Doctor of Physical Therapy students in lab

Doctor of Physical Therapy Program

Prepare for a rewarding career in one of the fastest growing health professions.

Campus Location


  • On Campus

Program Duration

  • 32 months

Upcoming Deadlines

Fall 2025 Application Deadline

A Profession on the Move

Physical therapists (PTs) are movement experts who play an important role in today's healthcare system. As a PT, you'll help improve everyday life for clients of all ages through prescribed exercise, hands-on care, and patient education about how to prevent or manage their condition.  PTs use treatment techniques to promote the ability to move, reduce pain, restore function, and prevent disability. PTs also work with individuals to prevent the loss of mobility before it occurs by developing fitness- and wellness-oriented programs for healthier and more active lifestyles.

The Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program is designed so that graduates excel in serving patients and clients as generalist physical therapists capable of transforming health and the experience of care in diverse communities. 

Our entry-level program combines foundational, applied, and social sciences curriculum to promote a holistic approach to care. Our program is uniquely designed so that you will have opportunities to apply new knowledge and skills in real time working with members of the community during on-campus courses.

SMU is committed to improving health care equity. As a DPT student, you’ll train to work with and make a difference in diverse communities, through opportunities to practice woven throughout the on-campus coursework and through varied clinical experiences.

Hands-on Learning

You’ll gain hands-on experience in our physical therapy laboratories, Health Sciences Simulation Center, and the Motion Analysis Research Center, enjoying access to the tools and technology used by professional PTs.

You'll have the chance to immerse yourself in the field by:

  • Providing pro bono services alongside faculty each year of the program

  • Clinical experience integrated with classroom learning starting in your second trimester 

  • Interacting with community participants in labs & grounding your learning

  • Participating in simulations throughout your education 

What We Look For

  • A regionally accredited bachelor’s degree with appropriate prerequisite courses
  • Minimum undergraduate cumulative GPA of 3.0 in the most recent 60 semester units
  • Minimum prerequisite GPA of 3.0
  • Responses to application essay questions
  • Letters of recommendation

Featured Events

Program Requirements and Info

Congratulations to Dr. Sharon Gorman, who was appointed DPT Program Chair in February 2024. Additional congratulations to previous Chair Dr. Nicole Christensen, who was appointed Professor Emeritus May 2024. 

PTCAS applications will open for the Fall 2025 application cycle in July 2024.  See: The application deadline for Fall 2025:  10/2/24, 8:59 pm (Pacific).


Applications for the Doctor of Physical Therapy program are accepted using the Physical Therapy Central Application Service (PTCAS). Students are admitted just once per year to the fall term.

PTCAS applications will open for the Fall 2025 application cycle in July 2024.  See:
The application deadline for Fall 2025: 10/1/24, 8:59 pm (Pacific).

Admissions decisions are released in January.

Admission to the DPT program is competitive. Applicants are considered for admission based upon the following criteria:

  • Completion of baccalaureate degree and all prerequisites, from a regionally accredited institution, by the end of spring term before entry. All prerequisites must be completed with a grade of "C-" or better.
  • A minimum 3.0 GPA in the most recent 60 semester/90 quarter units (Last 60) as calculated by PTCAS. Cumulative GPA is no longer considered. 
  • A minimum 3.0 GPA in all prerequisite courses as described below. 
  • Minimum of forty (40) hours of physical therapy observation hours are required. We do not give preference to those with more physical therapy observation/shadowing/volunteer experience.
  • Two letters of reference: one from a professor who can address your academic preparedness for a DPT program and preferably, one from a physical therapist who has supervised you in a clinical environment (inpatient or outpatient). You must submit at least 2 letters, a letter from a PT is recommended, but not required. You may submit up to 5 letters of your choosing. All letters will be reviewed. Letters of reference are submitted through PTCAS only; do not have letters mailed or emailed directly to SMU.
  • Contents of writing samples/personal statements as described in the PTCAS application.

