Aspiring physical therapist assistants in Illinois can look forward to some of the best employment opportunities ever seen in the field. In fact, the Illinois Department of Employment Security, Economic Information & Analysis Division expects a 32.5% job growth rate for licensed PTAs in the state during the period spanning 2012-2022 to keep up with the growing demand for physical therapy services. This increase would represent an average of roughly 98 new jobs each year over the 10-year period, in addition to the many positions that become available as PTAs advance to earn physical therapist licenses or enter retirement.
While some physical therapist assistants aspire to become fully licensed physical therapists, many establish their careers in the assistant role, specializing in such areas as geriatrics, sports rehabilitation, neurology and clinical electrophysiology. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the top 10% of Illinois’ physical therapist assistants earned an average of $73,310 in 2014, demonstrating the value of experience and specialization.
Steps to Becoming a Licensed Physical Therapist Assistant in Illinois
Your path to obtaining a physical therapist assistant license in Illinois will involve meeting the requirements of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), Division of Professional Regulation. Follow these steps to learn how:
Step 1. Graduate from a CAPTE-Accredited Physical Therapist Assistant Program
The IDFPR requires all aspiring physical therapist assistants in the state to graduate from an associate’s degree program accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE).
There are a number of schools offering CAPTE-accredited programs throughout Illinois, found in the cities:
- Des Plaines
- Glen Ellyn
- Tinley Park
You can find a complete list of CAPTE-accredited PTA programs in Illinois on the CAPTE website.
Physical therapist assistant programs are designed to prepare students for the professional responsibilities of the career by combining classroom based courses, instructor-led laboratory training and real-world experience through an internship towards the end of the program.
Your coursework may cover topics including:
- Professional ethics
- Exercise physiology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Medical Terminology
- Rehabilitative agents
- Therapeutic Documentation for the PTA
- Therapeutic Exercise
- Behavioral sciences
- Clinical pathology
Full-time clinical work, which typically lasts 14-16 weeks, is designed to give you hands-on experience to compliment your classroom learning and lab work. For a list of Illinois’ employers that partner with physical therapist assistant schools to offer clinical internships, visit Step 4 of this guide.
Successful completion of your classroom and clinical work will lead to an Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapist Assistant (AAS).
Step 2. Submit an Application for Examination and Licensure in Illinois
As you are nearing the graduation date from your physical therapist assistant program, you may begin the application process for both the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for PTAs offered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (FSBPT) and licensure through the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), Division of Professional Regulation. To become eligible for examination, however, the IDFPR must receive your proof of graduation. If the department receives your proof of graduation after an examination deadline, you must wait until the next deadline to schedule the exam.
In addition to your completed application, you must send the following to Continental Testing Services, which handles application processing for the IDFPR:
- A $98 testing fee
- A Certification of Education (ED-PT) form, completed and signed by the school official of your PTA program, with the school seal affixed.
- Your program transcripts with the school seal and course descriptions
Your documentation must be sent to the following address:
Continental Testing Services Inc.
P.O. Box 100
LaGrange, Illinois 60525-0100
As the department reviews your application to take the exam, you must also register with the FSBPT. If you are approved, you will receive an approval letter from Continental Testing Services and an Authorization to Test (ATT) form, which will include instructions on scheduling your exam. At that time, you will be required to pay an additional $50 fee to Continental Testing Services.
Step 3. Pass the National Physical Therapy Exam (NPTE) for PTAs
Once you have received your approval letter and ATT form, you will have 60 days to take the NPTE-PTA. You may take the exam online through Continental Testing Services. Testing dates can be found on your application.
The NPTE-PTA consists of 200 questions. You will have no more than four hours to complete the exam. Topics you will be tested on include:
- Safety and Protection
- Professional Responsibilities
- Therapeutic Modalities
- PT Data Collection
- Equipment and Devices
The FSBPT offers an online practice exam & assessment tool (PEAT) as a resource to help you prepare for the exam. Additionally, you will have the opportunity to study directly from the NPTE Candidate Handbook.
To pass the exam, you must score the equivalent of a 600 on scale ranging from 200-800.
The FSBPT charges candidates $400 to take the NPTE-PTA.
Step 4. Start your Career as a Physical Therapist Assistant in Illinois
You may begin practicing as a physical therapist assistant under the supervision of a physical therapist after you have received your approval letter and ATT form from Continental Testing Services, even before taking and passing the exam. However, if you fail the NPTE-PTA, you will not be allowed to practice until retaking it and receiving a passing score.
If you are eligible to begin practicing, the IDFPR will notify you. At that point, you must pay a $100 licensing fee to the Department. Payment instructions will be included in your notification. You may confirm your license status and license number on the license lookup section of the IDFPR website before receiving your license in the mail.
Illinois is home to a number of physical therapy practices that employ physical therapist assistants. SSM Physical Therapy, a practice that specializes in areas such as aquatic therapy and work-related injuries, has locations in the following Illinois cities:
Other top employers of physical therapist assistants in the state include:
- ACR Physical Therapy in locations throughout Illinois
- Advocate South Suburban Hospital in Hazel Crest
- Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge
- Athletico Physical Therapy in locations throughout Illinois
- GlenLake Terrace Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Waukegan
- Memorial Hospital in Belleville
- Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in Bellville
- Salem Village Nursing & Rehab in Joliet
- Anthony’s Memorial Hospital in Effingham
- University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System in Chicago
Step 5. Complete Continuing Competency Hours to Renew your License Every Two Years
Once you have begun your professional practice, you must renew your license with the IDFPR by September 30th of every odd year. To do so, follow the steps detailed on the IDFPR website. You must pay a fee determined by the IDFPR to renew your license.
During your first license renewal period, you will not have to complete the Illinois Continuing Education (CE) requirements for physical therapist assistants. After your first license renewal date, however, you must complete 20 hours of continuing education (CE) in each period leading up to your licensure renewal date (September 30th of each odd year). Continuing education details are found in Section 1340.61 of Illinois legislature.