How to Get a Physical Therapist Assistant License

A physical therapist assistant, also known as a PTA, is an allied healthcare worker who provides treatment for physical therapy patients. As a PTA you will work under the direction of a licensed physical therapist but still be able to work independently and hands-on with patients. Because of the degree of responsibility associated with this job, states do require licensing for PTAs.

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Find Licensing Requirements through the State Board

Every state sets its own requirements for achieving licensing as a PTA, but they are very similar across the U.S. Before you begin your path to becoming a PTA, check with the physical therapy or professional licensing board in the state in which you hope to work. Know the requirements so you can plan your educational and training journey to this rewarding career. Find your state’s board by checking out the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy.

Start with a Degree in Physical Therapist Assisting

Once you have graduated from high school or earned a GED, you can enroll in an accredited, post-secondary program for training PTAs. This is a requirement in all states, and in general you will spend two years completing an associate’s degree program. The time it takes to earn the degree may be more or less depending on the program and whether you take classes on a full-time or part-time basis.

Most states require that the program you complete for a PTA degree be accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Education Therapy. Many of these programs are selective with admissions, so know what the requirements are before you apply and prepare by earning good grades in high school. In some cases, it may also be helpful to enroll in the college as a general student first and to get some of the general education requirements out of the way before applying for the PTA program. 

Pass the National Exam

If you complete an accredited program successfully, you should be ready to pass the National Physical Therapy Exam, which is required in all states for licensing. To prepare for the test, you can use the provided content outlines for studying and take advantage of practice exams available online. Many people need to take this exam more than once, so don’t give up if your first score is too low. You can study and try again. There is a limit of three attempts per year.

Apply for a PTA License

With a completed program in PTA and a passing score on the exam, you should be ready to get other small details together for your state application for licensing. The state board or licensing authority will provide all the information needed to apply, including an online or paper application. Some additional requirements you may need to meet depending on the state include passing a state jurisprudence exam and a criminal background check.

Renew the PTA License

Once you are licensed, you are able to work as a PTA in that state. Most states require that you keep up your licensing by renewing it on a regular basis. The renewal periods and requirements vary by state. Most states use a one- or two-year cycle for renewal. Most also require that you complete a certain number of continuing education credits during each period. In a few states, you have to retake the jurisprudence exam as well.

Becoming a PTA licensed to work in a particular state requires several steps. But compared to some other careers in healthcare this one is not a lengthy process. Within two years of beginning an approved program, you could be licensed and ready to get to work with physical therapy patients.