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Raising the Bar in Rehab

Annual PT Exam, Part II

Published June 30, 2011 4:40 PM by

A few of my readers commented that my title for last week's blog did not adequately describe the content. My apologies. While the title read "Annual Physical Therapy Exam," the blog was about annual screenings or evaluations provided by physical therapist for their patients. The title may have misled my readers to believe the blog was about an annual exam for physical therapists, much like a board exam or competency to practice. It's nice to hear how different readers interpret the words so differently, and I think this weekend we shall discuss the pros and cons of an annual physical therapy practicing exam, as my readers thought I was writing about last week.

Studying for the board exam was one of the most time-consuming, mind-stimulating and exhausting periods of my adult life. There is so much material and so many things to know, from pediatric diagnoses and treatments to origins and insertion points of muscles, to nervous system tracks to pharmacology to research design. Every time I put my books down, I remembered that I didn't know something and always felt like I had more reading to do before the day was over. Of course I had spreadsheets and timelines for studying, with weekly practice exams and online groups to discuss different test-taking strategies.

The day of the exam was like a blur. I think I woke up early. I know I didn't shower. I drove to Starbucks to cram in some last-minute review and mentally prepared for the five-hour test. I got to the testing facility to be fingerprinted, get my photo taken and prove my identity, then found a nice cubicle to stare at a computer screen. After the 200th question I was completely drained, and cried the whole way home thinking there was no way I could have passed. But I did pass, and as of current standards, will never have to take that exam again.

Would our profession benefit from implementing an annual exam for physical therapists? Bi-annual? Should there be a minimum of information every therapist must know consistently in order to practice? In Wisconsin, even our current standards for CEUs are fairly casual - PTs are only required to prove their participation in annual continuing education courses if they are selected to be audited. I think submission of CEUs should be mandatory. I think all physical therapists should be obligated to document their yearly education, not only the select few who are audited. If the goal of our profession is to be direct-access health care providers, then our education standards need to reflect it.

Now, the topic of continuing education is completely separate from a theoretical annual exam, but both parallel the principles of maintaining and advancing our knowledge base. The amount of staffing it would take to sort through an entire state's physical therapy continuing education documents is probably not feasible to actually execute. The logistics and agreement for an annual board exam are also not likely. But it sure is an interesting topic to ponder, isn't it?


Some states require physician assistance to take a test every couple of years and maintain their CEU's.  I agree submiting proof of CEU's to the board should be mandatory but they simply do not want to go through them all.  If you ever read the disciplinary actions from the state boards you will see quite a few therapists who neglect to attain the CEU's yet can still practice therapy.  Some of the information reads like a short novel and you wonder how some of them got through school.  

There are stadardized safety regulations for the car industry, airline, product safety, hospitals, and nursing homes in order to protect consumers but no stadardized CEU attainment for therapists so we really do not know if a therapist has taken a CEU since 1970 do we.  And I may have worked with several.  

Jason Marketti July 2, 2011 9:42 AM

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