PhD in Physical Therapy

Prepare for a rewarding career in Physical Therapy education and research!
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Program Overview

The Doctor of Philosophy in Physical Therapy Program is designed to address the demand for qualified faculty and researchers in physical therapy programs in the USA and world-wide to create academic leaders in Physical Therapy education. This minimum 3-year, full-time program (or part-time options are available) is designed for individuals whose long-term career aspirations are to teach and perform research. The Ph.D. in Physical Therapy (Ph.D. in PT) program meets these needs by enhancing knowledge in important areas such as the teaching of physical therapy courses, academic leadership, and conducting and disseminating research.

PhD in PT Degree Requirements

A minimum of 45 additional credits is required for individuals who hold a DPT/tDPT degree in order to obtain the Ph.D. in PT degree; for individuals who are physical therapists and whose highest degree is a master’s degree, a minimum of 55 credits is required. Required core courses (40 credits) include: teaching and educational leadership (6 cr.); research design and methods, statistics and critical review of the literature (11 cr.); Ph.D. seminar (3 cr.); movement analysis and instrumentation (3 cr.), motor control & motor learning (3 cr.),  and the Ph.D. dissertation (pre-candidacy minimum of 3 cr., candidacy research 11 cr.). The additional 5 or 15 credits, depending upon prior degree held, is determined according to the individual student’s needs and goals.

Integrating theory and practice allows graduates to understand and implement the best evidence-based approaches needed to address current issues in physical therapy practice, education and research. Core courses are designed to provide students the background and skills necessary to successfully navigate leadership roles in an academic and/or research environment. Other elective courses augment the student’s preparedness for success in teaching and scholarship.

Admission Requirements

Admission Requirements

Individuals who have a doctoral, master’s or bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy from an accredited institution in the United States (or equivalent in another country) may apply to the Ph.D. in PT program. (Individuals with a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy must also hold a master’s degree in physical therapy or another health-related field). Students currently in a DPT, tDPT, or master’s program are invited to contact the Associate Director for the Ph.D. in PT program to discuss future career goals that could include obtaining a Ph.D. in PT degree.

Evaluation of applicants for the Ph.D. in PT program is based on the following criteria:
Doctoral or master’s degree in Physical Therapy or bachelor’s degree in Physical Therapy with a master’s degree in a health-related field, from an accredited institution in the United States (or equivalent in another country).
Minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0 (B) on a 4.0 scale
Physical Therapy license or registration (or equivalent)
Completion of all prerequisite courses or their equivalents is required prior to starting the Ph.D. in PT program; additional courses recommended. (Transcripts are needed for verification).
Successful review of all other required application materials (see below).
Finding a match between a chair’s and the student’s research interests.

Note:  Meeting the minimum admission requirements does not guarantee entrance into the program. Under special circumstances, the Physical Therapy department may choose to waive any of the above requirements. Individuals are encouraged to speak with the Associate Director of the Ph.D. in PT program regarding eligibility for admission.


Ph.D. Course Requirements


  • PTP 662 - Critical Inquiry 1 (3) or an equivalent course covering research design, methods, and critical analysis of the literature, and the role of evidence based practice
  • PTP 663 - Critical Inquiry II (3) or an equivalent course covering common statistical topics and procedures in quantitative research including the application of data analysis using statistical software.
  • PTP 681 - Teaching, Learning & Health Education (2), or
  • PTP 881 - Teaching, Learning and Health Education (2).
  • PTP 761 - Evidence-Based Practice (1). (optional)
  • PTP 602 - Independent Research (1-10). (optional) (1-4 credits)

Requirements (45 or 55 credits)

Students with a previous DPT or tDPT are required to complete a minimum of 45 credits; students with a master’s degree are required to complete 55 credits.

A. Core Courses (40 credits)

Higher Education Teaching and Leadership (6 credits)

  • PTP 883 - Higher Education Teaching Methods and Practicum (3).
  • PTP 885 - Educational Leadership in Higher Education (3).

Scholarly Activity, Research Design, Statistics, and Critical Review of the Lierature (11 credits)

  • PTP 820 - Quantitative Research Methods (3-4.) (elected for 4 credits)
  • PTP 821 - Statistical Analysis for Quantitative Research (4).
  • HCR 621 - Qualitative Research Methods (3).

Movement Analysis and Instrumentation (9 credits)

  • PTP 810 - Ph.D. Seminar (3).
  • PTP 816 - Movement Sciences (3).
  • PTP 817 - Motor Control and Motor Learning (3).

Dissertation (14 credits minimum)

  • PTP 990 - Dissertation: Pre-Candidacy (1-3). elected for a minimum total of 3 cr. in 2-3 semesters.
  • PTP 995 - Dissertation: Candidacy (1-5). elected for a minimim of 11 cr., at least 1 per semester of candidacy

B. Electives (5 or 15 credits)

A plan of study for the remaining 5 credits (for students with a previous DPT or tDPT degree) or 15 credits (for students with a previous master’s degree) is created depending on the student’s chosen areas of teaching and research concentration appropriate preparation for the teaching practicum, and individual needs and goals.

  • HCR 500 - Epidemiology (4)
  • PTP 815 - Ph.D. in PT Independent Study (1-4), may be elected over multiple semesters.

