10 Physical Therapist Certifications for Specialization
Updated March 3, 2023
Physical therapy is a broad field with employment projected to grow 17% by 2031, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Practitioners can specialize in many areas to better serve their clients. Many physical therapists gain the necessary skills and training to perform in a specialized area by completing specialty certification.
In this article, we explain what a physical therapy certification entails and offer a list of board-certified physical therapy certifications you might consider.
Related: How To Become a Physical Therapist
What is a physical therapist certification?
Physical therapists must finish an intensive postsecondary education to practice their craft. After completing the necessary Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree and obtaining state-based licensure, interested physical therapists can further specialize by obtaining a certificate in a certain area.
Certification is different than a certificate awarded by an educational program for completing a certain curriculum. Certification verifies that you met specific professional requirements and passed a certification exam. Physical therapists can earn certifications from several qualified sources, but the most prestigious are those that impart “board certification” status.
10 physical therapy certifications to consider
The American Board of Physical Therapy Specializations (ABPTS) is the only certifying body for board-certified status. It is a part of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). All ABPTS certifications must be renewed every 10 years.
The ABPTS offers 10 distinct specialty certification options for physical therapists, including:
1. Cardiovascular and pulmonary PT certification
The Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Certified Specialist (CCS) certification verifies your advanced knowledge and expertise in treating patients who have cardiac or respiratory disorders or illnesses. You help patients regain function in their cardiac and respiratory systems following heart attacks or who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other heart or respiratory illnesses.
CCS candidates must meet the following criteria:
Pass a written examination of sample case histories with multiple-choice questions.
Earn advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) certification from the American Heart. Association
Provide a data analysis project or case report as proof of scholarly research in a clinical data research project.
Complete at least 2,000 hours of direct patient care, including examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis and intervention.
Completion or enrollment in an APTA-accredited clinical residency in cardiovascular and pulmonary physical therapy.
2. Clinical electrophysiologic PT certification
The Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialist (ECS) certification verifies you have the necessary training and skills to use advanced diagnostic tools, such as electrotherapy, electromyography and other therapeutic techologies, to identify and study nerve and muscle illness and disease. This is a clinical and diagnostic specialty focusing more on patient-driven therapy and recovery than study and research.
For those interested in earning this certification, you’ll need to meet the following qualifications:
Pass a 200-question exam within seven hours.
Submit three patient reports.
Complete at least 2,000 hours of direct patient care, including examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis and intervention. Include documentation of at least one clinical education experience and a testing log of the most recently completed 500 electrodiagnostic examinations.
Completion or enrollment in an APTA-accredited clinical residency in electrophysiologic physical therapy.
3. Geriatric physical therapy certification
The Geriatric Clinical Specialist (GCS) certification verifies that you have advanced training to treat older patients. Most GCS physical therapists help senior patients manage common physical stress and age-related injuries or pain so they can continue to lead normal and active lives. GCS physical therapists are also trained in rehabilitation for specific injuries that tend to impact the geriatric population.
To earn this specific physical therapy certification, you’ll need to meet the following qualifications:
Passing an exam focuses on knowledge and practical expectations.
At least 2,000 hours of direct patient care with elderly patients.
Completion or enrollment in an APTA-accredited clinical residency program in geriatric physical therapy.
Related: FAQ: Physical Therapy Doctorate
4. Neurologic physical therapy certification
The Neurologic Clinical Specialist (NCS) certification verifies that you are trained to treat patients with neurological injuries, diseases or disorders. Many NCS physical therapists work with patients, while others teach aspiring physical therapists in degree or certification programs.
For board certification in neurologic physical therapy, you’ll need to meet the following qualifications:
Pass an exam based on patient and client conditions.
At least 2,000 hours of direct patient care with neurological patients.
Completion or enrollment in an APTA-accredited clinical residency program in neurological physical therapy.
5. Oncology physical therapy certification
The oncology specialist certification shows you have the appropriate training and skills to help cancer patients regain mobility during or after cancer treatments. Within this field, some oncological physical therapists specialize in caring for a specific population like children or the elderly.
If you’re interested in becoming a board-certified oncologic physical therapist, you’ll need to meet the following qualifications:
Pass an exam.
Submit a case report demonstrating specialty practice in oncology.
Complete at least 2,000 hours of direct patient care with oncology patients.
Completion or enrollment in an APTA-accredited clinical residency program in oncologic PT.
6. Orthopedic physical therapy certification
The Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) certification verifies you are trained to treat patients with musculoskeletal disorders, diseases, illnesses or injuries, such as fractures, muscle strains, ligament sprains, tendonitis and bursitis. This in-demand specialization can lead to opportunities in both the clinical and teaching field. OCS physical therapists often partner with other medical specialists to create effective treatment plans for their patients.
