Physical Therapist

When people encounter limitations in mobility as a result of a medical condition, an injury, or a procedure, they are often referred to physical therapists. Physical therapists help patients regain bodily movement and function. They also work with patients to reduce pain as part of the recovery process. A physical therapist will evaluate the patient, consult the patient's physician or other medical professionals, and develop a treatment plan, which often relies heavily on physical exercises. This can include helping patients walk, use their hands and arms to pick things up, and turn their heads. If a physical therapist is not properly educated and doesn't adequately treat his or her patients, those patients may have to live with a physical disability for the rest of their lives. Therefore, every state requires physical therapists to become licensed to ensure their expertise in the field.

It is important to have licensing and regulatory organizations to protect the public from incompetent, unprofessional, and unlawful practice of physical therapy.

Nancy WorthenExecutive Director of the Arkansas State Board of Physical Therapy

Getting Physical Therapy Licensure

To practice physical therapy, you must earn a graduate degree from an accredited physical therapy program, pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), and become licensed by your state. Licensure requirements vary by state, but every state requires physical therapists to pass the NPTE, which is a national, 250-question exam. "It is important to have licensing and regulatory organizations to protect the public from incompetent, unprofessional, and unlawful practice of physical therapy," said Nancy Worthen, the executive director of the Arkansas State Board of Physical Therapy.

Additional steps may be required, depending on your state. For example, in Arkansas, physical therapists are required to present a certificate of completion of the jurisprudence exam, submit their official transcripts and three letters of recommendation, pass an English language proficiency test, undergo an educational evaluation, and pass the NPTE to be licensed by the Arkansas State Board of Physical Therapy, according to Worthen. We recommend contacting your own state board of physical therapy to determine everything you need to do to become licensed.

Maintaining Physical Therapy Licensure

Obtaining your initial physical therapy license proves that you received a high-quality education and that you were knowledgeable of the medical practices and laws in place when you passed the NPTE. However, advancements in the field of medicine, as well as the passing of new and revised laws, require physical therapists to continually renew their licenses every so often to make sure that they continue possessing the knowledge and ability to continue their practice.

There is no national regulation for the practice of physical therapy, so each state establishes individual standards for renewing your license. Most states, however, require some form of continuing education to renew your license. According to Worthen, physical therapists in Arkansas are required to renew their licenses annually. However, continuing education is only required for odd-numbered years and must total 20 hours, 10 of which can be completed online. "There are many legitimate online courses available," Worthen said.

The standards in Arizona are similar. "A therapist is required to complete at least 20 hours of continuing competency activities during each two-year licensure cycle," said Dr. Mark Cornwall, the president of the Arizona State Board of Physical Therapy.

Continuing education will allow you to learn about advancements in medical technology, new implementations to physical therapy practice, and new laws and regulations, as well as help you sharpen your skills. Many continuing education classes are now being offered online, which will allow you to study, learn, and earn the credits you need at your own pace, without having to worry about making it to a classroom. "Online education is permitted [in Arizona]," said Cornwall. "It is convenient for those individuals practicing in rural areas where it is difficult to otherwise attend continuing education."

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