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How do I get Physical Therapy Certification?

By Carol Francois
Updated May 16, 2024
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There are three steps required to get physical therapy certification: post-secondary education, physical therapy experience, and successful completion of the certification examination. Physical therapy is used to help people recover or maintain their ability to use their muscles. This type of therapy involves a specifically prescribed set of exercises, with or without weights.

People who want to get physical therapy certification have usually been working in either the health services or physical fitness industry for several years and enjoy working with people. Physical therapy certification is granted by the National Physical Therapist Examination (NPTE). This certification is required to work as a physical therapist in the United States.

The first step toward getting a physical therapy certification is to complete a post-secondary education program. Candidates can have a degree in physical therapy, physiology, or physiotherapy from an accredited university. Alternatively, some states allow candidates with a college diploma in physical therapy to obtain certification through a combination of additional courses and work experience.

There is a minimum amount of physical therapy experience required before you are eligible to write the physical therapy certification examination. This must be verifiable physical therapy assistance, supervised by a certified physical therapist. Most candidates complete this experience requirement in two phases. The first phase is through a job placement or internship program as part of their education. The second phase is after graduation, when they have obtained their first job in physical therapy.

The physical therapy certification examination is five hours in length and is a computerized multiple choice test. Many state physical therapy associations offer preparation courses and seminars to help students prepare for this exam. Look at the study preparation courses available to you and select the one that will work best for you.

Upon successful completion of the physical therapy certification, candidates are able to apply for positions with clinics, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other institutions. Many large employers will not hire candidates until they have obtained their certification. The certification will not result in a higher salary immediately, but will open more opportunities when combined with three to five years' work experience.

A career in physical therapy demands a high level of commitment to your personal fitness and strength. This job requires a great deal of interaction, working with clients to improve muscles strength, flexibility, and tone. People who enjoy exercise programs and being active will be able to maintain their own health for much longer.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon1006593 — On Apr 10, 2022

There are MANY factual errors in this article. Please, anyone who actually ends up reading this poorly researched article... go to apta.org, the profession's official organization.

If you have real interest in becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy, the APTA will help you to navigate the difficult (though generally worthy) journey.

Ian M. Campbell PT, DPT

By anon216141 — On Sep 20, 2011

This article is not very accurate. There is no certificate for physical therapy. To become a Physical Therapist (PT) in the United States, one must graduate from a physical therapy program accredited by the Commission on the Accreditation in Physical Therapy (CAPTE) and pass the National Physical Therapy licensure examination and depending on the state, an examination of state laws and regulations for practicing. The state in which you apply to practice then issues a license. Currently there a 213 accredited programs in the US.

The minimum degree required to enter the field is a Master in Physical Therapy (MPT), although most now offer the Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). Generally, a bachelors degree along with specific prerequisites (such as physics, chemistry, biology) are required to be admitted to an accredited program.

The best place for information about becoming a PT or PT assistant is on the American Physical Therapy Association website The website has a section titled "prospective students" that has many resources as well as a directory of CAPTE accredited programs.

Jordan C., DPT

By cakesalot — On Apr 10, 2011

@Skittish71 - Yes, there are doctorate programs for physical therapists. Just make certain whatever school you choose that is accredited by the American Physical Therapy Association so that you get the most for all your doctoral work!

By skittish71 — On Apr 07, 2011

Is it true there are doctorate programs for PT now? I have been looking into getting my physical therapy certification, but I really want to pursue this at the doctorate level rather than just at the certificate level.

Does anybody have any ideas for me?

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