Is physical therapist a doctor?
In this article, I will answer this question precisely, as well as all the related questions that have practical implications for everyone. At Fonto Media (which has a name in Esperanto, the “universal” language 🙂), we like to have an international approach to things!
So, I will talk about the situation in the four countries where most of our visitors come from: France, the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
Are you from another country? Let us know how it is in your country in the comments!
You will find sources at the end of the article, as well as a comment section: I will be happy to answer your questions if needed!
Take-home message : the title “doctor” in the context of physical therapy refers to their professional degree (DPT) and does not imply that they are medical doctors (physicians)
Last update: August 2023
Is a physical therapist a doctor?
As I said, I’m going to answer this question for the 4 countries where Fonto Media’s visitors come from the most.
In France 🇫🇷
In France, to become a physical therapist (kinésithérapeute), one needs a French State diploma in physical therapy (masso-kinésithérapie) or an equivalent qualification. This diploma is obtained after 5 years of study after completing a bachelor’s degree.
It is a different diploma from what physicians/doctors obtain.
In France, to become a physician/doctor, one needs a French State diploma in medicine (docteur en médecine) or an equivalent qualification. This diploma is obtained after 9 to 12 years of study after completing a bachelor’s degree.
The diploma of doctors is different from that of physical therapists. And the physical therapy diploma is not sufficient to be considered as an equivalent and obtain the medical diploma.
Some physical therapists become doctors. However, in this case, they have to go back to school for several years.
There are similarities in the training of physical therapists and doctors. But the duration of physical therapy studies is shorter than the path to becoming a doctor.
In France, physical therapists are not medical graduates. They are not doctors. They cannot claim to be physicians/doctors.
In the United States 🇺🇸
To become a physical therapist, you need to obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. The DPT program is a 3-year doctoral program after completing a bachelor’s degree. So, in total, it takes about 7 years of university education to become a physical therapist in the United States.
To become a physician in the United States, you need to obtain a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. To earn an MD or DO, it typically takes 4 years of medical school after completing a bachelor’s degree, followed by a residency program of 3 to 7 years, depending on the chosen specialty.
So, in total, it takes about 7 to 11 years of education after the bachelor’s degree to become a physician in the United States.
In the United States, physical therapists are not medical graduates. They are not doctors. They cannot claim to be physicians/doctors.
In Canada 🇨🇦
To become a physiotherapist in Canada, you need to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree in physiotherapy. Physiotherapy programs usually last 4 to 5 years after the bachelor’s degree.
To become a physician in Canada, you need to obtain a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree. To earn an MD, it typically takes 4 years of medical school after completing a bachelor’s degree, followed by a residency program of 2 to 7 years, depending on the chosen specialty.
And it’s the same as in France and the United States: physical therapists cannot claim to be physicians/doctors because they don’t have a medical degree.
In the United Kingdom 🇬🇧
To become a physiotherapist in the United Kingdom, you need to obtain a bachelor’s degree in physiotherapy. Physiotherapy programs usually last 3 to 4 years after the bachelor’s degree.
To be a physician, you need a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) degree. Medical programs typically last 5 to 6 years after the bachelor’s degree.
Physical therapists cannot claim to be physicians/doctors because they don’t have a medical degree.
|Country||Name||Length of studies after the bachelor’s degree||PT can claim to be physician/doctor|
|United States||Physical therapist||3 years||No|
|Canada||Physiotherapist||4 to 5 years||No|
|United Kingdom||Physiotherapist||3 to 4 years||No|
Should we call a physical therapist “doctor”?
I don’t think any physical therapist would mind if you call them “doctor”! However, it’s not the term that is commonly used, as most physical therapists are not medical doctors (most of the time).
Personally, if it doesn’t have a direct impact, I don’t correct my patients when they address me as “doctor.” We have much more important things to discuss than how they address me!
Physical therapists are generally not medical doctors. Calling them “doctor” may not be entirely appropriate, but it’s not a big deal at all.
How to address a physical therapist?
There is no “right” way to address a physical therapist. It depends a lot on the customs and preferences of each individual or generation.Personally, I let my patients call me:
- By my first name, Nelly
- Or “Mrs.,” or even “Mrs. Darbois,”
- Using either the formal “vous” or the informal “tu.” (in France, we’re complicated!)
It doesn’t matter to me. There are other ways to create closeness and mutual trust, or, on the contrary, a certain distance, than how we address each other!