2023 PT Admitted Student Profile

Applicants: 407
Admitted: 160
Seats available: 50

Most recent 60 semester unit GPA (matriculated students): 
Average = 3.53
Range = 3.01-3.99

Prerequisite GPA (matriculated students): 
Average = 3.48   
Range = 3.02-3.95

All prerequisites must be completed with a grade of "C-" or better by the end of spring term before entry. We accept online, hybrid and on-campus classes from regionally accredited institutions. Classes may be taken at any regionally accredited institution such as community colleges, CSU, UC or private institutions. In California, the accrediting body is WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Please see the Prerequisite Course Resources section below for helpful information regarding prerequisites.

Required Courses, Semester or Quarter Units 

General Psychology, 3.0 semester or quarter units
Statistics, 3.0 semester or quarter units
General Chemistry with Lab, 8.0 semester units or 12.0 quarter units
Physics with Lab,  8.0 semester units or 12.0 quarter units
Introduction to Biology with Lab, 8.0 semester units or 12.0 quarter units
Human Anatomy with Lab, 4.0 semester units or 6.0 quarter units
Human Physiology with Lab, 4.0 semester units or 6.0 quarter units

Samuel Merritt University offers prerequisite coursework in Human Anatomy & Human Physiology. The courses are taught in the fall, spring and summer terms and are designed for prospective students. More information can be found on the Undergraduate Prerequisite Courses website.

GPA Calculation and Course Repeat Policy

Last 60/90 GPA
A minimum 3.0 GPA is required in the most recent 60 semester/90 quarter units as calculated by PTCAS. Cumulative GPA is no longer considered. 

Prerequisite GPA
Courses satisfying a prerequisite requirement may be repeated once if the initial grade earned is a C+ or below. If a prerequisite course is repeated, the new grade will be used in the prerequisite GPA calculation if available at the time of application.

Holistic Admission Approach
The Doctor of Physical Therapy program is committed to a holistic admission approach and does not conduct interviews as part of its admission process. Not holding interviews provides the faculty with an opportunity to perform a thorough, holistic review of all applications meeting the minimum requirements. To make this possible, the faculty has designed a number of school-specific essay questions to help us get an understanding of each applicant as an individual.

We feel this benefits all applicants. Rather than focusing on the top applicants in terms of GPA and GRE scores, we are able to consider the entire qualified applicant pool based upon a holistic review of both quantitative and qualitative metrics. Applicants who might have otherwise not been selected for an interview, and thereby not considered for the program, are now fully considered for admission to the university.

However, we want to make sure prospective students have an opportunity to visit the campus, meet the faculty and interact with our current students. To provide these opportunities in a structured format, SMU offers Interactive Information Sessions throughout the year. Additional consideration for admission will be given to students who show a demonstrated interest in SMU by attending one of these programs.

More information about Interactive Information Sessions

Graduate Record Examinations (GRE)
Beginning with 2019 applications, GRE scores are no longer an admission requirement for Samuel Merritt University's DPT program.

Students Educated Outside of the United States

International Transcripts
All foreign academic transcripts must be evaluated by World Education Services ( and should be sent to PTCAS along with any other U.S. transcripts. For more information please see the PTCAS Foreign Transcript Instructions.

Scores on the TOEFL
The need for TOEFL will be assessed based on information provided by applicants on the application for admission; if required, a score of 100 must be achieved and official score results must be provided.

Samuel Merritt University allows applicants to take classes online provided the courses are from a regionally accredited institution like the institutions listed below. The regional accreditation board for California schools is the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Please verify accreditation with the institution prior to signing up for classes as credit will not be granted from non-accredited schools.

This is a resource shared by multiple programs, please see the program-specific websites for the listing of required courses.

