuinely wonder if physician students spend as much time as we do trying to validate some clinically meaningless assessment scale or creating a verbose, scholarly language to dignify simple, intuitive concepts. I think other professions will respect us a lot more if we embrace what makes PT unique- working with our hands, being movement experts, spending more than 5 minutes with patients. Heck maybe if we learned how to disconnect an IV instead of memorizing the chemical composition of IV tubing, we could take a patient for a walk in the hospital without having to bother a nurse.
    As it stands right now, earning potential and scope of practice are not commensurate with the cost of tuition and the number of credits we take. This is a shame considering the number of passionate, intelligent, and well-intentioned people in the field. It’s as if PT doesn’t even realize what it’s capable of as a profession.

  2. Well said Doug, should join the conversation on twitter!

    Who the bleep came up with the DPT as the standard? APTA? The schools that provide PT Programs? I really want to know. Where did this come from?

    If it was APTA? Huge mistake! Focus on getting Direct Access in every State of the Union in stead.
    If it were the schools; Money Grab!! Poor DPT Students!

    Who cares if you can call yourself a Doctor with a DPT, still doesn’t make you a Doctor, just like a DC is not really a Doctor!

    Make Master’s degree the standard; you want to do research? Get your DPT.

  3. To Hugo: your argument is a non-sequitur. DPTs are considered doctors because of the level of academic & clinical work they do prior to entering the field. MDs are medical doctors because they studied medicine, and are rightly called so; DPTs are physical therapy doctors because we studied physical therapy for 6+ years (some programs, not all). JD: juris doctorate; DDS: doctor of dental surgery etc… The idea is that newly practicing therapist are entering the field with a broader & deeper skill set.
    To Doug: as far as discussing evidence with other health care professionals is concerned I feel that this is the one area where the DPT program excels and really places us in a position in the health care field as movement specialist and eventually primary care practitioners for musculoskeletal pathology (neuro, ped, geri as well…); the Navy has been doing this for decades and the research is clear that it is a huge cost saver as well as generating improved pt outcomes & satisfaction with care. CPRs, CPGs, research pointing to more efficient & effective practice is paramount in a healthcare system that is rampant with fraud and abuse and testing and procedures that really may not be the best option for patients (a study on performing LS surgery for Medicare pts suggest its not as effective as surgeons thought it was… Big surprise there!)

    1. Hugo, I think ultimately the doctoral push is good for the profession. I just would like to see that extra year of education focus on the movement system, the area that truly distinguishes PTs from other professions. If I wanted to focus on disease, I would have entered another doctoral profession. As for people calling me doctor, I could n’t give a s—. Even if I was an MD, I’d prefer to earn my patient’s respect, not hide behind the letters after my name. There’s too much ego in medicine as it is.

      Cory, totally agree with you about health care in the military. The manner in which PTs practice in the military should be the standard in the civilian world. Scope of practice is commensurate with education in the military. PTs are truly direct access practitioners there. As for research, I do not mean to trivialize its importance. I just think sometimes a good study does not allow one to ask the right questions because so many important variables must be controlled for. For example, who really cares what rotator cuff exercise has the most EMG activation? EMG is easy to study and makes for “good” research but perpetuates an isolated, not a integrated, approach to rehab. More muscle activity is not always better. Why would we want a stabilizer muscle to act like a prime mover? Timing is more important for something like the rotator cuff than percent of maximal voluntary contraction but is also more difficult to study. Just saying that research doesn’t always answer the right questions.

  4. I’m looking into the DPT program. I did my undergrad in Psychology and was just curious since you made a change from accounting how difficult was it to go from a non-science background to DPT and what was that like? I’m 25 and thinking about an extra four years of school (including pre-reqs) is a bit daunting. What’s your experience in the DPT program like? For those in the profession how was that?

    1. Hi Maja! I would love to talk to you about this. I didn’t start the program until I was 26 and I will graduate when I am just shy of 30. I had many concerns about it but I wouldn’t change a thing. I am very, VERY happy with my decision. Feel free to email me or tweet me and we can talk more if you’d like!

      1. Hi Lauren!

        I am looking into the DPT program as well. I am currently majoring in Biology at a very expensive undergraduate university (Boston University) and have accumulated over 100K of debt. Going to PT school means that I will probably have double the debt that I already have. What advice do you have for me? Is the career really worth the debt?

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