How to Become a Physical Therapist/ Physical Therapy Assistant in Illinois
Illinois is a magnet for physical therapists and physical therapy assistants in the region, employing more than twice the number of professionals in this field than any of its neighbors. Many choose to go into physical therapy in Illinois because of the projected growth this field will experience in the coming decade and because the work itself
is fulfilling. Last year the average annual salary for physical therapists in Illinois was $77,300.
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) is responsible for licensing physical therapists and physical therapy assistants in the state. As you prepare to become licensed you will need to complete the following steps:
- Step 1: Obtain a Degree in Physical Therapy
- Step 2: Apply for a License
- Step 3: Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)
- Step 4: Maintain Your License
Step 1: Obtain a Degree in Physical Therapy
The first step to become a physical therapy assistant or physical therapist in Illinois is to graduate from a qualifying education program. The Physical Therapy Act has defined this to mean an educational program with the following characteristics:
- The school must be authorized to issue a degree in physical therapy and employ qualified professors
- The school must keep adequate student records, and offer a curriculum that includes:
- Basic health sciences
- Anatomy and physiology
- Clinical sciences
- Applied physical therapy
- Therapeutic exercise
- At least 600 hours of clinical education
To become a physical therapist in Illinois you must also have at least a master’s degree in this field, and no course with a grade lower than C will be considered as fulfilling these requirements. The Act also stipulates that PT and PTA programs approved by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) are considered to be qualifying education.
Step 2: Apply for a License
Along with a complete application packet for either a PT or PTA license, you will also need to submit official transcripts in a sealed envelope from the school where you earned your PT or PTA degree, and a $100 licensing fee. This application will also serve as the key to take the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE).
If you currently hold a physical therapy or physical therapy assistant certification in a different state you can apply for a license in Illinois without having to retake the NPTE. To do this you will need to arrange for your home state’s physical therapy board to send proof of your license to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) as well as request the FSBPT – the agency that administers the NPTE – to send the IDFPR your NPTE score. Your home state’s licensure process must have been similar to that of Illinois’.
Step 3: Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE)
The National Physical Therapy Exam is a requirement for prospective PTs and PTAs across the nation. The NPTE is sponsored by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) and will determine if you are eligible to be licensed in Illinois. The exam covers:
- PT and PTA ethical responsibilities
- PT and PTA roles, functions, and duties
- Types of physical therapy interventions and treatments
- Safety and protection in physical therapy
- Major human body systems:
- Musculoskeletal system
- Cardiovascular and pulmonary system
- Lymphatic system
- Neuromuscular and nervous systems
To take the NPTE you will need to register with the FSBPT around the same time you submit your application for licensure with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Once the IDFPR determines that your application is complete it will notify the FSBPT that you are eligible to take the NPTE, at which time you must take the NPTE within 60 days. From the time the IDFPR receives your complete application for licensure you will have three years to take the examination, and can practice as a PT or PTA in the meantime.
Step 4: Maintain Your License
Physical therapists and physical therapist assistants will need to consider different requirements when it comes time to renew their licenses:
- Physical Therapists:
- Licenses expire September 30th of even-numbered years
- Must earn 40 hours of approved continuing education in order to renew
- Physical Therapy Assistants:
- Licenses expire September 30th of odd-numbered years
- Must earn 20 hours of approved continuing education in order to renew
You can renew your license starting one month before it expires. Continuing education must be relevant to a PT’s or PTA’s practice. College courses can count for continuing education at a rate of 15 hours per semester credit, or 10 hours per quarter credit.