The 10 Best Physical Therapy Schools in Florida

Physical therapists give people of all ages quality care, from children to the elderly. This vital health discipline is quickly growing as more and more people seek to remain active. Working alongside an interprofessional care team, physical therapists help people with mobility issues stemming from chronic conditions. Physical therapists prevent, evaluate, and treat physical injuries with the ultimate goal of restoring independence.

Certified physical therapists train at the doctorate level at top schools across the nation. To earn their DPT degree, PT students learn foundational basics and practice their abilities in clinical rotations. The understanding of human movement learned in classes serves as the foundation for practice. 

Along with hands-on procedures, physical therapists must have strong communication, coordination, and critical thinking skills. Effective interdisciplinary collaboration across fields is important for the best patient care. PT students develop these abilities through research, student organizations, and community clinics.

With a rising number of aging people staying active later in life, the demand for physical therapists continues to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 18% growth rate in the profession through 2029. As the third most populous state, Florida will experience similar growth in a variety of healthcare settings.

Here are the 10 best physical therapy schools in Florida, based on their position in the US News ranking. In the case of a tie on the US News list, College Gazette will determine the tiebreaker.

10. University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (St. Augustine, FL)

University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences
denny_tate, University of St. Augustine, CC0 1.0

At USAHS, students have the opportunity to develop outstanding physical therapy practitioners to positively impact patient lives. The DPT program can be pursued in two different formats for student’s convenience. Students who need to work, have family obligations, or live far from campus can earn their physical therapy degree through the Flex DPT program

Both PT degrees are 131 credit hours and prepare students to take the national licensure exam. Students study a variety of courses, including evidence-informed practice, biomechanics, movement science, patient care management, and PT electives.

In order to practice the skills learned in classes, physical therapy students participate in three clinical experiences. These rotations last 6 to 12 weeks and deliver important hands-on practice and patient management skills. Designed to provide the best educational experience, clinical placements are determined by USAHS based on the student’s academic needs.

9. Florida International University (Miami, FL)

Florida International University
DaveBenRoberts, Florida International University, CC BY-SA 4.0

Students at Florida International University have plenty of opportunities to use their physical therapy skills with patients in the community. Through off-campus hospitals, rehabilitation and outpatient centers, skilled nursing facilities, and more, PT students have their choice from over 450 internship opportunities. These clinical facilities are an essential part of each student’s physical therapy education.

Thanks to the top-tier education offered at FIU, physical therapy students are well-prepared to pass their certification exams and practice professionally. From 2018 to 2020, an average of 97% of physical therapy students successfully passed their exams.

As South Florida’s only public research university, FIU has been categorized in the top-tier category for doctoral research universities. The university as a whole averages over $200 million in research expenditures. Physical therapy students can take advantage of the school’s resources by participating in research projects covering pediatrics, geriatrics, neuroscience, and biomechanics.

8. University of North Florida (Jacksonville, FL)

University of North Florida
Nichos, Thomas G. Carpenter Library, public domain

The DPT program at the University of North Florida provides graduates with the knowledge and abilities to become talented practitioners. Typically, 30 students are admitted to the program each year to allow for individualized attention. Along with a favorable student-to-faculty ratio, a small class size ensures quality education and sufficient resources for UNF’s PT students.

While at UNF, physical therapy students gain a foundational understanding of critical topics such as physiology, kinesiology, therapeutic modalities, and neurology. In addition, students can choose advanced electives to pursue their professional interests.

An understanding of human movement is the foundation for practicing physical therapy. Thanks to the Willed Body Program, students have the opportunity to work with anatomical specimens. UNF physical therapy students can enhance their understanding of anatomy and neuroanatomy to become better caregivers.

7. Florida Gulf Coast University (Fort Myers, FL)

Florida Gulf Coast University
Twhair, FGCU Lutgert School of Business, CC BY-SA 3.0

Students in the DPT program at Florida Gulf Coast University learn in facilities with state-of-the-art equipment. Using contemporary laboratories, students will acquire the most current knowledge and skills to best help patients. The Sports Medicine Lab, Human Performance Lab, Resistance Training Lab, and more teach students a wide array of analytical assessment and sports performance training techniques.

In order to extend the information learned in classes and laboratories, FGCU students have access to a wide range of library resources. Physical therapy students can study a collection of databases, journals, and books pertinent to their field of study. The department also has access to a dedicated health and human services librarian to support their studies.

FGCU physical therapy students are lifelong learners and can further their careers by taking advantage of post-graduate programs. Through the university, graduates can take classes and become certified in ultrasound imaging and manual therapy.

6. Nova Southeastern University, Tampa (Clearwater, FL)

At Nova Southeastern University, PT students begin interacting with patients as soon as their first year. Integrated patient experiences occur on the Tampa Bay campus to foster the early application of knowledge to actual patients with immediate feedback. These interactions are integrated into the classroom lab time and select courses.

