Physical Therapy Certifications and Specialties Can Advance Your Career
PT certifications, credentials, and specializations can enrich your career and boost your earnings. They convey competency and professional concern to patients and employers alike, and they can encourage physical therapists to keep up with changing PT practices and standards.
Some physical therapists choose to pursue formal specialization through The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS), thereby demonstrating their advanced clinical knowledge and skills in 9 select PT areas.
ABPTS Specialty Areas
Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Certified Specialists assist patients recently diagnosed with disorders of the heart or lungs, many of whom have recently undergone heart or lung surgery. It is the responsibility of the Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Certified Specialist to increase the stamina of these organs, as well as to improve the patient’s ability to function independently outside of a hospital or clinical setting. This PT specialty certification ensures excellence in working with patients suffering from hypertension, chronic heart failure, pulmonary fibrosis, and bronchitis.
Clinical Electrophysiologic Certified Specialists (ECS) help active patients overcome injuries and illnesses stemming from lifestyle or work conditions. An ECS obtains this PT certification to better assist patients suffering from a wide range of disorders, from those with a high degree of trauma like war veterans and car accident victims to those with less severe ailments like carpal tunnel syndrome. As an ECS, you must be comfortable using technologies like the Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) unit to treat patients and improve recovery outcomes.
Geriatric Certified Specialists assist the elderly with a wide array of ailments and injuries affecting mobility. Many PTs with this certification specialize further in a specific medical condition or recovery process, such as post-operative hip replacement patients or patients with dementia. Other patients seeking Geriatric Certified Specialists to help them with mobility, reduce their discomfort, and hasten their recovery include those suffering from arthritis, osteoporosis, cancer, and incontinence.
Neurologic Certified Specialists treat patients in recovery from traumatic brain injuries or patients seeking rehabilitation therapy after diagnosis of a neurological illness. These diagnoses could include cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, or injuries to the spinal cord. Stroke victims also greatly benefit from those with this physical therapist certification, as Neurologic Certified Specialists can help individuals overcome issues of paralysis, balance, and coordination, ultimately allowing patients increased independence.
Oncologic Certified Specialists are critical members of cancer patients' teams. Treatment of cancer can interfere with the musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, integumentary, and cardiopulmonary functioning of patients. These PT specialists are skilled in tackling the complex issues that arise throughout chemotherapy, radiation, or oncologic surgery, helping patients maintain or improve mobility, strength, and coordination.
Orthopaedic Certified Specialists (OCS) provide care for patients suffering from chronic conditions, injuries, or illnesses that present challenges to the musculoskeletal system. Patients of OCS may also be seeking physical therapy post-surgery as they seek to recover and regain mobility, balance, and coordination. Orthopaedic Certified Specialists must be able to administer an array of treatment options and uniquely adapted therapy plans.
Pediatric Certified Specialists (PCS) treat infants and adolescents diagnosed with special needs, temporary illnesses, and/or chronic disorders. The goal of the PCS is to help the patient through challenges presented by their diagnoses, which means developing customized physical therapy programs that help the patient build strength, increase fitness, and develop gross and fine motor skills. The ultimate goal of the PT treatment is to improve patient coordination and stability.
Sports Certified Specialists evaluate and assist athletes, prescribing treatment for active and chronic pain sustained from sports-related injuries and strain. Sports Certified Specialists are unique in part because they administer preventive care, helping the athlete avoid bodily harm during sporting and exercise activities. Athletes often seek the support of these PT specialists to combat pain from repetitive usage injuries or to strengthen and improve joint health.
Women's Health Certified Specialists (WCS) work with female patients of childbearing age, as well as those in menopause and perimenopause. The WCS prescribes physical therapy that helps patients heal faster and respond more comfortably to treatments and surgeries performed because of pregnancy, postpartum issues, Lymphedema, osteoporosis, pelvic pain, and urinary incontinence. The WCS assists and educates women of all ages through both short-term and chronic conditions.
Next Steps - Obtaining Your Physical Therapist Certification
Considering pursuing your ABPTS PT specialization? Here are some tips:
- You must hold a valid PT license for all ABPTS specialties.
- All specialties require a minimum of 2,000 hours of specialty experience with at least 25% of this experience occurring in the past year.
- Testing dates for specialties are relatively infrequent. If you are interested in pursuing a certain specialization and have the requisite experience, check testing dates earlier so that you don't miss out.
- Review ABPTS requirements for your chosen speciality, as each speciality has slightly different requirements.
Once you have your specialty certification, you improve your chances of securing the best and highest paying physical therapy jobs .