California Virtual Campus: Online database of California College and University online/telecourse offerings. Search by subject or school name.
Course Atlas 
California State University 
University of California Extension Programs 

Southern University of Health Sciences

  • General Chemistry I & II
  • General Biology I & II
  • Physics I&II
  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Microbiology

University of Minnesota 

University of New England 

  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy Statistics
  • Medical Chemistry I and II (Inorganic Chemistry)
  • Microbiology
  • Organic Chemistry I and/or II
  • Anatomy
  • Medical Physiology
  • Statistics

Louisiana State University 

  • BIOL 1001/102 Biology
  • ENGL 1001 English Composition I
  • PSYC 2000 Introduction to Psychology
  • ANTH 1003 Cultural Anthropology
  • CMST 2010 Interpersonal Communication
  • ENGL 1001, 1002 English Composition I, II
  • SOCIO 2001 Introduction to Sociology
  • PSYC 2070 Lifespan Developmental Psychology
  • PSYC 3082 Abnormal Psychology

UC Berkeley Extension 

  • Intro to Statistics xB2 or xBW2(online)
  • General Chemistry I/Lab x19A and x19.1B
  • General Chemistry II/Lab x19B and x19.1B
  • General Human Anatomy x104 & Human Anatomy Lab x108
  • Introduction to Physiology xB32 or xBW32 & Physiology Lab x406.1 (online)
  • Introduction to Medical Microbiology x111 Microbiology Lab x491.1

Colorado State Online Plus 

  • BMS 300 – Principles of Human Physiology (4 cr.)
  • BMS 320 – Virtual Laboratory in Physiology (2 cr.)
  • BMS 310 – Anatomy for the Health Professions (4 cr.)
  • MIP 300 – General Microbiology (3 cr.)
  • STAT 311 – Statistics for Behavioral Sciences I (3 cr.)

Challenge/College Level Examination Resources

The following PT prerequisites may be met by taking a Challenge Exam:

General Psychology
Administered by CLEP, see:
*Minimum score required:  50

Administered by DSST, see:
*Minimum score required:  400

*Subject to change

Application Fees
Application fees are payable to the Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service (PTCAS). Samuel Merritt University does not charge an additional admission fee.

Application Fee = $160 

Non-Refundable Deposits and Fees
Students offered admission pay a non-refundable tuition deposit of $350 to secure their seat in the class. Application fees and tuition deposits are non-refundable, whether or not the student withdraws in the first week of the term.

For a detailed summary of annual tuition, and all fees for the program visit Student Accounts. 

Academic Year: 2024-2025

            Per Unit Rate                =          $1,498/unit

            Program Units               =          100.5 units

            Total Cost Estimate*     =          $150,500

*The total cost estimate does not reflect potential future tuition rate increases.

Your graduate education at Samuel Merritt University is an investment in your future.  Not only will you have the opportunity to pursue a rewarding career in health care,  but Samuel Merritt University graduates have a loan default rate of less than one percent.  This means that students who borrowed to attend Samuel Merritt University have found employment in their chosen field that allows them to pay off their loans. 

The Physical Therapy program is proud to offer a variety of ways to assist in funding your education including scholarships, work study and student loans. The first step in applying for financial aid at SMU is to submit your Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The Physical Therapy  program offers scholarships and an assortment of resources for funding opportunities outside of the program. Most scholarships are awarded on the basis of financial need. A limited number are awarded for academic merit. Scholarships for Physical Therapy students include:

  • Sharon Clark Diaz
  • Employee Campaign
  • Marshall Steele, Jr.
  • Hitchcock Heydman
  • Henry & Bernice Bigge
  • Faculty Scholarship
  • Alumni Scholarship
  • Elks of the Year
  • William Breslin
  • David and Oolah Evans Scholarship

WICHE – Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education.  WICHE grants are available for students from certain geographical areas of the country.  More information is available at the WICHE website, Financial Aid Package at Samuel Merritt University is personalized to you.  We develop your financial aid package using guidelines set by the Department of Education and the estimated costs of each program.

In addition to the cost of tuition, books and fees, financial aid can also cover other indirect educational costs, so the total cost of attendance includes:

  • Books and Supplies
  • Room and Board
  • Transportation
  • Personal Expenses
  • Other fees as determined by program/college

Once you receive your financial aid package, check this budget against your actual living expenses and we can make necessary adjustments to meet your needs.

