After World War I, the American Congress of Physical Medicine created the American Registry to confer the title “registered physical therapist” on physical therapists who passed an exam. By the late 1940s, APTA called for the enactment of state practice acts and state licensure. In 1954, APTA developed, with the help of outside testing experts, a day-long professional competency examination that tested the basic sciences, clinical sciences, and theory and procedures of physical therapy. The exam was made available to state licensing boards, and throughout the 1950s, a growing number of states developed state practice acts for physical therapy, along with state licensure for physical therapists.
In 1971, the American Medical Association finally dissolved the American Registry, but achieving licensure in all 50 states didn’t occur until after the turn of the century. In 2003 the extensive work of the association and its state chapters paid off when Kansas became the final state to achieve licensure for PTs. The Kansas Chapter succeeded in gaining licensure when then Gov. Kathleen Sebelius signed legislation on April 21 to establish state licensure for physical therapists. Enactment of the bill meant that physical therapists were now officially licensed in all 50 states.
One reason licensure was considered essential was that without it, the profession was hampered in another important initiative, gaining direct access within states. But while state licensure did come with benefits for the profession, its primary purpose was and is to protect the public by tracking and regulating individuals who perform or render services. And, as the profession moved toward achievement of APTA’s new Vision 2020, it could not afford to have unregulated providers of physical therapy.
In 2002, just prior to the 50-state milestone, former APTA President Charles Magistro said, “Without licensure, we would have been doomed. It is only through having legal status that we have had a foundation on which to stand in so many of our battles and subsequent victories for the profession.” Most notably, state practice acts and licensure have protected the term “physical therapy.”