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Steps to Obtain a Physical Therapist License

In each of the 50 states you are required to obtain a physical therapist license in order to practice. Even physical therapy assistants currently require licensure or registration to be able to practice alongside the physical therapists.  For many physical therapist students, completing graduation is enough of a challenge, and required 7 years of dedicated study while maintaining strong grade point averages. But graduation from school is not the final step, students must complete a physical therapy license exam before they are able to practice. Most graduating physical therapists attempt to complete this exam immediately after the complete their physical therapy degree. Physical therapist license exams are administered at a number of different locations throughout the nation. Your best option is to check with the specific state board of physical therapy, within your the state of your residence.

Requirements for a Physical Therapist License
physical therapist license

The requirements for a physical therapist license first and foremost is graduation from an accredited physical therapist degree program. This requires students to complete all components and receive their masters or doctorate degree in physical therapy. Programs that are accepted in each state must meet the accreditation requirements set out by the American Physical Therapy Associations (APTA) accreditation body, The Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Other requirements may be required from state to state. In some states a criminal background check will be necessary, as will proof of testing for tuberculosis. Each state board of physical therapy has a degree of self management, and the requirements are not the same all across the nation. Your best option is to contact your state board if you uncertain of any material or information you require to be eligible for a state license.

National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)

The National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) for physical therapists,  and the National Physical Therapy Assistant Exam (NPTAE) is administered at more than 300 testing centers across the United States, and Canada. A physical therapist has 5 hours to complete the computer based exam, as where a physical therapist assistant has 4 hours to complete their national examination. Upon passing the examination there may be additional requirements before you are able to practice in any given state. The computer based test that you will be required to complete is given in a multiple choice format.  The basic steps for taking the NPTE or NPTAE exam is as follows

  • Obtain application materials from the state licensing authority of the jurisdiction in which you are seeking licensure to practice
  • Register for the examination on Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy’s  (FSBPT) website at (https://www.fsbpt.org) after receiving clearance from your state licensing board for eligibility. If eligible they will approve your request and send your information to the FSBPT.
  • Register a date and time and book an exam date that suits your schedule
  • Pay the administration fee (was last $370)
  • You are required to bring your social security number or alternative
  • Study and write the physical therapist license exam!

Most states have a limit of how often an individual can be eligible to write the NPTE exam. In some states it is as low as 3, others as high as 10. The NPTE exam passing generally sits above 80% nation wide.


State Physical Therapy Licensing Authorities

All State license authorities require that students have successfully graduated from a program recognized by the American Physical Therapy Associations accreditation body, the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education.

Earning a physical therapist license is the final piece in a long process to gain eligibility to work as a practicing physical therapist.

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