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Certifications Physical Therapists Require

Physical therapists (PTs), like most healthcare professionals, are required to obtain specific certifications before they will be allowed to begin practicing in their given field. By completing the required curriculum, clinical education and hands-on training, it significantly helps to improve the chances that the physical therapist will be able to perform his or her duties knowledgeably, professionally, with confidence and to industry standards.

Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree

The first certification a physical therapist is required to have is a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. In the past, PTs could opt to pursue a Master of Physical Therapy degree or a Master of Science in Physical Therapy degree, however neither of these are currently being offered in the United States. To practice as a PT in the U.S., you must obtain a degree from a physical therapist education program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). As it currently stands, 233 accredited PT programs exist throughout the country.

State Licensing

Once you have completed your education and obtained a DPT degree, your next step will be to take and pass the national physical therapy exam (NPTE) administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT). This exam allows the FSBPT to assess a new graduate’s basic, entry-level competence following graduation to, "...help ensure that only those individuals who have the requisite knowledge of physical therapy are licensed in the physical therapy field." and "To help regulatory authorities evaluate candidates and provide standards that are comparable from jurisdiction to jurisdiction."

Individual states may have additional requirements for licensure, such as passing the jurisprudence exam designed to test your knowledge on state laws and rules or completing a specified amount of practical experience. The law does require PTs to be licensed in each state in which they intend to practice.

Specialty Certification

If you are interested in becoming a specialist in a particular area of physical therapy, you can continue your education so as to become a board-certified specialist in any of these areas:

  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary
  • Clinical Electrophysiology
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports Physical Therapy
  • Women's Health

Oftentimes obtaining board certification can help a physical therapist gain entry into a particular area of practice or acquire a job he or she may not have otherwise been qualified to hold. Board-certification may also lead to increased opportunities and income.

National Provider Identifier

All physical therapists and other healthcare providers are required to have a unique and standard National Provider Identifier (NPI) as part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996. This 10-digit identification number is to be used by the covered individual for all administrative and financial transactions between other providers, health plans, clearinghouses or other entities which may require the number for valid purposes.

The purpose of assigning a number to each healthcare provider is to improve efficiency and effectiveness as it pertains to the electronic transmission of healthcare records and vital information.

To apply for an NPI, individuals can go to the National Plan & Provider Enumeration System website, create a login and complete the application. It is recommended all new graduates do this step as soon as possible following graduation.

Medicare Number

Another certification most employers will want an applying PT to have is a Medicare number. Any physician or non-physician practitioner who plans at some point to bill Medicare for services will need to have a Medicare number. It doesn't matter whether you are an individual practitioner or under another person's employ, a Medicare number will be a necessity.

Medicare Enrollment Applications can be obtained through the Department of Health & Human Services website. All applicants need to do is download, print and fill out their Medicare enrollment application, then mail it in to get the process started.

Why Choose Physical Therapy?

Looking to get into the healthcare industry? Whether it be as a first-time job or a career change later in life, physical therapy is one of the fastest growing fields in the United States. According to the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), the demand for physical therapists is expected to continue climbing until at least 2020. Even Forbes listed PTs as one of the "10 Jobs In High Demand That Require A College Degree." In total, the healthcare industry had four jobs which made this list: physical therapist, speech-language pathologist, medical and health services manager, and registered nurse. Needless to say, those looking for a career with long-term potential would be wise to consider physical therapy or another career in the healthcare industry.

The People Link is a professional recruitment service specializing in finding and placing qualified healthcare candidates around the U.S. If you are a PT graduate or soon-to-be graduate who is actively looking for a job, please feel free to check out our current job listings, visit our website or call 888-773-0014 for a free, no-obligation consultation.

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