APTA does not license physical therapists (PTs) or physical therapist assistants (PTAs); licensure is managed by the individual state regulatory boards. APTA also doesn't administer the licensure exams for PTs and PTAs as this is handled by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT).

Licensure and Regulation of Physical Therapists in the States

PTs are licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Licensure is required in each state in which a physical therapist practices and must be renewed on a regular basis, with a majority of states requiring continuing education as a requirement for renewal. PTs must practice within the scope of physical therapy practice defined by these state licensure laws (physical therapy practice acts). The entire practice act, including accompanying rules, constitutes the law governing physical therapy practice within a state.

Physical therapist assistants (PTAs) are licensed or certified in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Licensure or certification is required in each state in which a PTA works and must be renewed on a regular basis, with a majority of states requiring continuing education as a requirement for renewal. PTAs' scope of work and supervision requirements are defined by the physical therapy practice act in each state.

Practice Acts by State

Purpose and Requirements for State Licensure

State licensure is inherently restrictive for the licensee and exclusive to the particular profession. Only those who "meet and maintain prescribed standards" established by the state's regulatory board will, for the protection and benefit of the public, be allowed to profess their qualifications and provide their services to the public. The public is dependent upon the state to evaluate and affirm the qualifications for licensure of physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.

One of the main tools used by a state's regulatory entity to determine if a PT or PTA has met that threshold is the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) of the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. The NPTE is "competency specific" and covers the entire scope of practice, which for the physical therapist includes theory, examination and evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, treatment intervention, prevention, and consultation that are consistent with the exam blueprint. The NPTE for the PTA assesses entry-level competence for the safe provision of procedural interventions. Another important qualification for licensure is graduation from an accredited physical therapy educational program. The Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), the United States Department of Education recognized specialized accrediting agency for physical therapy education programs, sets the quality threshold standards that PT and PTA programs must meet in order to be accredited.

Regulatory Boards in the States

Most jurisdictions have independent state boards of physical therapy but some jurisdictions have physical therapy boards as part of state medical boards or combined with other professions. There are also a few "super boards" where all regulatory activities are subordinate to one board, with distinct committees or commissions for the various professions. Independent licensing boards are preferred because they provide the necessary expertise for public protection through the regulation of the practice of physical therapy. Most jurisdictions have licensing board members who are appointed by an elected official, usually the governor. Public members are commonly included on boards, but often there shall be only one public member. Some jurisdictions currently have fewer than five total board members, while larger jurisdictions have far greater numbers serving on their boards. The determination of what constitutes practice within the scope of physical therapy is predominantly the responsibility of licensing board members. Because the scope of practice changes as contemporary practice evolves, boards may need to determine the appropriateness of physical therapy procedures as they relate to both established and evolving scope of practice.

Federation of State Board of Physical Therapy Licensing Authorities


APTA suggests that candidates in the United States obtain information on preparing for the National Physical Therapy Examination by visiting a physical therapy school in their area to find out if there are materials available for review in the school library or for purchase in the bookstore. APTA doesn't create or endorse any preparation materials.

Licensure Examination Preparation  

About the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE)

Foreign-educated PTs & PTAs

Foreign-educated candidates for licensure, whether US citizens or not, are typically required to have their educational credentials reviewed as part of the licensure process. This review must be conducted by a credentialing agency approved by the jurisdiction in which the applicant intends to practice as a PT or work as a PTA. Occasionally, licensing authorities may handle the credentials evaluation process internally. It is through the credentials evaluation process that a licensing authority determines whether an applicant's education is equivalent to the education provided by an entry-level US PT or PTA program.

Licensure for Foreign-educated PTs and PTAs

Guide to PT PracticeCSM 2016