Home » Physical Therapy » Certification

How to Become a Certified Physical Therapist: Education & Licensing

If you want to be a practicing physical therapist you’ll need to get licensed—all 50 states require it.

Search for programs near you
woman therapist helps woman walk
Search for programs near you
Home » Physical Therapy » Certification

The Basics of Licensing and Certification

All 50 states require you to go through a physical therapy licensing process in order to practice. All but five states also require licensure or registration for physical therapy assistants.

After graduating from a physical therapy program that is approved by the American Physical Therapy Association’s Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education, you must then pass the National Physical Therapist Examination (NPTE) which is developed by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Certificate vs Certification

A certificate is awarded by an educational institution, and signifies that a student has satisfactorily completed a given curriculum. Certificate programs can help students prepare for certification exams.
A certification is generally awarded by a trade group after an individual has met certain professional requirements (e.g. earned a specific degree, worked professionally in a given field for a set amount of time, etc.) and passed a certification exam.

In short, a certificate is evidence that someone has completed an educational program, while a certification denotes that someone has met a certain set of professional criteria and/or passed an exam.

Not all programs offered are designed to meet state educator licensing or advancement requirements; however, it may assist candidates in gaining these approvals in their state of residence depending on those requirements. Contact the state board of education in the applicable state(s) for requirements.

Attending Accredited Physical Therapy Schools

Choosing accredited physical therapy schools is important for many reasons. Not only does it give you and future employers peace of mind, but it’s also integral for certification and licensing. Accreditation, in practical terms, is a “stamp of approval,” a sign that an institution ascribes to, believes in, and has met an external set of basic criteria for its programs. In all cases, it indicates that threshold standards are adhered to in a fashion that provides a base of academic strength and operational integrity.

Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)

CAPTE accredits entry-level programs in the U.S. for the physical therapist at the master’s and doctoral degree levels and programs for the physical therapist assistant at the associate degree level. There are currently more than 400 PT and PTA programs accredited by CAPTE.

American Physical Therapy Association

1111 North Fairfax Street
Alexandria, VA 22314-1488
(800) 999-2782

National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)

The NPTE, for both physical therapists and physical therapy assistants, is computer-based. You may sit for the examination at any of the approximately 300 testing centers in the United States, U.S. territories and Canada. Upon passing the exam you will need to meet any additional requirements your state licensing board may have before they will allow you to practice.

About the NPTE

Exam Overview

  • PT Exam: 250 questions in 5 sections; 5 hours to take the exam
  • PTA Exam: 200 questions in 4 sections; 4 hours to take the exam

According to the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, the PT exam is organized into separate content areas:

  • Physical Therapy Examination
  • Foundations for Evaluation, Differential Diagnosis, and Prognosis
  • Interventions
  • Equipment and Devices; Therapeutic Modalities
  • Safety & Protection; Professional Responsibilities; Research
  • Domains of Practice

The test for PT assistants includes the following content areas:

  • Physical Therapy Data Collection
  • Diseases/Conditions that Impact Effective Treatment
  • Interventions
  • Equipment and Devices; Therapeutic Modalities
  • Safety and Protection; Professional Responsibilities; Research
  • Domains of Practice

You’ll need to score 600 or higher on the exam, but don’t worry if it doesn’t happen the first time. The FSBPT offers the opportunity to retake the exam.

State Physical Therapy Licensing Authorities

All state physical therapy licensing authorities require applicants to be graduates of a program that is approved by the American Physical Therapy Association’s Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education in addition to receiving a passing score on the NPTE. Individual states may have additional requirements.

One of the requirements for licensure may be passing the jurisprudence exam, which tests your knowledge on your state’s laws and rules. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy currently administers the exam for the following states: Arizona, California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Nebraska, and Ohio.

Once you’re licensed you can begin making the decisions about where you want to work, whether in a clinic, sports medicine, or self-employment. Your salary and future advancement may be dependent upon your meeting the rigorous regulations.