Detailed information about financial aid, budgeting, total cost and application processes are available on the webpage.

We realize that the financial aid process can be difficult and overwhelming.  We are here to help.  Financial Aid staff can assist with budgeting, understanding your awards and understanding the process.  The SMU staff is committed to each and every prospective student and enrolled student.  We have an open door policy and are available via phone or email. or 510-879-9200

The Department of Physical Therapy serves students, the public, the profession, and the University by educating highly skilled and compassionate doctors of physical therapy.  Our graduates provide patient-centered care using evidence-informed practice to transform society and the experience of care in diverse communities.  We are dedicated to advancing the profession through a commitment to life-long learning, critically reflective practice, scholarship, service, and socially responsible action on behalf of patients, the public, and the profession.

Samuel Merritt University DPT graduates are prepared to:

  • Competently provide physical therapy for individuals with movement dysfunction across the lifespan in the most common practice settings.
  • Use sound clinical reasoning to guide physical therapist practice, integrating best available evidence from the literature, clinical experience, and patient/client’s perspectives and values.
  • Provide person-centered physical therapy with compassion, caring, and humility.
  • Integrate an understanding of structural and social determinants of health into their physical therapist practice.
  • Engage in critical reflection to learn from practice to improve quality of care.
  • Communicate and collaborate effectively as members of interprofessional teams.
  • Engage in disease prevention, health promotion, and wellness services for the care of self, individuals, and groups. 
  • Actively engage in the profession of physical therapy through participation in professional associations, service to the community, and advocacy for the health needs of individuals and society. 
  • Act responsibly with sound reasoning, integrity, and courage to achieve just resolution of ethical problems that affect individuals, organizations, and society.
  • Exhibit continuous professional development in behaviors, attitudes, and characteristics consistent with excellence in practice.
  • Effectively use data, information, and technology to support decision-making as physical therapists working in complex systems.

Sequential Course curriculum      Course descriptions     Clinical Curriculum  

The DPT curriculum is a sequential curriculum in which students use knowledge from prior coursework to build further learning and expertise as they progress through the program. 

DPT Curriculum Summary - Class of 2026 and later
DPT Curriculum Summary - Class of 2025

Our entry-level, DPT program is designed around several important approaches to learning so that graduates excel in serving patients and clients as practitioners capable of autonomous decisions as part of a health care team. Courses progressively build critical thinking, clinical reasoning, and collaborative decision-making skills with increasingly complex patient scenarios. Closely integrated courses focus on learning the practice of physical therapy along with the basic sciences such as anatomy, kinesiology, and biomechanics. Pharmacology, imaging, and the medical management of the patients occur in concert with clinical practice application and skills courses. Reflective of a holistic approach to practice, students learn to focus their attention on physical as well as psychological and sociocultural factors that impact individuals’ physical movement abilities, including social and structural determinants of health.  Practice considerations for physical therapy services through the lifespan are interwoven in the patient/client management course series focused on patients with musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiopulmonary systems involvement and acute general medical conditions. There are additional, specific courses with content addressing the unique needs of other patient populations commonly served by physical therapists including pediatrics, geriatrics, and patients with amputations, wounds, and pelvic health concerns. Students have integrated simulated and real clinical experiences throughout the program under the mentorship of faculty and community-based physical therapists. During these experiences, students work with patients who have conditions similar to those covered in the classroom, so that classroom learning is immediately reinforced with clinical experience, and ensuring students are well prepared for each clinical placement. Students also provide free services to underserved community members under faculty supervision during multiple on-campus labs and through a series of pro bono courses. The importance of communication and the relationship between the physical therapist and patients in a culturally diverse environment, including the multiple roles of physical therapists in the health care system are also addressed throughout the program. Students finish the program by completing a longer terminal clinical experience, enabling them to graduate as skilled and confident physical therapist contributors to the health care teams they join as they begin their careers.

