Did You Know Your Physical Therapist is a Doctor? 

Do you call your Dentist a Doctor? Podiatrist? Chiropractor? Optometrist? Pharmacist? Veterinarian?

Here at Hulst Jepsen Physical Therapy in West Michigan, most likely (75% chance), you can call your Physical Therapist “Doctor.” Here is a little history and the evolution of the education of a physical therapist:

The History of Physical Therapy Degrees

The early 1900s: Physical Therapists were created by major historical events beginning with the Poliomyelitis Epidemic (Polio). Then came various world wars, where two women, in particular, Marguerite Sanderson and Mary McMillian began training “reconstruction aides,” responsible for caring for individuals wounded in WWI.  In 1936, students required 2 years of education to practice Physical Therapy.

1960’s:  Four-year Baccalaureate Degree.

1990’s: Masters’s Degree. Physical Therapists now needed their 4-year bachelor’s degree + 2-year Master’s program degree.

1996: Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) programs were offered.  DPT became the standard education track by the late 2000s. That is a 4-year Bachelor’s Degree + a 3-year Doctoral degree.

2016: All new graduates require a DPT in order to practice.

Physical Therapy Educational Demand

As the role of Physical Therapists grew in the health care system, so did the educational demands. Here at Hulst Jepsen, you can see that we are involved in the following populations (and more):

  • Orthopedics
  • Neurology
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics
  • Sports medicine
  • Acute care
  • Pelvic health
  • Oncology
  • Chronic pain

Physical Therapy Goes Beyond a Doctorate of Physical Therapy

Physical therapists do not stop at their DPT either. Some go on to achieve their Doctoral of Science (equivalent to Ph.D.), clinical residencies, board-certified clinical specialties, and pursue fellowships. If you see extra letters following the name of your physical therapist, it means they took advanced post-graduate education.

With our Doctoral degrees, continuing education, or years of experience, we have become able to:

  • Differential diagnoses. We have the education to evaluate and decide if it’s truly a musculoskeletal (bones and joints) or nervous system problem. If we suspect there is something else going on, we communicate with your primary care or referring physician.
  • Treat with evidence-based treatments. This means we incorporate the most up-to-date research to provide the highest quality of care.
  • Be first-line providers — Direct access to us.  You no longer have to wait to get in and see your physician to then get referred to us. Give us a call the moment your back, neck, shoulder, or knees act up. Come see us, and we will send a prescription to your primary care provider if we feel you are appropriate for physical therapy!

Why Choose Us for Physical Therapy in West Michigan?

Here at Hulst Jepsen Physical Therapy, we have amazing teams of highly educated Physical Therapists, Physical Therapy Assistants, Athletic Trainers, and Technicians. I can confidently say that each and every one of our employees spent (or plans to spend) hours in classrooms, labs, and libraries, studying how to provide the best care to their patients. We are passionate about your health and goals. We work(ed) hard to help you achieve those goals.

You tell me — if you see DPT after your physical therapist’s name, will you think about calling them doctor? Or when talking to your friends and family about seeing your physical therapist, will you say, “I’m off to see my doctor?” Now, there is a high percentage of us who are bashful and get rosy-cheeked to be called “doctor” and will rebuttal you with ‘call me ____’, but please know, we do appreciate the acknowledgment. 😊

Thanks for attending my TEDtalk!  Signing off,

Dr. Jill Wiersma, PT, DPT, CMPT

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Jill Wiersma, DPT