Call your physical therapist in the way that feels right to you. If it bothers them, they will let you know and suggest an alternative, tactfully!
Can a physical therapist issue a medical certificate?
In France 🇫🇷, only medical graduates are authorized to issue medical certificates.
Therefore, physical therapists cannot issue medical certificates:
- Neither to allow or contraindicate participation in sports (fitness certificate);
- Nor for confirming the absence of contagious diseases;
- Nor for vaccination certificates.
However, some physical therapists may still provide explanatory letters about your condition, for example, addressed to your doctor, employer, or social service.
These letters do not have the legal value of a medical certificate but can be useful in certain situations.
On the other hand, some physical therapists are expert advisors or judicial experts. They can provide reports that have legal value during legal proceedings.In summary, a physical therapist cannot issue a medical certificate, but they can write explanatory letters.
It’s the same In the United States 🇺🇸, physical therapists are not authorized to issue medical certificates. They can‘t write work restrictions.
Similar to the United States and France, in Canada 🇨🇦, physiotherapists do not have the authority to issue medical certificates.
In the United Kingdom 🇬🇧, the situation is slightly different.
Physiotherapists in the UK are allowed to issue sick notes or “fit notes,” which are used to provide evidence of a person’s inability to work due to illness or injury. However, physiotherapists do not issue medical certificates for other purposes, such as participation in sports or vaccination certificates.
|Country||Sick note/ Fit note / Write work restrictions||Participation in sports or vaccination certificates|
Can a physical therapist or physio prescribe medication or something else?
Physical therapists are part of the paramedical professions that have the right to prescribe certain things. And patients are reimbursed just as if the prescription were issued by a doctor.
In France, the only condition is that the patient has a prescription for ongoing physiotherapy sessions (prescribed by a doctor). Then, their physiotherapist can prescribe what they need if it is included in the list of things that physiotherapists can prescribe, such as medical devices like walkers or compression stockings.
|Not likely||Yes, some|
|Yes, some||Yes, some|
See my blog post on prescribing rights for physical therapist for more informations
Can one be a doctor in physical therapy?
In fact, the term “doctor” has two different meanings in France, United States and Canada:
- Most often, it refers to medical doctors, individuals who have graduated from a medical school and are qualified to provide patient care.
- Less frequently, it refers to individuals who have obtained a doctorate in an academic discipline that may have no direct connection to medicine. For example, in philosophy or economics. This typically involves 8 years of study. Therefore, there are “doctor” physical therapists, but it is often because they have earned a doctorate in a non-medical field such as public health or biology.
One of the writers (Albin) on Fonto Media is an example of this! In recent years, it has even become possible to obtain a doctorate in rehabilitation sciences, a new academic discipline specifically for physical therapists. But me, the founder and the main writer, I only have a physiotherapy diploma.
I understand that this can be a bit confusing, but that’s how it is! When you see a book written by a “Doctor” (abbreviated as Dr.), it is possible that this person does NOT have a medical degree and is not a medical doctor but simply holds a doctorate in a completely different field.
However, physical therapists with such a doctorate are not allowed to practice medicine. They hold the title of “doctor” simply because they have a doctorate, which is different from a medical doctor’s degree.
In the United Kingdom, the terminology is different. Physiotherapists are generally not called “doctor” even if they have a Doctorate in Physiotherapy. The title of “doctor” is usually reserved for individuals who have obtained a research doctorate in physiotherapy or a related field.
Here’s what I wanted to tell you about this! I wish you a very good recovery! Do you have any comments or questions? Your comments are welcome 🙂 !
You may also like:
- How to become a physical therapist in Switzerland?
- What can a physical therapist or physiotherapist prescribe?
- Whats is a home physical therapist?
United Kingdom. Noblet TD, Marriott JF, Rushton AB. Independent prescribing by advanced physiotherapists for patients with low back pain in primary care: protocol for a feasibility trial with an embedded qualitative component. BMJ Open. 2019 May 1;9(4):e027745. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-027745. PMID: 31048447; PMCID: PMC6502003
Practice Guidance for Physiotherapist Supplementary and/or Independent Prescribers. (United Kingdoms) Here Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, 2018
By Nelly Darbois
I love to write articles that are based on my experience as a physiotherapist and extensive research in the international scientific literature.
I live in the French Alps 🌞❄️ where I work as a physiotherapist and scientific editor for my own website, where you are.