Clinical Education
The clinical education portion of our curriculum prepares students for practice in a variety of clinical settings.  Clinical placements include locations in the greater San Francisco Bay Area, throughout California, and some out-of-state locations. Clinical experiences are sequenced so that the type of settings students are placed in matches the type of patient populations and practice setting they have just learned about in the classroom. This timing optimizes the opportunities for application of material learned in the classroom to real patients in the clinic. 

You will join a program and an interprofessional health sciences University community made up of a diverse student body and faculty, all dedicated to transforming the experience of health and health care for diverse populations. You will have multiple opportunities for hands-on, active learning during the classroom portions of the curriculum. These innovative learning experiences occur early and often, building on your strengths and challenging your growth as you become a physical therapist.

Community Participant Labs
Opportunities for student learning are enhanced through work with community members who have diagnosed neurologic conditions or symptomatic orthopedic conditions, and occur in multiple courses through the curriculum. Contribute to our community’s health as part of your course work while practicing your skills. Learn more about Community Participant Labs at SMU.

Pro Bono Experiences
Our Pro Bono Experience course series provides students with the opportunity to work collaboratively with peers and faculty to provide pro bono services to underserved members of the local community. These courses are scheduled in each year of the curriculum. They provide students with supervised practice in applying and refining what they have learned in their academic courses before they go out on their full-time clinical experiences. View more about Pro Bono Experiences in the DPT program

Advanced Technology
Students explore using real-time ultrasound technology to better visualize human anatomy and physiology in action in multiple courses to enhance their learning and understanding of human movement. Our students also get a deeper look at human motion at SMU’s Motion Analysis Research Center (MARC). Here, as part of their biomechanics courses, students use high-tech equipment to test, observe, and measure various aspects of gait, movement, and balance. Discover all the MARC has to offer students and their learning

Patient/Client Management Course Series
Students are immersed in the multiple patient populations and practice settings unique to physical therapist practice throughout the curriculum in this course series. This includes specific courses related to body systems (musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, cardiovascular and pulmonary), lifespan (pediatrics course and geriatric threading through multiple courses), and special topics (including wounds, burns, prosthetics/amputation, pelvic health). A unique Complexity in Care course uses simulation-based learning experiences to address management of complex situations and conditions in a variety of practice settings. Learning is focused on developing proficiency in observation, psychomotor, and clinical reasoning used in practice. Integration of current research into decision-making, along with understanding a patient's unique biopsychosocial lived experience, results in evidence-informed practice. Each trimester's Patient/Client Management courses build upon each other while learning in one course is reinforced in other courses. 

Volunteer Opportunities
Not all learning happens in the classroom. Our students are active on campus, in the community, and abroad. From on-campus clubs, to involvement with Global PT Day of Service, to professional activities of the California Physical Therapy Association's Student Special Interest Group and American Physical Therapy Association's PT Moves Me Campaign, SMU DPT students are engaged both locally and nationally.

Simulation-Based Learning
High integration of simulated and standardized patient immersive active learning experiences are strategically placed throughout our curriculum, starting early and continuing often, in order to situate learning in realistic clinical scenarios prior to full-time clinical education experiences. The DPT program uses SMU's accredited Health Sciences Simulation Center (HSSC) for many of these hands-on learning opportunities. Students have lab sessions in the HSSC training rooms to gain familiarity with hospital-based equipment, such as hospital beds, gurneys, and patient lines/tubes, common in hospital, emergency department, and critical care settings. Students have simulated or standardized patient interactions, where actors realistically portray patients, in every term of our program. Additionally, we use the HSSC for high fidelity simulation experiences with simulation manikins, where students simulate work with critically ill patients or practice other hands-on skills. In small groups, students practice patient encounters in a realistic manner, review their interactions via live and recorded video/audio, and debrief on the experience with faculty and student observers to learn from their successes and mistakes. Explore SMU’s Health Sciences Simulation Center in more depth

At SMU, we believe in diversity, equity, and inclusion. Having a student body that resembles our diverse local community that can work with patients from diverse backgrounds is important to us. Our DPT program exceeds national averages (both overall and for private institutions) in minority student enrollment and contributes to the growth in diversity of physical therapists in the US.

