Student Tools

Hints for Successful Clinical Observation

Observing Physical Therapists at UNTHSC

Recommended Observation Record Form

Ideas for Obtaining Knowledge of and Experience in Physical Therapy

by Venita Lovelace-Chandler, Vice Chair of the Physical Therapy Department at UNTHSC

Many academic physical therapy (PT) programs require students to have knowledge about PT practice in order to be admitted.  Knowledge of the profession occurs in various ways, such as shadowing and observing a physical therapist, or working or volunteering in PT facilities.  You might also read about physical therapy in a book on health careers, investigate PT on websites (particularly the American Physical Therapy Association's (APTA) website) or hear about PT from a friend or relative who received services. 

Some PT academic programs do not require specific observation hours as a part of the admissions process. The University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC) is one of these. Instead, an interview is required, and some of the questions in the interview process will relate to your knowledge of the profession and its practices.  Additionally, many universities, including UNTHSC, require that you write an essay to be considered for admission.  In the essay, you will want to share your knowledge and understanding of the profession and its practices.

Observing, Volunteering, or Working

For those academic PT programs that require observation hours, most require that you observe, work, or volunteer with a physical therapist.  Observing a physician, athletic trainer, nurse, or other health practitioner may be helpful in understanding health care, but those observations or work experience will not count for PT observation hours.  Working as an aide (or tech) in a facility supervised by a physical therapist will usually count and provides insights and experiences helpful to understanding physical therapy practice.  Use the AHP Observation Record and “Hints” to enhance your observation, volunteer, or work experience.

Should I Try to Work in a PT facility?   

Academic PT programs often will count only the hours when you were actually observing physical therapy practice under the supervision of a physical therapist.  You probably can only work in a physical therapy facility as an aide (tech), receptionist, or other office worker.  In that capacity, you will be able to observe numerous physical therapy activities.  Whenever you are able to observe the physical therapist with a patient, be sure to note those observations on your AHP Observation Record.  These activities will help you to understand the specific role of the physical therapist and the tasks you will be doing once you achieve your goal of becoming a physical therapist. All of your experiences will be very meaningful.  Use the AHP Observation Record and “Hints” to.

Do I Need the Physical Therapist's Signature?

Many academic PT programs require observation hours be documented with a physical therapist’s signature.  Refer to the chart below for more information.  You should always verify requirements with each specific academic program where you plan to apply.

Observation Hour Requirement – Physical therapy Programs in Texas

Name of Institution

PT observation hour requirements as noted on the program’s website

University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNTHSC)

No specific observation hours required.  The program requires knowledge of the profession of physical therapy.  You will be expected to demonstrate that knowledge during the interview. 

Angelo State University

Complete a total of 50 observation or employment hours that includes two different areas of clinical practice.  Check the website for a form that requires a physical therapist’s signature.  The website states that the program also requires an essay that includes “commitment to your particular field of study, any research experience, your view of research and possible research interests”.  You may be able to partially demonstrate your commitment through your observation or work experience.  You may also gain research ideas from the observation/work experience.

Hardin-Simmons University

The website states that “Knowledge of physical therapy as a profession is an important requirement. The faculty strongly recommends work or observational experience in a variety of clinical settings. Two letters from two different physical therapists in two different settings for a minimum of 80 hours is required before submitting an application.  Check website for letter forms (which require a signature) and for a form to record observation/employment.

Texas State University-San Marcos

The website states “Although we do not require a specific number of volunteer or observation hours, it is highly recommended that applicants have exposure to physical therapy prior to applying to the program.  Most of our applicants have at least 12-20 hours of volunteer experience. Many applicants have many more than that and a number of applicants have work experience as well. Documentation of these hours is not required but you will be asked to list those experiences on the application.”

Texas Tech University – Health Science Center

The website states “We require observation hours to ensure that candidates have a true understanding of the profession of physical therapy and the day to day responsibilities and duties of a physical therapist. A minimum of 100 hours of volunteer or observation under the supervision of a physical therapist is required.  It is to an applicant’s advantage to observe in a variety of settings (acute care, outpatient, pediatrics, in-patient rehabilitation, etc.). An increased number of observation hours in a variety of settings will strengthen a student’s application for admission to the DPT program.”  Additionally, one of the recommendations should come from a physical therapist, so you may want to ask a physical therapist with whom you observed a significant amount of time.  The website also states that an ideal candidate will have a strong understanding of the profession of physical therapy and that the essay should reflect that understanding.

Texas Woman's University


The website states that at least 2 recommendations must come from physical therapists (licensed to practice in the US) where you have observed/worked/volunteered for at least 20 hours. These experiences and recommendations must come from at least two (2) different therapy environments (e.g. out-patient orthopedics, pediatrics, acute care hospital, rehabilitation facility, extended care facility). Two recommendations from the same clinic are considered as one reference.  See the website for the form for the reference.  A letter of interest is required and could include information and reflections about your observations.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio


The website states that applicants should have “knowledge and understanding of physical therapy gained through a minimum of 50 hours observation, volunteering, or employment in a physical therapy setting documented” using a form found on the website.  The application also requires a letter of reference from a physical therapist.

The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston


The applicant must submit a form that verifies at least 80 hours of volunteer or paid experience in a physical therapy setting. The form must be signed by a licensed physical therapist who supervised you at each facility.

University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences

A minimum of 80 volunteer or observation experience hours (volunteer hours, work hours, observation hours, etc.) in physical therapy settings is required.  Two of the four references required must be from a physical therapist.

University of Texas at El Paso


The website states that the “DPT Program requires 50 hours of observation that must be completed under a licensed physical therapist. We do not require that these hours be completed in a particular physical therapy setting, but it is recommended that the applicant try to observe physical therapy services being delivered in more than one setting (i.e., inpatient, outpatient, schools).”  The Program also requires an interview where your observation experiences might be discussed.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas

Exposure to physical therapy is evaluated as part of the admissions process. 

US Army-Baylor University

Must be interested in becoming commissioned officers in the U.S. Army, Navy or Public Health Service in order to apply to this program.  Must complete volunteer observation hours in a physical therapy clinic. It is recommended that the applicant complete a minimum of 100 observation hours in a variety of clinical practice settings.

University of the Incarnate Word

This program is a developing program which has not yet received accredited status.


A minimum of 50 hours of observation in different physical therapy settings.  A letter of reference from at least one physical therapist.  This program uses the PTCAS application system.

Observation Hour Requirement – PTCAS Schools

The observation hour requirements for academic programs using the PTCAS system are: