Physical Therapist Licensure and Credentialing Information

A physical therapy license is a required credential for physical therapists. Get some quick facts about the education and other requirements necessary to qualify for physical therapy jobs.

The road to becoming a physical therapist is a long one that entails earning a doctorate in physical therapy and state licensure. Specialization in one of eight approved disciplines requires additional training and brings the opportunity for optional certification.

Essential Information

To enter the profession of physical therapy, graduates of accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy programs must obtain licensure through their state. Additional requirements might be necessary. Optional certification also exists for those interested in specializing in a particular physical therapy discipline.

Required Education Doctor of Physical Therapy degree
Licensure Requirements Passing the National Physical Therapy Examination
Some states also require additional examinations
Required Skills Mastery of therapeutic techniques, patient diagnosis and therapeutic treatment plans
Specialization Options Certification available in eight different specialty fields, including cardiopulmonary, women's health and geriatric therapy
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 34% increase
Median Salary (2015)* $84,020 annually

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Physical Therapist Licensing

All states require physical therapists to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy prior to practicing. In addition, some states might further require practical testing or assessment of an applicant's knowledge of state laws and ethics regarding the profession. To qualify for the national and state exams, aspiring physical therapists must usually earn a graduate degree in physical therapy or occupational therapy.

Some states also require physical therapists to complete continuing education credits through workshops or courses as a condition of licensure. Professionals can complete courses at universities and colleges, and some states allow attendance of professional seminars and conferences to count toward required continued education.

Reciprocity Agreements

A physical therapist who is licensed in one state might be able to transfer a license or practice in another state if the two states have reciprocity agreements. Though the national examination covers a large portion of states' licensure regulations, interstate physical therapists might need to demonstrate their competency and knowledge of particular legal issues within another state through testing or practical review.

Physical Therapist Credentialing

The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) offers certification in eight different specialty fields within physical therapy, including cardiopulmonary, women's health and geriatric therapy specializations. Each specialization has individual requirements, though primarily, qualification standards include either completing 2,000 hours of practical work directly with patients or participating in a residency program approved by the American Physical Therapy Association (ATPA). Additional requirements could include certification through the American Heart Association, paramedic or EMT licensure or sufficient supervised work within the specialty.

Physical therapists certified through the ABPTS are registered in the Directory of Certified Specialists, a national database maintained by the organization of all certified physical therapists. Certification must be renewed every ten years by either retaking an examination, submitting to a portfolio review or completing an APTA-accredited residency program.

Physical Therapist Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that physical therapist positions were projected to grow 34% from 2014-2024, which was much faster than average for all occupations. Career prospects should be best for physical therapists who work with the elderly and are situated in rural areas. These professionals made a median yearly salary of $84,020 in May 2015.

Graduation from a doctoral program in physical therapy can qualify you to sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, the passing of which is required by all states as a condition of licensure. Completing a residency program or accumulating experience can lead to one of eight specialization certifications, which is renewable every ten years. The occupation opportunities for physical therapists are projected to increase at a much faster rate than the national average for all occupations.

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