Enrolled DPT students        

Black/African American
SMU DPT                    Nat. Avg. '23-'24*
'23-'24     8.9%             5.77%
'22-'23     5.7%
'21-'22     5.0%             

SMU DPT                   Nat. Avg. '23-'24*
'23-'24     23.4%          9.30%
'22-'23     31.2%
'21-'22     25.5%          

SMU DPT                   Nat. Avg. '23-'24*
'23-'24     31.2%          10.37%
'22-'23     45.4%
'21-'22     41.8%          

American Indian/Alaska Native
SMU DPT                   Nat. Avg. '23-'24**
'23-'24     0.3%            0.44%
'22-'23     0.2%
'21-'22     0%            

Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander
SMU DPT                   Nat. Avg. '23-'24**
'23-'24     0.4%            0.38%
'22-'23     0.8%
'21-'22     0.9%  

Two or More Races
SMU DPT                   Nat. Avg. '23-'24*
'23-'24     10.5%          4.86%
'22-'23      5.7%
'21-'22     11.3%          

SMU DPT                    Nat. Avg. '23-'24*
'23-'24     23.4%           68.14%
'22-'23      9.2%
'21-'22     13.5%          

SMU DPT                   Nat. Avg. '23-'24*
'23-'24     1.9%            1.95%
'22-'23     2.1%
'21-'22     1.4%            

* Most recent national aggregate DPT program data. Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education Aggregate Program Data, March 2024. Accessible at

Samuel Merritt University and the DPT program have missions and outcomes aimed to support a more diverse community, here on campus and in healthcare in general. Learn more about our commitment to diversity and inclusion

The total cost of attending the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Samuel Merritt University is described in the  DPT Student Financial Fact Sheet 2023-2024. The costs are based on the tuition and fees for the program in 2023-2024, and the debt data is for students who graduated in 2023. 

The Doctor of Physical Therapy Program at Samuel Merritt University is accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), 3030 Potomac Ave., Suite 100, Alexandria, Virginia, 22305-3085; telephone: 703.706.3245; email:; website: If needing to contact the program/institution directly, please call 510.879.0334 or email

Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education logo

Graduation, Employment & Licensure Rates

Graduation Rate
Average Rate of Most Recent Two Years     97.8%
Class of 2023     95.6%
Class of 2022     100%
Class of 2021     100%

Graduation rate is the percentage of students admitted to the DPT program who complete the program within 150 percent of program length as defined by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

Employment Rate
Average Rate of Most Recent Two Years     100%
Class of 2022     100%
Class of 2021     100%
Class of 2020     100%

Employment rate is the percentage of graduates who sought employment and were employed in physical therapy (full-time or part-time) within 1 year of graduation as defined by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) Pass Rates

First Time Pass Rate
Average Rate of the Most Recent Two Years: 81.1%

First Time Pass Rate            (National Average)
Class of 2023      82.2%        (85.4%)
Class of 2022      80.0%        (84.8%)
Class of 2021      95.4%        (87.9%)

Ultimate Pass Rate
Average Rate of the Most Recent Two Years: 98.86%

Ultimate Pass Rate              (National Average)
Class of 2023       97.8%      (95.0%)
Class of 2022       97.8%      (98.3%)
Class of 2021      100%        (98.8%)

From the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, Samuel Merritt University, Basic Pass Rate Report, 2/7/2024.

The mission of Samuel Merritt University is to produce highly skilled and compassionate Doctors of Physical Therapy (DPT). Candidates must develop a robust foundational and applied sciences knowledge and requisite clinical skills, at a level deemed satisfactory by the faculty. Candidates must demonstrate appropriate application of knowledge and skills, effectively interpret information, and contribute to person-centered decisions across a broad spectrum of clinical situations in all settings.

The DPT program has the responsibility to the public to assure that its graduates can become fully competent and caring physical therapists, capable of providing benefit and not doing harm. Therefore, the program is committed to admitting and graduating persons who demonstrate intelligence, integrity, compassion, humanitarian and social concern, and physical and emotional capacity adequately to perform the duties of a physical therapist who embodies and enacts professionalism in all interactions.

The following technical standards, in conjunction with the academic standards, are requirements for admission, promotion, and graduation. The term "candidate" refers to candidates for admission to the DPT program as well as current DPT students who are candidates for retention, promotion, and graduation.

These requirements may be achieved with or without reasonable accommodations, the cost of which will be borne by the institution. These standards should not serve as a deterrent to any candidate with disabilities who desires to pursue education to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Candidates with disabilities bring unique perspectives that contribute to the diversity of the candidate population and will create a diverse health care workforce of culturally competent practitioners who can meet the needs of their patients and clients.

Candidates with disabilities are encouraged to contact the Disability Resource Center immediately to begin a confidential conversation about possible accommodations necessary to meet these standards. Fulfillment of the technical standards for graduation from the DPT program does not guarantee that a graduate will be able to fulfill the technical requirements or essential functions of any specific clinical position.

Observational and Situational Awareness Skills

The candidate must demonstrate situational awareness, which includes the ability to perceive informational and environmental cues in real-time in order to work safely and effectively within the environment of care and assess the condition of the patient/client and changes in that condition. One major component of the practice of physical therapy is the assessment and management of movement disorders. Therefore, the candidate must have the ability to perceive movement patterns and identify abnormalities in movement.

A candidate must acquire information as presented through demonstrations and interactive learning experiences in foundational and applied sciences, and in courses where professional skills and abilities are taught. In addition, a candidate must be able to evaluate a patient or client and their environment accurately and assess relevant contextual cues. Candidates must be able to obtain and interpret information through comprehensive assessment of patients/clients, correctly interpret diagnostic representations of patient/client data, and accurately evaluate patient/client conditions and responses.

Communication Skills

Candidates must exhibit interpersonal skills to enable effective caregiving of patients and clients, including the ability to communicate effectively in English with all members of inter-professional health care team, patients/clients, and their families in person and in writing. This information must be communicated effectively in a succinct yet comprehensive manner and in settings in which time available is limited. Candidates must be able to clearly and accurately record information and accurately interpret verbal and non-verbal communication. Communication includes the candidate’s ability to make a correct judgment in seeking supervision and consultation in a timely manner.

Patient/Client Care Skills

The candidate must have the ability, within reasonable limits, to safely assist a patient/client in moving. The candidate must also have the ability to move both their body and the patient/client in three-dimensional space in order to perform  tests, measures, and interventions. A candidate must be able to perform or direct diagnostic procedures and therapeutic interventions, including the interpretation of movement patterns and interventions to improve movement abilities.

Additionally, the candidate must be able to ensure the physical safety of a patient/client at all times. A candidate must be able to provide or direct general care and emergency treatment for patients/clients and respond appropriately in a timely manner to emergency situations. Candidates must meet applicable safety standards for the environment and follow standard precautions.

Intellectual-Conceptual, Integrative, and Cognitive Skills

Candidates must be able to learn through a variety of modalities, including, but not limited to:  classroom instruction; laboratory instruction, including cadaver lab; small-group, team and collaborative activities; individual study; preparation and presentation of reports; and use of computer technology. A candidate must effectively assimilate, understand, interpret and apply complex information and data to the clinical reasoning required to function within the DPT program curriculum. This includes, but is not limited to, the ability to: comprehend three-dimensional relationships and understand spatial relationships of structures; effectively participate in individual, small-group, and lecture learning modalities in the classroom, clinical and community settings; learn, participate, collaborate and contribute as a part of a team; synthesize information  both in person and via remote technology; perceive and interpret causal relationships to make accurate, evidence-based conclusions; and formulate a hypothesis, investigate the potential answers and outcomes, integrate knowledge of psychosocial factors, and reach appropriate and accurate conclusions. A candidate must be able to find sources of information and knowledge, acquire knowledge through various modalities, and possess the ability to be a life-long learner.

