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How to Become a Physical Therapist in North Carolina

In North Carolina, the North Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners regulates the practice of physical therapy. The board was established in 1951 and consists of eight, Governor-appointed members. Four of these members are licensed physical therapists, two are licensed physical therapy assistants, one is a licensed medical doctor, and one is a public member. The purpose of the board is to confer licenses, regulate the practice, and ensure the high quality of physical therapy throughout the state.

The practice of physical therapy has experienced mixed growth throughout the state of North Carolina. Physical therapy assistants have seen a significant decrease in the number of jobs available in recent years, while physical therapists have seen a marked rise of job opportunities. Despite this, the average wage of physical therapy assistants, $54,920, is in the highest percentile in the country. The average wage of physical therapists is not quite in the highest percentile, coming in at $78,820, but it is still among the best in the nation. In order to become a physical therapist or a physical therapy assistant in North Carolina, you must follow these steps:
 
Step 1 – Complete Your Degree

Physical Therapist:

  • There are six universities in North Carolina that offer physical therapist degrees:
    • Duke University
    • East Carolina University
    • Elon University
    • The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    • Western Carolina University
    • Winston-Salem State University
  • The only degree offered at these universities is the Doctor of Physical Therapy degree

Physical Therapy Assistant:

  • There are 10 colleges that offer programs for physical therapy assistants:
    • Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute
    • Central Piedmont Community College
    • Craven Community College
    • Fayetteville Technical Community College
    • Guilford technical Community College
    • Martin Community College
    • Nash Community College
    • South College-Asheville
    • Southwestern Community College
    • Surry Community College

Step 2 – Finish Your Clinical Experience

Before taking your examinations and applying for licensure, you must complete your degree by finishing your clinical experience. Clinical experience will give you the opportunity to delve into the practice of physical therapy while learning from a number of experienced individuals who have already spent years in the field. The clinical experience requirements vary based on the institution you attend and the degree that you are seeking. In general, physical therapy assistants have shorter clinical experience requirements than physical therapists. The specific requirements for your clinical experience can be found on your programs’ website.

Step 3 – Pass Examinations

In order to apply for licensure as a physical therapist or physical therapy assistant in North Carolina, you must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which will test your overall knowledge of the practice of physical therapy. The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) administers this exam; dates and times for examination can be found on the FSBPT website. The minimum passing score for both the physical therapist and physical therapy assistant exams is a 600/800 and the fee for each test is $370.  

Step 4 – Apply for Licensure

Physical Therapist:

  • Submit an application for initial licensure
    • This must include an application fee of $150
    • Your application must include a passport sized, recent photograph
  • You must submit two character references
    • These references must have known you for at least a year and cannot be a relative

Physical Therapy Assistant:

  • Submit an application for initial licensure
    • This must include an application fee of $150
    • Your application must include a passport sized, recent photograph
  • You must submit two character references
    • These references must have known you for at least a year and cannot be a relative 

Step 5 – Maintain Licensure 

Licenses for physical therapists and physical therapy assistants must be renewed every year by January 31st. The renewal fee for each license is $100. Renewal can be completed online, at the North Carolina Board of Physical Therapy Examiners home page. However, the continuing education requirement does not have the same scheduling as the renewal period. You must complete the appropriate amount of continuing education during the three year period starting on January 1st immediately after you become licensed and stretching to January 31st three years later. Physical therapists must complete 30 hours of continuing education and physical therapy assistants must complete 20 hours of continuing education during that time