A Step-By-Step Guide to Becoming a Certified Physical Therapist

Did you know that the employment rate for physical therapists will grow to over 21% in a decade? This projected growth is faster than the average for all jobs. While this is a comforting thought, becoming a certified physical therapist is hard.

Like other healthcare professionals, physical therapists help improve their patients’ quality of life. Depending on their condition, a PT uses specific exercises to manage their pain. Not only that, but they also help patients get their range of motion back to its peak potential.

Do you plan on becoming a physical therapist? This step-by-step guide on how to become a certified physical therapist can help.

Step One: Get a Bachelor’s Degree

People who want to become certified physical therapists need to get a bachelor’s degree. The first step to your PT career path is to get any degree related to health science or sports. There’s no exact bachelor’s degree for aspiring physical therapists.

Because there’s no specific degree, it gives degree flexibility. But there are some classes that doctoral programs need you to complete.

Some of these classes include physics, biology, physiology, and anatomy. There are also cases where they may need other specific courses.

You can try to research the prerequisites of the doctoral program you want. That way, you can check what courses you need.

Apart from that, choosing an accredited physical therapy school is also crucial. These schools have a stamp of approval from external criteria for their programs.

Accredited PT schools also set their academic performance from the current standards. Not to mention, graduating from these schools can help you with employment.

Step Two: Complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy Program

After you complete your bachelor’s degree, the next thing you have to do is enroll in a DPT program. A Doctor of Physical Therapy degree is crucial to becoming a certified physical therapist. In this program, you’ll study advanced courses like biomechanics.

Once you reach your second year, you can complete your white coat ceremony. The ceremony proves that you’re ready for supervised clinical hands-on rotations.

Some PT schools can also include a simulation component for your degree program. Simulations give DPT students time to practice clinical interactions before entering the clinic.

Other schools even offer scheduling options to fit with their students’ schedules. One is the residential DPT.

This format blends online coursework with weekday in-person clinical labs. Students who opt for this can complete their DPT program in less than three years.

The second option is the flex DPT that offers weekend in-person clinical labs instead. This format is best when you’re working while studying. It will take you four years to finish the program.

These clinical experiences often take place off-campus, the clinical experience will also depend on the school. Although, the average duration for it is 27 and a half weeks.

Step Three: Pass Your NPTE

Completing your DPT degree is only half the battle. For a DPT graduate to become a physical therapist, they need to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination. But before you can prepare for the NPTE, you first have to get approval from the state and the FSBPT.

To do that, you need to meet the following requirements.

  • CAPTE-accredited DPT degree or foreign equal
  • Online registration and payment completion
  • Get approved by the state
  • Fulfill all test security requests

The NPTE is one of the physical therapist certifications you need to get a PT license. The exam handles both aspiring physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.

Keep in mind that the exam has around 250 questions and five sections. Examinees have five hours to complete the exam.

It also covers different content areas, and you have to score at least 600 to pass, not everyone can pass the exam the first time and that’s okay.

But if you want to pass on your first try, enrolling to review programs and coaching can help. You can check on https://therapyteam.com if you’re interested in NPTE coaching.

Step Four: Get Your PT License to Start Your Practice

Getting your PT license can vary depending on your state. Most US states want physical therapists to pass the NPTE and finish compliance training and background checks.

Physical therapists also need to meet continuing education requirements to maintain their license. Many states check on this rule every two years.

With continuing education, physical therapists get updated with current healthcare standards. Not only that, but they can provide better services to maintain the patients’ quality of life.

Make sure to check with your state to know about the licensing requirements.

Optional Steps You Can Consider to Further Your PT Career

Completing a residency program is optional for physical therapists. But, many prefer finishing a post-graduate program to maintain their license. Clinical residencies include extra training that is beneficial in starting your specialization.

Having a clinical residency also improves your knowledge of a PT specialty. Each training helps you develop other skills needed for advanced PT practices.

Other certified physical therapists follow their residency with a fellowship. Fellowships provide advanced training in physical therapy subspecialties.

You also have the option to have board certifications. To be board-certified clinical specialists, many physical therapists go through ABPTS.

The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties provides the best physical therapist certifications. Some of the PT certifications they offer are the following.

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
  • Geriatrics
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Orthopedics
  • Neurology

But before you can get specialized certifications, you need to pass the NPTE. Applicants will also need to complete a residency program accredited by the APTA. Physical therapists should also have at least 2,000 hours of clinical experience.

Your Complete Guide to Becoming a Certified Physical Therapist

The road to becoming a certified physical therapist is long and tedious. Despite that, the rising employment opportunities and wages make it a rewarding career.

Knowing what to expect will help you plan how you approach your degree. More than that, you can have a solid idea to further your career.

Did this guide prove to be useful for your concerns? Check our other blog posts to discover more content on relevant topics.

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