Behavioral Attributes, Social Skills and Professional Expectations

A candidate must be able to exercise good judgment, promptly complete all responsibilities attendant to the diagnosis and care of patients/clients, and develop mature, sensitive, and effective relationships with patients/clients and caregivers, and other health care team members. The skills required to do so include the ability to effectively handle and manage heavy workloads, function effectively under stress, adapt to changing environments, display flexibility, demonstrate resiliency, and to learn to function in the face of uncertainties inherent in the clinical care of patients and clients.

Candidates must be able to understand the basis and content of ethical physical therapist practice and demonstrate the professionalism required in such practice. They must possess attributes that include compassion, empathy, altruism, integrity, responsibility, and tolerance. Candidates also must demonstrate the ability to respect boundaries and care for all individuals in a respectful and effective manner regardless of gender identity, age, race, sexual orientation, religion, disability, or any other protected status.

Candidates must understand, and function within, the legal and ethical dimensions of the practice of physical therapy, and maintain and display ethical and moral behavior commensurate with the role and responsibilities of a doctor of physical therapy in all interactions with patients/clients, faculty, staff, students, and the public. Candidates must preserve patient/client confidentiality and protect private information, and adhere to applicable laws, regulations, statutes, and policies.

Candidates must demonstrate the emotional stability to function effectively under stress and to adapt to an environment that may change rapidly without warning and/or in an unpredictable manner. Candidates must exhibit contextually appropriate interpersonal skills including the ability to provide, accept and apply feedback in a professional manner.

Engagement and motivation throughout the educational process are expected of all candidates. Candidates must perform effectively in the presence of rigorous intellectual and emotional demands inherent in the DPT program, including both academic and clinical components that occur within set time constraints, and often concurrently. Candidates must maintain sufficient general good health and self-care in order not to jeopardize the health and safety of themselves and all those with whom they interact in the academic and clinical settings.

DPT Success

SMU is on the forefront of preparing you for an exciting and rewarding career as a physical therapist.


Job Placement

Graduates who found jobs within one year.

98% Graduation Rate

Our personalized education helps ensure that our students graduate on time and are well prepared to start their careers.

Inside the DPT Program at SMU

Our doctor of physical therapy students get considerable hands-on and community-based experience during their time on campus.


Our faculty focus on helping students achieve their goals of becoming the best physical therapists they can be, providing the best possible care to their future patients. At SMU, the DPT faculty to student ratio average is 1:11, below the national average, allowing students high engagement with expert faculty.

Our core faculty are nationally recognized experts in specialty clinical practice areas such as orthopedics, geriatrics, neurology, pediatrics, wound care, sports, and acute care; and include experts in simulation education, educational leadership, and the best practices in teaching/learning of graduate health professions students. Our adjunct faculty come to campus from the clinic or hospital to teach our students in classes that relate to their areas of practice, bringing expertise and real-world scenarios to the classroom.

Dr. Sharon Gorman

Sharon Gorman

PT, DPTSc Professor Board-Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist Fellow, National Academies of Practice
Dr. Heidi Garske

Heidi M. Garske

PT, PhD, DPT, MPT Assistant Professor Director of Clinical Education
Dr. Kristen Waller

Kristen Waller

DPT, PT Assistant Professor
Dr. Jose Reyna

José Reyna

PT, DPT, OCS Assistant Professor

SMU Perspectives

DPT students learning in Health Science Simulation Center
Congratulations to the DPT Class of 2026 as they add clinical education to their path to becoming physical therapists!
Integrated Clinical Experience 1st Year DPT students from Class of 2026
White Coat Ceremony 2024
Class of 2026 DPT students taking their "Oath as Physical Therapists Students" and committing themselves to learning from the patients they serve during their clinical education.
DPT Class of 2026 White Coat Ceremony

Physical Therapy News