Choosing a Medical Career: How Do I Choose Between the DPT and Ph.D.?

by Ashley Eneriz

Earning an advanced degree is a career accomplishment that can open many doors along your professional path. Choosing a clinical or academic career leads to a number of job opportunities, and offers you the chance to impact your community by helping others.

Azusa Pacific University understands the pivotal role medical and academic professionals play in their respective communities. That’s why the Department of Physical Therapy, housed within APU’s School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences, offers students the chance to pursue two distinct degrees: a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) and a Ph.D. in Rehabilitation and Movement Science. Here’s how to decide which program is right for you:

Which Doctoral Program Is Best?

The easiest way to decide which doctoral program is right for you is to decide what your main goal is after graduation. Annette Karim, Ph.D., director of APU’s Ph.D. in Rehabilitation and Movement Science program, suggests that students consider their interests alongside their long-term plans.

“The DPT applicant is usually a student with a bachelor’s degree who wants to practice as a physical therapist,” Karim said, “On the other hand, the Ph.D. degree follows the completion of a DPT, OTD, MSAT, DC, or other professional clinical degrees. It is designed for clinicians who have a high interest in research and teaching, as the program prepares one for academia.”

Benefits of the DPT Program

The DPT program trains students for clinical practice as physical therapists. Choosing a medical career in physical therapy is an effective way to promote wellness and healing to patients who:

  • Are suffering from chronic pain
  • Have disabilities or neurological conditions that limit mobility
  • Have gone through a traumatic accident or surgery
  • Need help managing wellness through diabetes, vascular conditions, or arthritis
  • Need to maintain overall strength and flexibility for a career in sports

Everyone could benefit from the caring hands and expertise of a physical therapist, which might be why U.S. News & World Report ranked it as one of the top 10 healthcare jobs in America. Graduating from APU’s DPT program prepares students to work in hospitals, clinics, school systems, or home health agencies.

Benefits of the Ph.D. Program

The Ph.D. in Rehabilitation and Movement Science program is a way for professional clinicians to broaden and contribute to education, evidence-based practice, and research in the multidisciplinary field of rehabilitation and movement science. Current clinicians and academic clinical faculty who seek to focus their careers in education or research will benefit most from APU’s Ph.D. program.

Karim explained that the Ph.D. program includes content in research methodology, pain science, movement science, motor control, biomechanics, teaching and learning, and includes opportunity to focus on individual interests.

Examining the Field Through a Christian Perspective

Azusa Pacific University’s approach to the curriculum helps set it apart from the offerings of other colleges and universities. Karim noted that a Christian focus is woven into the coursework, helping all students receive a more well-rounded education.

“While our students come from a variety of faith backgrounds, our program emphasizes Christ by integrating faith discussions and faith-integration assignments in our courses,” she said. Graduates leave equipped with more than just a certificate—they graduate prepared to support the global community and the rehabilitation and movement science profession by functioning as service-oriented professionals guided by a belief in human worth and dignity.

Are you ready to pursue your goals? Discover more about its Department of Physical Therapy and its doctoral programs.