Students may petition for other course electives specific to their needs and goals.


It is expected that each Ph.D. in Physical Therapy student will spend sufficient time on campus for completing coursework, conducting research, interacting with other graduate students, and fostering intellectual activities.

Program Processes


The Ph.D. program has several components in addition to coursework:

Qualifying Examination

The qualifying examination is designed to assess the Ph.D. in Physical Therapy student’s knowledge in the three key areas of research methodology and statistics, teaching and leadership, and in his/her chosen area of teaching and scholarship (breadth and depth). Typically, students will be assessed in the areas:

  • Research methodology and statistics, through written and oral assessments
  • Teaching and leadership, through portfolio and oral assessments
  • Chosen area of teaching and scholarship, through written and oral assessments

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination is the student’s dissertation proposal defense. For the examination, the student prepares in writing a research proposal and presents an oral presentation in defense of the research proposal which has been prepared in consultation with the Dissertation  Chair and Committee.  Prior to the student’s taking the examination, the Ph.D. in PT faculty, Associate Director for Ph.D. in PT program and the PT Department Director must approve the Dissertation Committee.  The Dissertation Committee, led by the Chair, must approve the Dissertation topic and the proposal outline.


A student becomes a candidate in the Ph.D. in Physical Therapy program after completing the required and elective coursework (34 - 44 credits) with a minimum GPA of at least 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) and passing both the qualifying and preliminary examinations. At this time, the student is allowed to register for PTP 995 and receives a certificate acknowledging this progress toward candidacy, “all but dissertation” (ABD) or Ph.D. candidate (Ph.D.c) status.

Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

The dissertation must contain research work completed by the Ph.D. in Physical Therapy candidate. The dissertation must include one to three manuscripts ready for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. The candidate must submit a final written copy of the dissertation to the dissertation committee for approval four weeks prior to the scheduled oral defense. The dissertation is defended at a final oral examination open to faculty, other students, and the interested public.

A grade of C (2.0) or better in each course.

Application Process

It is strongly suggested that prior to submitting an application, prospective students meet with the Associate Director of the Ph.D. in PT program to discuss career and professional development goals and to help determine if the UM-Flint Ph.D. program can provide a good fit for the applicant’s career goals.  Each Ph.D. student must have a doctoral chair and committee, and prospective students must meet with potential chairs or co-chairs to determine if there is a match between the student’s and faculty chair’s interests. The Physical Therapy Department will assist in scheduling these meetings.

During the admission process, the student will acquire a mutually agreed upon Doctoral Chair (also the faculty adviser), designate the research topic/area, and submit this information to the Ph.D. in Physical Therapy faculty for approval.

To be considered for admission, the following must be submitted to the Office of Graduate Programs, 251 Thompson Library, or online at

  • Application for Graduate Admission
  • Nonrefundable $55 application fee
  • Copy of current Physical Therapy license or registration (or equivalent)
  • Official transcripts from the colleges or universities where physical therapy degrees were earned, as well as any transcripts showing prerequisite and/or other graduate coursework
  • Current resume or curriculum vitae
  • Clearly defined Statement of Purpose that includes the following:
    • Reason for interest in an academic and/or research career.
    • Proposed area/topic(s) of scholarly inquiry.
    • If an adviser/Ph.D. committee chair is secured, an explanation of how the applicant’s and chair’s research goals align; if a chair is not yet secured, the name(s) of faculty whose scholarship potentially aligns with the applicant’s search. (The PT website includes a current listing of faculty with Ph.D. degrees, see
  • Two letters of reference from individuals able to comment on the applicant’s academic and clinical abilities, personal qualities, and potential teaching, research/scholarship, and service capabilities, to include:
    • A letter from a faculty member from the program that granted the most recent degree.
    • A letter from a faculty member or another individual (clinical supervisor, administrator, etc) who can comment on the attributes listed above.
  • Sample of a recent technical/scientific published or unpublished manuscript, paper or report written by the applicant. (Questions regarding this paper/report may be discussed with the Associate Director for the Ph.D. in PT program prior to submission).
  • Copy of educational credential review, if educated outside the United States or Canada: FCCPT recommended for those licensed in the U.S. or Canada; all others may use an appropriate service such as FCCPT, ECE, WES, or ICD.

Additional documentation required of international applicants. (See the International Students page for details.)

After the Physical Therapy Department’s initial review of the application materials above, a completed Ph.D. Committee Chair Acceptance form signed by the Physical Therapy Department Ph.D. faculty member who has agreed to serve as the applicant’s doctoral committee chair.

    Application Deadlines

    Students are admitted for the Fall semester (currently even years) only.

    Deadlines: February 1 (early admission);  May 1 (regular admission)

    Next cohort begins in Fall 2020


      Full Time Student:
      A minimum of a 3 year program is designed for the full time student who knows their long-term career aspirations are in academia to teach and do research. There are part time options as well.  Students are expected to participate fully; and will spend sufficient time on campus for participating in the face-to-face classes, conducting research, interacting with other graduate students, and fostering intellectual activities.


      Tuition and Fees

      Please visit our Cashier's Office webpage for more information!