Masters in the USA- Are you confused? Part 1

Hey readers,
In the last few weeks I have received numerous requests asking me about various masters programs available here in the USA. Are you confused about making the right decision?  Don’t know the difference between the masters in exercise science and masters in physical therapy? I have been down that road myself. Read on, this blog post series is for you.  Let me begin by saying this first, for the most part the US has done away with bachelors and masters program. Most of the schools now offer a single Doctor of Physical therapy 3 yr program (DPT). Only a handful of schools offer Masters in physical therapy. Now would you want to come to the US and do your bachelors all over again only to become a DPT. I would presume not (at least not initially, but getting a T-DPT eventually might actually be a good idea). I didn’t pursue my masters in PT so it wouldn’t be correct for me write about it.  So this blog post is dedicated upon throwing some light on my Masters program- Exercise science.
Alright, first off,  EXERCISE SCIENCE IS NOT A PART OF PHYSICAL THERAPY. It’s a totally different field here. It elaborates upon exercise not rehab. Understanding this is crucial. In my school it had three tracks-  Exercise Physiology, athletic training and strength and conditioning and you can choose any one. To oversimplify,  let me briefly describe the three-
1. Exercise Physiology– this track will gear you toward becoming an exercise physiologist learning things like EKG’s/ECG’s, exercise testing, exercise prescription etc. Your target population could be anyone from a regular Joe to working with  cardiac rehab patients doing exercise stress testing (Bruce, modified Bruce) to exercise delivery. You do not have to be licensed to practice as an exercise physiologist but if you wish to be taken seriously you would want to give the ACSM examination.

  • Excellent for people interested in Cardio-Pulmonary and inpatient setting with great focus on research.
  • This concentration is easier for us physios.You could pass the classes easily as you studied a lot of the stuff in your bachelors.
  • Having stated the above point there is more to this course than just passing and getting a degree behind your name. If you really wish to have a fulfilling experience and are not content with  mediocrity (which is understandable as you pay a few thousand dollars, ouch!!) feel free to delve into the course and you would be amazed with all the great stuff you learn. Every school has a ton of research going on and good thing come out of being a part of them.

Cons- There are no real cons to learning but relatively speaking

  • I found some of the classes in this track  to be repetitive from what we learnt in our bachelors especially for those who have a strong base in cardio pulmonary rehab.

2. Athletic training– ever wanted to be that cool person who travels with a sports team and along with the team physician is the first line of care should an athlete be injured?  This is the track these cool people chose in school. Their job entails doing stuff on both ends of the spectrum from simple icing, taping, strapping, using electrical modalities, assessment and diagnosis (similar to what we do) to getting an athlete with potential serious injuries (think spinal cord and concussions etc) off the field safely. They often work closely with PT’s and refer out to us when needed. Yes, you must be licensed to be a AT.

  • Since we do not have athletic training as a profession in India, this is a great elective for immediate care on or off field for aspiring sports therapists. The sheer practicality and on field experience can be invaluable.


  • Well honestly speaking the PT program  is more extensive and in-depth and I don’t see many PT’s opting for this course while I see a lot of AT’s enrolling for physical therapy school after a few years of experience (which is often a natural progression here).
  • Your base earning and scope of practice is more as a PT. So unless you plan to take this knowledge  back home and use it as a sports physio, you might find yourself reconsidering this option.

3.  Strength and conditioning –  I wish I knew about this track  sooner than I did cause its my favorite (and among the three tracks this is the one we will find ourselves least familiar with). A strength coach takes the  role of ensuring that the athletes are at the peak of their performance at any given time during the season, they are able to meet the physical and metabolic demands of the sport but above all else, like my school’s head S and C coach would say “Its injury prevention goddammit, prehab.” (Sorry for the blasphemy but I quote). To be recognized as a strength coach and be able to train athletes one must pass the gold standards license, the certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) test.

  • Can’t say enough good things about this track. Great entry point if you want to work in the sports physiotherapy field.
  • Not content with just a rehab role? If you wish to be involved more extensively with training a team during off-season, this track is for you.
  • My favorite part of this track was finally being able to see how american college athletes train. This part is not touched anywhere in our physiotherapy curriculum (maybe in masters in sports physiotherapy. Any sports PT’s out there, feel free to comment). Remember how we all wondered about the great athletic abilities and sheer physical prowess of western athletes? There is a reason they are bigger, faster, stronger- they have strength and conditioning coaches. (luckily, its now being offered in India also but not during my time. This is BIG). More info on this soon.


  • Does not offer much to those not interested in sports setting.
  • Just attending the classes in school, learning from books, passing the test and getting the title doesn’t make you good S and C specialist, especially with our limited knowledge in the field. You must volunteer with the coaches and spend time in the trenches. This is not a true negative point about the track, its just holds true for almost everything we ever do.

A blog cannot do justice to two years of higher education but this is the closest I can describe the curriculum of the masters in exercise science program especially in my university- Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus. Remember, if you are looking for a pure physical therapy experience for your masters this course might not be for you (there will be no manual therapy class offered). In the future posts in this series, I would have some of my fellow PT’s who attended masters in PT program (the few that are left) describe their experiences in a guest blog post article. Reading them will hopefully help you make a better decision when deciding to study abroad. Until next time,
Pursue Excellence
Abhijit Minhas PT
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4 thoughts on “Masters in the USA- Are you confused? Part 1”

  1. Abhijit …just wanted to know the importance & correlation between health & nutrition and strength & conditioning in the course….thnxs…..

  2. Pingback: Strength Matters | Abhijit Minhas

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