After four years of undergraduate studies and three years of clinical education, physical therapists earn just one set of credentials upon graduation. But what if you’d like to expand those credentials to amplify your career? Join the ranks of more than 30,000 PTs who earned physical therapy specialties, or specific certifications, to advance their skills across unique areas of expertise.From women’s health to wound management, physical therapy specialties are a chance to dive deep into a particular passion or area of interest. Not only will you gain another certification — which can enhance career and salary opportunities — but you can also provide a greater quality of care to each patient. Learn more about the ten types of physical therapy specialties available today.
Physical therapy programs educate across a variety of topics but lack an individual focus. Physical therapy specialties allow PTs to pursue the individual physical therapy fields that appeal the most to them, whether that be pediatrics, sports medicine, or anything in between. Even more, those who opt for physical therapy certifications are able to learn advanced skills in one specific area.Specialization allows therapists to work to become leaders and mentors within their respective fields. Plus, it signals to patients and referral sources alike that the PT has a deep understanding of a specific condition. Between enhanced credentials and heightened referrals, PTs with specialties have a better chance of earning higherphysical therapy salariesand greater career opportunities.
To earn a physical therapy specialty, you must have a valid license to practice physical therapy, have at least 2,000 patient care hours in the area of specialization, pay an application review fee of $525 for APTA members (or $870 for non-APTA members), and pass the clinical specialty exam.Your application must be sent to theAmerican Board of Physical Therapy Specialties(ABPTS), and you must submit a separate application for each specialist certification you wish to obtain. You cannot use the same physical therapist hours for multiple physical therapy certifications.
Physical therapy specialties are not the same asphysical therapy add-on services. PT specialties are clinical certifications that can be added after a PT or PTA’s name to indicate focus in a certain physical therapy field. Physical therapy specialties also require a minimum of 2,000 care hours.Physical therapy add-ons are additional skills that can be incorporated into patient care but cannot be added onto a PT or PTA’s title to indicate a specific focus. While you must be a licensed therapist and undergo a hands-on education course, most add-ons require less than 100 dedicated care hours.
There are nine established types of physical therapy specialties, with a tenth specialty becoming eligible for application in September 2022. Here’s a better look at the PT specialties designated by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specializations (ABPTS).
The cardiovascular and pulmonary specialization was the first board certification established by the APTA House of Delegates in 1981. Originally referred to as “cardiopulmonary,” therapists with a CCS certification help patients manage and heal from an assortment of heart and lung conditions, such as heart attack recovery or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) management.
Following CCS, the neurologic specialty area was approved by APTA in 1982. Types of physical therapists with an NCS certification treat developmental, systemic, and traumatic disorders that impact the neuromuscular system. These individuals specialize in examining, diagnosing, and treating neurologic dysfunction via preventive, evaluative, and rehabilitative physical therapy.
An orthopaedic specialization is similar to an NCS certification; however, an OCS therapist prevents and treats dysfunction of the musculoskeletal system and its related neurovascular components. Orthopaedic specialists focus on bone, joint, muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries, as well as musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis and post-surgery physical capacity and movement.
The geriatric specialization wasn’t certified until 1992 but has since gained popularity, especially as the lifespan for the average American continues to increase. Geriatric specialists are types of physical therapists who focus on aging patients with musculoskeletal disorders like osteoporosis and arthritis, as well as neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from GCS providers are PCS providers, or types of physical therapists that focus on traumatic, developmental, and systemic disorders among children. A pediatric specialist cares for newborns, toddlers, and even teenagers, often with patient conditions that range from cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy to autism.
The APTA House of Delegates approved board certification in the area of oncologic physical therapy in 2016. While oncology is a specialization, these types of physical therapists focus on multiple needs per patient, including cardiovascular and pulmonary, musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, and integumentary rehabilitative needs. Oncology specialists provide secondary care for both cancer and HIV patients currently navigating weakness, chronic pain, or loss of bone density.
An electrophysiologic specialty refers to the use of electricity to monitor, evaluate, produce physiologic responses, and effectively treat human dysfunction. This PT specialty focuses on administering electrodiagnostic and electrotherapeutic clinical procedures to address conditions related to nerve or muscle damage, such as autoimmune or motor neuron diseases.
Sports physical therapy is a holistic approach to prevent, manage, and rehabilitate sports injuries, as well as educate the patient to prevent future damage. Appropriate for a variety of settings, including hospital-based clinics and sports medicine centers, a focus on sports physical therapy involves the pathological, physiological, and performance problems of novice and professional athletes.
As the name might indicate, women’s health specialists are the types of physical therapists who focus on the unique health conditions that affect women of all ages, from pregnancy and postpartum to menopause. WCS providers are familiar with the foundational, behavioral, and clinical sciences behind women’s health to address issues such as pelvic and low back pain.
As the first physical therapist specialty to be added in nearly five years, wound management is a newer focus that’s widely anticipated for 2022. With the first specialist certification examination slated for November 2022, wound management will involve assessing, understanding, and managing multiple types of superficial and deep wounds as well as integumentary conditions.
Physical therapy specialties aren’t just a chance to indulge your passions, they’re an opportunity to advance your career. If the above list of physical therapy certifications has inspired you to grow your business, take the first steps by investing in an EMR solution that can help streamline an efficient, profitable, and compliant practice.Book your demoto experience the MWTherapy difference today.
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