Licensing 101

In 2012, I was working on a travel assignment in Colorado. A snowy February made for perfect ski conditions, and I was loving it.  One day, I received a call from a number I did not recognize. It was from Hawaii.  The voice on the other side of the line introduced herself as a rehab director from a large hospital in Honolulu.  The rehab director asked if I would be interested in coming down to Hawaii in four weeks to do a travel assignment. She gave me a good description of the job and also mentioned that getting licensed in Hawaii was quick and easy. After some thought and consulting with friends, I turned down her offer.

Why? Well, my decision had absolutely nothing to do with the location, rehab director, job description, or the sudden start date. Instead, my decision had everything to do with my love of skiing and my dislike of applying for yet another license. I’d love to tell you the ins and outs of licensing and simplify this process for you; however, each travel therapist has to tame this beast on their own. The best I can do for you is relay how my experiences have gone, share the resources for obtaining a license in another state, and let you know about some really exciting news about licensing.  Yes, you heard that correctly – EXCITING news about licensing!

I have held my PT license in four states, WA, CO, MI and WY. I applied for CA but never got it and decided not to continue pursuing it.  There are vast differences in the complexity of getting a license in from one state to another. For example, CO is quite easy to get and I remember it being verified in less than 2 months. California on the other hand was quite a task and I actually failed the Jurisprudence exam! Yep, I had not failed a test since Pre-calculus and then I failed this one and I decided not to continue pursuing it due to the time commitment as well as a lack of motivation to move to California.  Washington State, where I currently practice, requires an online AIDS education course which counts as CEUs.  Washington’s process seemed straightforward and took about 3 months.  I did have to send them an email or two to ask about licensing and they responded within 24 hours, which is great.

Some travel companies will assist you with getting your license. When I am thinking of moving, I usually have a destination or state in mind and already have the paper work in progress. This gives me time to be picky with which assignments I take because I am not rushing to make a decision based on whether or not my license would be approved.  Ultimately, getting the paper work prepared and sent in to the correct department is up to the travel therapist. You are also responsible for obtaining the appropriate background checks.

I like to keep a spreadsheet of expenses for obtaining the new license.  That way I have an itemized document with a check or credit card transaction number I can send to my travel company so they can reimburse me.  Any good travel company will cover the cost of licensing in a new state if you take a placement with them. Still, when you talk with various travel therapy companies about licensing, it’s a good idea to get in writing what they will and will not pay. However, the cost of a new license is not usually a big deal. My license this year for WA was 75 dollars.  The bottom line is to keep your receipts, apply early to avoid sitting around and waiting for your license, which might lead to having a great opportunity slip through your hands.

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Once you have multiple licenses, you can pay a yearly fee to keep them current or let them expire. I have kept my Colorado and Michigan licenses up to date so I don’t have to reapply if I ever decide to move back, or in case a fantastic travel opportunity comes my way in one of these locations.

Here are a few resources for you as you explore your options:
The best information for getting licensed is the state licensing board for your profession. You can find a link to your state at these national licensing boards.

Another resource with information on licensing is your association website:

Now for the exciting news, at least for physical therapists:
The FSBPT is working on implementing a state compact law so we don’t have to keep getting new state licenses! View it here.

From my initial reading of the document and first slideshow it would allow a PT in good standing and who already has a license in their home state to be streamlined for a PT license in another state.  This would be quite amazing for us who travel for work and I suggest taking a look at the proposals.  Please encourage your state PT boards and leadership to coordinate as needed with FSBPT to make this a reality!


Justin Johnson

Justin Johnson is currently living and working in Bellingham, WA. Justin graduated from Central Michigan University with his DPT in 2008 and earned his GCS designation in 2011. Justin has worked for large trauma 1 and teaching hospitals along with diverse settings as a travel PT for many years.  During the winters Justin can be found sliding up and down mountains on his skis or at Mt. Baker where he is a volunteer ski patroller. During the months where there is no snow he can be found on two wheels.  You can reach him at JMJohnsonDPT@gmail.com.

  1. February 10, 2016

    I enjoyed your article Justin.

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