Licensure is required in order to practice as a PT or work as a PTA in the United States. Licensure is managed by individual state regulatory boards.
Licensure is managed by individual state regulatory boards. APTA does not license PTs or PTAs. APTA also has no role in the National Physical Therapy Examination, which is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. APTA membership is not a requirement for PT or PTA licensure in the United States.
Purpose and Requirements for State Licensure
PTs are licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Licensure is required in each state/jurisdiction 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.
Licensure is inherently restrictive for the licensee and exclusive to the profession. Only those who "meet and maintain prescribed standards" established by the state's regulatory board will be allowed to profess their qualifications and provide their services to the public.
PTs must practice within the scope of physical therapy practice defined by licensure laws (physical therapy practice acts). The practice act, including accompanying rules or regulations, constitutes the law governing physical therapist practice within a state. FSBPT maintains a list of licensing authorities with links to each state/jurisdiction’s practice act.
The determination of what constitutes practice within the scope of physical therapy is predominantly the responsibility of state licensing boards. It varies state to state and changes as contemporary practice evolves.
PTAs are licensed or certified in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Licensure or certification is required in each state/jurisdiction 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.
You must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination if you are seeking to become a licensed PT or PTA in the United States. This applies to candidates who attended U.S. PT or PTA programs outside of the U.S. NPTE is administered by FSBPT, which provides resources for candidates.
Another important requirement for licensure is graduation from an accredited physical therapy educational program. The Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education, the U.S. Department of Education-recognized specialized accrediting agency for physical therapy education programs, sets the quality threshold standards that physical therapy education programs must meet in order to be accredited.
Internationally Educated PTs and PTAs
Internationally-educated candidates for licensure, whether United States citizens or not, are required to have their educational credentials reviewed as part of the licensure process, unless they attended a physical therapy program outside the U.S. that was accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. 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 U.S. PT or PTA program.
For credentials described in a foreign language, translation of your educational information into English may be required as part of the licensure application process. Before spending money on any translation services, be sure to check with each jurisdiction and agency requiring translation to ensure that you are clear on the type/method of translation required.
Be aware that credentials evaluators may not accept applications for review from graduates of some physical therapy education programs because the programs are not based within a postsecondary institution. Higher secondary education and vocational technical education is not considered to be postsecondary education. If you find yourself in this situation, you should contact the credentialing agency directly for more information on the subject.
It is important that you contact the licensing authority in each state where you are applying for licensure before having your credentials reviewed in order to ensure that you select an agency approved by each licensing authority.
If a credentials review indicates the need for you to take additional courses or engage in other professional development activities, you should contact the licensing authority directly for more information regarding next steps. Another resource is the Planned Learning Assistance Network, or PLAN, offered by the Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy. PLAN is designed to assist applicants with interpreting the results of their credentials review and identify alternatives to meet the deficiencies. If you have used an agency other than FCCPT, PLAN staff can still assist in identifying resources, but will not be able to preapprove any coursework. To find out more about PLAN, you should contact FCCPT at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once an applicant's credentials are approved and all of the required application documents are provided, the jurisdiction will determine if the applicant is qualified to take NPTE. The licensure exam is not offered outside the U.S. and its territories.
FSBPT provides resources to assist with preparation for the licensure exam.
Upon successful completion of the exam and fulfillment of all other applicable licensing authority requirements, a license will be awarded allowing the applicant to practice as a PT or work as a PTA in that jurisdiction only.