After being exposed to patients in the classroom, PT students apply the professional and clinical practice in clinical centers. Three full-time clinical experiences last for three months each while under the supervision of a clinical instructor. Through local hospitals and clinics, students develop cognitive, psychomotor, and affective skills.

In order to finish up their education, PT students complete a Capstone project for the final course of the Evidence-Based Practice series. Students will draw on their previous experience in the classroom and clinical rotations to develop a case report. This detailed description of practice will focus on topics from diagnosis to risk management.

5. Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, FL)

Nova Southeastern University is known for its top-tier offerings for physical therapy education. From entry-level DPT programs to post-graduate PT residencies, NSU provides substantial career advantages for graduates. 

While at NSU, physical therapy students have the opportunity to participate in extracurriculars to learn more about the profession. The DPT team competed in the annual 2020 NSU Health Professions Division Ethics Bowl against other university healthcare departments. Thanks to their appropriate use of ethical terminology, the physical therapy students proved their skills and earned second place.

Physical therapy students have the opportunity to go abroad for their clinical education experiences. By immersing themselves in international healthcare systems, students learn to adapt and apply their skills in various settings. NSU partners with Eduglobal, a nonprofit health education management company, to provide students with clinical experiences in rehabilitation centers across Italy.

4. University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL)

Located inside the UCF Student Health Center, the school’s Physical Therapy Clinic provides evidence-based care to the local community. The center blends healthcare education and specialized physical therapy. Physical therapy students at UCF develop their orthopedic and sports medicine skills while offering personalized care.

Physical therapy students can also enhance their learning through the Institute of Exercise Physiology and Rehabilitation Science. Under the mentorship of faculty members, PT students perform mechanistic and translational research. The institute has the capacity and state-of-the-art tools to advance the field of rehabilitation science. 

UCF students are actively engaged in service opportunities within their community. The Disney Marathon, Special Olympics, and Step Up for Down Syndrome Walk are just some of the events that DPT students participate in. These diverse service opportunities allow students to participate in an area of interest and learn more about the field.

3. University of South Florida (Tampa, FL)

University of South Florida
Rick DeBow, USF Marshall Center Running of the Bulls, public domain

As the first state university to offer a DPT degree in Florida, USF consistently demonstrates excellence in movement sciences through interprofessional education. The USF Health department highlights the importance of being on a communicative healthcare team for patient care. Physical therapy students work alongside nursing, public health, physician assistant, and other medical students.

Physical therapy students study at state-of-the-art simulation centers with innovative technologies. Thanks to the USF Health Simulation Consortium, PT students study at the only fully accredited university in all areas statewide. Students in the physical therapy program learn from specialized task trainers, virtual reality, and other simulators.

Each September, physical therapy students have the opportunity to participate in the university’s orthopedic residency. These advanced didactic and clinical educational opportunities facilitate hands-on clinical skills in orthopedic PT. Along with neuromusculoskeletal condition treatment, the curriculum prepares PT students for the orthopedic specialty certification examination.

2. University of Miami (Coral Gables, FL)

University of Miami
Public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons

At the University of Miami, students take classes from physical therapy professionals at the top of their field. Designated as a Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the APTA, Dr. Robert Gailey was recently honored for his leadership and dedication to the profession. Another professor of physical therapy, Gregory Hartley, was named a Fellow of the National Academies of Practice and president of the Academy of Geriatric Physical Therapy.

Physical therapy students also study unique courses while at the University of Miami. The Integrated Sports and Leisure course promotes the integration of students with physically challenged people as they collaborate to learn everyday recreational activities. This unique opportunity allows physical therapy students to learn directly from patients.

The University of Miami’s research program is dedicated to studying the effects of physical exercise on brain health and cognition. The Neuromotor Rehabilitation Laboratory uses neuroscientific methods to find optimal exercise doses for each individual.

1. University of Florida (Gainesville, FL)

University of Florida
WillMcC, UF Cancer Genetics Complex, CC BY-SA 3.0

Established in 1958, the University of Florida DPT program prepares graduates for success. 100% of graduates find employment after completing their degrees. Physical therapy students work in clinics, hospitals, schools, and more to practice clinical services.

University of Florida PT students are known for their commitment to serving local and global communities. The Rehabilitation Education Activity and Community Health programs support this mission by providing valuable rehabilitation services to those in need. In addition to hands-on practice, PT students develop clinical leadership skills.

Receiving $11.3 million in grant funding, the University of Florida offers research programs spanning the translational spectrum. Faculty members and students alike seek answers to human disease and dysfunction from molecular signaling to robotic-assisted training. Using the university’s vast resources, physical therapy students enhance their graduate experience and learn essential skills through research.

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