Preparing for Physical Therapy and Occupational Therapy School

The path to a career in physical therapy (PT) or occupational therapy (OT) starts well before graduate school. Getting on track toward PT or OT school starts with the right undergraduate classes, plenty of exposure to experts in the field and, most importantly, a passion to help others.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in either of these fields, here’s what you need to know about becoming a physical therapist or an occupational therapist—and how to prepare for a vocation focused on helping people heal.

Is Physical or Occupational Therapy the Right Career for You?

Students looking to pursue a career in physical or occupational therapy likely have a strong interest in the human body and in helping people. But how do you know if a PT/OT career is the right choice?

“You need to love working with and serving people,” said Ryan Somers, PT, DPT, and assistant professor in the Department of Biology and Chemistry at Azusa Pacific University. “People are at the forefront of either profession, and if you do not enjoy working with people, then these professions might be really draining.”

In addition to working well with people, an important asset in physical therapy and occupational therapy is strong problem-solving skills. Because each patient needs specialized care, it’s up to the therapists to use their toolbox of techniques to help patients reach their individual goals.

Finally, a passion for the profession is vital to not only enjoying the work but also safely treating patients. “PT and OT are very difficult medical professions, and if you don’t have a passion for it, you could not only harm yourself but your patients,” Somers said. “Skills can be taught, but passion cannot.”

How to Prepare for PT and OT Schools

If you think a career in physical or occupational therapy is right for you, then preparing early can ensure you’re ready for PT/OT school after graduation. During your undergraduate studies, taking the right courses and getting involved in clubs and outreach projects are the best ways to start on the right path to reach your career goals.

Here are a few ways to prepare yourself for the demands of PT or OT school as you progress in your studies:

  • Take the right classes. Most physical therapy schools require students to take two biology classes, plus anatomy, physiology, a year of chemistry, and a year of physics. For occupational therapy schools, requirements include anatomy, physiology, and multiple psychology classes. For both PT and OT graduate programs, students will need to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) to apply.
  • Gain volunteer experience. Volunteering with a local, respected PT or OT professional will allow you to see your career goals in action. It also allows you to check if your passion for the field aligns with the focus needed to do the job well.
  • Join medical clubs. Leadership is an important trait to nurture for both fields of study. Joining medical clubs on campus, such as the Future Allied Health Leaders Association, not only looks great on graduate school applications, but also presents leadership opportunities to prepare you to best support your patients.
  • Concentrate on outreach. Lastly, pursue outreach opportunities. Whether that’s through your church or a local nonprofit organization, be sure to make note of this experience when applying for PT or OT programs. Outreach opportunities will give you hands-on experience and ensure you enjoy working in the profession.

The right academic track paired with strategic extracurriculars will help instill the passion, leadership, and experience needed to succeed as a PT/OT practitioner.

Considering the Pre-PT/OT Track at APU

If you decide physical therapy or occupational therapy school is the right choice for you, Azusa Pacific’s pre-PT/OT track is designed to support your goals. This track ensures students take all the required courses for PT/OT school, while also supporting them with mentorships and guidance through the application process (including mock interviews and letters of recommendation). The track also offers opportunities for students to gain real-world experience by participating in clinical outreach programs around the world, including in Mexico, India, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

Whether you’re looking to start a career in physical therapy or occupational therapy, pursuing your goals starts early in your education. By starting on the right track, you’ll be prepared to apply to PT/OT schools upon graduation, and have a strong background to support your application!

Are you ready to take the next step in pursuing a career in physical therapy or occupational therapy? Azusa Pacific University’s B.A. in Allied Health program is designed to help students fulfill the PT/OT graduate program requirements. Take a look at the pre-PT/OT track sequence and start your application today.