Let’s Get Physical – An Introduction to Physical Therapy Evaluation

Image: Pixabay

Quick Overview of Physical Therapy in The United States

Physical therapy/Physiotherapy is an allied health profession focused on the evaluation and treatment of functional mobility limitations. While the roots of the practice of physical therapy (PT) go back as far as early physicians like Hippocrates or Galen, the professional field of study is much more recent. Globally, PT can vary by prevalence, scope, intensity, level, and other facets, depending on the country and era of study.  As credential evaluators based in the United States, we endeavor to compare foreign programs of study to similar U.S. models. This is complicated by the U.S. PT educational landscape being one of the most confusing around. As national licensing regimes impact the structure of individual physical therapy programs and the entire field grows and professionalizes, there is a constant pull between the accreditation of new programs and the realities of the licensable workforce. A U.S. credentialing agency that specializes in physical therapy education (FCCPT) manages this complexity. Despite regulatory oversight, U.S. PT education models still seem like a moving target. 

What information is required for credential evaluators to make informed evaluation decisions regarding PT credentials from around the world? Let’s start by taking a look at some of the highlights in U.S. physical therapy education:

1960 4-year bachelor degree becomes the standard entry-level professional degree (previously an associate degree was required)
1960's Introduction of physical therapist assistant programs
1960’s Introduction of Master’s degrees in physical therapy
1980's Postgraduate degree becomes the standard entry-level professional degree, in principle
1990's Introduction of Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degrees, either as transitional from other PT degrees or entry-level
1999 Entry-level physical therapy  is offered at post-baccalaureate level (undergraduate program accreditation ended in 2002)
2015 The only accredited entry-level professional physical therapy program offered in the U.S. (post-baccalaureate level) is DPT, including at  least one year of clinical internship

Bachelor or Master?

It is important to realize that, despite the upgrading of educational requirements to the DPT level for program accreditation, bachelor and master level PT degree holders are still eligible for licensure. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) and accredited DPT programs have pushed forward in advancing and professionalizing the educational component of the field, while states have had to contend with the previously trained workforce. Consequently, credential evaluators may need to compare foreign programs to any of the tiers of U.S. PT education that have existed in the past 50 years or so – and don’t forget about the Associate degree programs! 

Master or Doctorate?

The differences between MPT curricula and DPT curricula in the U.S. may need to be examined to understand a degree progression in another country. Duration and clinical emphasis are key aspects that must be considered, but there are often differences in structure and curricular breadth between a foreign and U.S. PT program as well. It is up to each of us, guided by our institutional policies, to understand our threshold for establishing equivalence; we may not need to be as strict as someone who is evaluating for purposes of licensure.

For most countries, it is fairly easy to determine that a four-year degree progression in physical therapy, following after high school completion, is equivalent to a bachelor’s degree in the U.S. In most parts of the world, the bachelor is the professional degree for licensure, but some countries are professionalizing and intensifying their physical therapy education, just as the field developed in the United States. So we may encounter the full variety of foreign associate, bachelor, master, and doctoral level studies in physical therapy. It is worth trying to understand the role each program plays in its specific educational system, and you may need to take the licensing practices of the country into consideration. If a program is at least three years of post-graduate study with a clinical emphasis, then it is starting to sound a lot like a U.S. Doctor of Physical Therapy program.

Image: Pixabay

Physical Therapy in Egypt – An Evaluation Case Study

One of the countries that is rapidly developing their physical therapy education and licensing is Egypt. Unsurprisingly, the innovations in this field seem to be coming from the main national university, Cairo University. and they are concentrating on emulating U.S. educational and licensing changes in physical therapy. They are following the U.S. model, and they want to lead the region in physical therapy innovation.

Over the years, we have seen the following credentials from the Cairo University Faculty of Physical Therapy:

Bachelor Degree of Physical Therapy: 

The Cairo Bachelor is comparable to the older U.S. standard credential, the Bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy. Admission to the program is based on the secondary leaving credential. The degree is normally four years, with a year-long internship after graduation that is required for licensure. 

Master of Science in Physical Therapy:

The Cairo Master of Science degree and the postgraduate diploma in physical therapy require a Bachelor’s degree in the field for admission.

Professional Doctor of Physical Therapy and the Doctor of Philosophy in Physical Therapy: 

The PhD program requires a Master for admission, presumably one in physical therapy. The PhD resembles a U.S. PhD in physical therapy or a related area of study like rehabilitation sciences. It was structured like an academic degree more so than a clinical doctorate. But is the Egyptian Professional Doctor the same as a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in the U.S.?

A few years ago, we received some curricular information from the dean of the Faculty of Physical Therapy at Cairo University. He explained how they were following U.S. standards to develop their programs. The additional details helped refine our understanding of their programs. 

The Cairo University doctoral level programs are particularly interesting. The Egyptian Professional DPT program requires a bachelor’s degree in the field for admission, just like the academic graduate programs at Cairo University. So their Professional DPT is actually structured more like a transitional DPT program than an entry-level DPT program. 

We see both types of DPT (transitional and entry-level) in the U.S. and they are considered equivalent here, in terms of licensing. We must be open to progress in the field and whatever that might bring in terms of new and innovative educational credentials. Our evaluation policies are ready. We’re just awaiting the changes.


  • American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) - https://www.apta.org/Default.aspx

  • Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) - http://www.capteonline.org/Home.aspx

  • Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Education (FCCPT) - http://www.fccpt.org/

  • Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSPBT) - http://fsbpt.org/

  • Canadian Alliance of Physiotherapy Regulators (CAPR) - https://www.alliancept.org/

  • FCCPT Country Connections – Egypt: https://web.archive.org/web/20170618182141/http://fccpt.org/Portals/0/Resource/Countries/Egypt.pdf

  • Cairo University Faculty of Physical Therapy http://fptcu.site/index.php

Martha Van Devender is a Senior Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2005. She specializes in education from Anglophone Africa and Latin America. She is also interested in online research and verification tools. 



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