APTA’s collaborative arrangement for accreditation of physical therapy education programs that had been worked out in 1959 with the American Medical Association’s Council on Medical Education (CME), which originally was the sole accrediting agency, had not proved satisfactory, and the resulting friction was wearing the relationship down.
Former APTA president and acting executive director Eugene Michels remembered that members “became disenchanted when they found that APTA was doing practically all the work and making the decisions, and the CME was rubber-stamping the results.” The CME was also dragging its heels on the matter of changing certain features of the basic accreditation standards that APTA felt were needed to keep the profession current.
Meanwhile, APTA was recognizing that standards of education were meaningful only if educational institutions were held to them through an onsite accrediting process, and so in 1976, the association unilaterally adopted a revised set of “Essentials of an Acceptable School of Physical Therapy” and referred it to the CME for adoption as a joint venture. When the CME failed to do so promptly, it became clear that APTA needed to take things into its own hands. The association announced its decision to terminate its collaborative relationship with the CME and seek independent recognition as an accrediting agency of physical therapy schools. Against strong opposition by the AMA, the American Hospital Association, the American Society of Allied Health Professionals, and the Association for Academic Health Centers, APTA leadership forged ahead and was able to present convincing testimony as to its fitness as an accrediting agency. After lengthy review, the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation granted recognition in April 1977. Four months later, the U.S. Commissioner of Education followed suit.
In 1978, APTA launched the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy (CAPTE), which gained national recognition by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as the sole entity that grants specialized accreditation status to qualified entry-level education programs for physical therapists and physical therapist assistants.