When I was doing travel physical therapy, my recruiter told me that during winter months, Illinois travel assignments dry up so he advised me to get a back-up license in neighboring Iowa.
He said it’s one of the easiest states to get a PT license in.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
I had to tell my oblivious recruiter that it’s not as easy as he thinks for people who got their therapy education abroad.
It’s almost like foreign-trained physical therapists have to literally pass through the eye of a needle to transfer their therapy license to other states, a process called #reciprocity.
The struggle is real.
The journey to work in the US as a foreign-trained physical therapist is like a delicate dance. You take a step too early and you lose your rhythm or fall flat on your face.
Let me show you the intricate steps to this professional tango.
Pass the local board exam
PT is a regulated profession, so we need to pass the local board exam to prove our professional competency.
It’s a privilege to be a part of the team that knows how to heal the human body, don’t you agree?
After graduating from PT school and securing your diploma, it’s time to take the board exam.
Although anecdotally, let me tell you one of the most competent PTs I know never even bothered to pass the PRC (Philippine Regulatory Commission) board exam.
If you’re the only PT in the village and you show results when you treat patients, no one will question the status of your license.
But I do encourage everyone who practices PT to at least secure your local license. It paves the way to so many other opportunities.
To quote a page on the FSBPT website:
“A license to engage in the practice of a regulated profession is a privilege available only to those who have met specific statutory standards.”
Plus PTRP looks good after your name.
Note: There are a few U.S. states that lets you take the boards even without a Philippine license. Delaware is one.
We must prove that our professional knowledge and clinical expertise is at par with US standards, meaning we hold the same professional competencies as a US-trained PT grad.
This means paying for a service that evaluates our schoolwork: every subject, every clinical rotation is examined to determine our eligibility to apply for work in the USA.
Prepare for lots of paperwork. And dollars. The most reputable credentialing service now costs $650. (Edit — a reader just informed me the most comprehensive education review now costs $1,300).
Currently, these are our options for credential evaluation: the Foreign Credentialing Commission on Physical Therapy (FCCPT), the CGFNS for use by ICD (International Consultants of Delaware), the International Credentialing Associates (ICA), and the International Education Research Foundation (IERF).
New York is unique in that they have their own credentialing agency, the NYSED which processes your application fast (approx. 7 days) but is quite restricting when you want to transfer to another state.
Don’t ask me why, the Big Apple is just special that way.
The buzzword to follow is Coursework Tool (CWT), a specially developed standardized evaluating tool to make it easy for state jurisdictions to evaluate how prepared you are to take the US PT board exam.
The more recent the tool, the more chances your education will be found deficient especially if you graduated way before 2000.
It only follows that PT programs need to be continually updated to be competitive in today’s world.
Currently, the FCCPT uses CWT 6, a 16-page document listing every course a foreign PT grad needs to stock in his arsenal.
You need to show a minimum of 170 credit hours. Most Filipino PTs who graduated with a bachelor’s degree have at least 170 units or higher.
It gets more complicated, so I recommend this link to guide you further.
You think you’ve hurdled the highest peak but plot twist: this just in.
Starting 2017, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services just made it mandatory for a foreign applicant to show a Doctorate in PT degree in order to be awarded a Healthcare Workers’ Certificate (HWC).
Aso called a visa screen, the Healthcare Worker’s certificate is a document required by U.S. authorities for any foreign-born nurse, therapist, physician, medical technicians.
All PT graduates from overseas must pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language.
Since foreigners are not issued Social Security numbers, the Alternative Identification number will suffice. It’s mainly needed for test forms.
Pass the NPTE
This is the big ticket. You hurdle this 4-hour exam and you can start working to reach your American dream.
Pass the jurisprudence exam: twenty-nine US states currently require a PT applicant to pass the laws and rules exam, a shorter exam testing your familiarity with the practice rules under which you’re allowed to work. This test is relatively easier than the NPTE.
Get sponsorship from a legit, ethical agency
We can’t just come in to the US on a tourist visa. We need H1B (skilled worker) sponsorship or even better, EB2. This is the highly coveted employment-based immigrant visa and only given to therapists with more than 5 years of clinical experience or a doctorate degree, whichever comes first.
This is where a lot of time is wasted. Sometimes, the agency messes up and files the wrong paperwork, or maybe the USCIS denied the visa application for reasons only they know.
I’ve known people who waited more than 5 years to come to the U.S. due to visa struggles.
In the end, it all pays off. This country is still the most sough-after employment destination for foreign healthcare workers due to high salary rates and more freedom.