If you’re interested in becoming a board-certified orthopedic physical therapist, you’ll need to meet the following qualifications:
Pass an exam focusing on knowledge areas and patient expectations.
At least 2,000 hours of direct patient care with orthopedic patients.
Completion or enrollment in an APTA-accredited clinical residency program in orthopedic physical therapy.
7. Pediatric physical therapy certification
The Pediatric Clinical Specialist (PCS) certification verifies your training and skills to treat children with musculoskeletal and mobility issues. In most cases, PCS physical therapists have further opportunities to specialize in care for infants, young children or teenagers. Some specialize by disease or injury and treat all ages with a certain type of illness or physical trauma.
If you’re interested in becoming a board-certified pediatric physical therapist, you’ll need to meet the following qualifications:
Pass an exam focusing on competency.
At least 2,000 hours of direct patient carewith pediatric patients.
Completion or enrollment in an APTA-accredited clinical residency program in pediatric physical therapy.
8. Sports physical therapy certification
The Sports Clinical Specialist (SCS) certification verifies your skill to treat sports-related injuries, including acute care, treatment, rehabilitation, prevention and education. Often, sports physical therapists specialize in a specific sport or athlete. Many sports teams hire SCS physical therapists to regularly assess, diagnose and treat the team’s athletes. This is a highly competitive specialty.
Becoming a board-certified sports physical therapist requires that you:
Pass an exam focusing on practice expectations and knowledge areas.
Active CPR certification by the American Heart Association or American Red Cross.
Training in emergency cardiovascular care (ECC).
Certification or licensure as an athletic trainer, emergency medical responder, paramedic or emergency medical technician.
At least 2,000 hours of direct patient care sports PT patients. Of those hours, 100 must be documented as athletic venue coverage.
Completion or enrollment in an APTA-accredited clinical residency program in sports physical therapy.
9. Women’s health physical therapy certification
The Women’s Health Clinical Specialist (WCS) certification prepares you to help women, particularly in pregnancy or postpartum, manage injuries and disorders that may accompany pregnancy and reproduction. This field is growing rapidly as more women seek physical therapists to help with postpartum injuries.
Becoming a board-certified women’s health physical therapist requires that you meet the following qualifications:
Pass a 200-question exam focusing on practice expectations and knowledge areas.
Submit a case reflection demonstrating specialty practice in women’s health.
At least 2,000 hours of direct patient care with women’s health PT patients.
Completion or enrollment in an APTA-accredited clinical residency program in women’s health physical therapy.
10. Wound management physical therapy certification
The Clinical Specialist in Wound Management PT certification verifies that you have advanced training and skills to care for patients requiring wound management. Becoming a board-certified wound management physical therapist requires that you meet the following qualifications:
Pass an exam focusing on practice expectations and knowledge areas.
Submit a case reflection demonstrating specialty practice in wound management.
At least 2,000 hours of direct patient care with wound management PT patients.
Completion or enrollment in an APTA-accredited clinical residency program in wound management physical therapy.
Related: Physical Therapist Work Environments
Benefits of PT specialization certification
Many benefits may come with PT specialization certification, including:
Commitment to specialty: Specialist certification helps patients and referral sources know that you offer a deep understanding of specific care areas.
Recognition of specialty: Specialist certification acknowledges that you’ve achieved knowledge and skills that set you apart, letting you give your patients the best care possible.
Advance research: As a board-certified PT specialist, you may be involved in research and patience practices.
Networking experience: Each specialty provides numerous opportunities to connect with clinicians, caretakers and researchers in your field.
Higher pay: Advanced education and specialization often provide higher salaries and career advancement opportunities.
Related PT certifications
Here are some additional PT certifications you might consider:
Certification in orthopedic manual therapy (COMT), advanced musculoskeletal management (CAMM) or advanced competency in dry needling (CertDN) sponsored by the International Academy of Orthopedic Medicine-US
Certified hand therapist (CHT) offered by Hand Therapy Certification Commission, Inc.
Certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS), certified performance and sport scientist (CPSS) and certified special population specialist (CSPS) sponsored by the National Strength and Conditioning Association
Certified therapeutic recreation specialist (CTRS) sponsored by the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification
Certified wound specialist sponsored by the American Board of Wound Management
Manual or sports physical therapy certification sponsored by Evidence in Motion
Pelvic rehabilitation practitioner certification (PRPC) sponsored by Herman & Wallace Pelvic Rehabilitation Institute
Post-rehab conditioning specialist sponsored by the American Academy of Health and Fitness
Wound care certified (WCC) sponsored by the National Alliance of Wound Care and Ostomy
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article is affiliated with Indeed.
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