Physical therapy residency

physical therapy residency, PT residency, physical therapy residencies, PT residencies

Physical therapy residency is an avenue for a therapist to gain expertise in best practices in a specialty area. Once graduated and licensed, a physical therapist can practice in any setting, but more and more, therapists are specializing in an area of practice and seeking out a deeper level of clinical knowledge to help them become an expert.

While a DPT (Doctor of Physical Therapy) program prepares therapists to practice in a wide variety of settings, many students seek out clinical experiences that align with their interest in different specialty areas.

In this article, we will explore the costs and benefits of enrolling in a physical therapy residency program as well as outline both the application process for enrollees and the accreditation process for residency programs.

Physical therapy residency programs

As of Fall 2023, there were 426 accredited physical therapy residency programs in the United States and almost 8,000 graduates. Physical therapy residency programs are open to graduates of a physical therapy degree program who hold a license to practice physical therapy.

Physical therapy residency programs provide post professional education intended to increase practitioner knowledge in specialty and subspecialty areas through best practices and therefore increase the quality of patient care.

This is achieved through 1:1 mentoring, guided learning and structured curricular experiences. For residencies in a specialty area for which a board certification exists through the American Board of Physical Therapist Specialties, the residency program will prepare the physical therapist to pass the certification examination following graduation.

Physical therapy residency programs are held by academic institutions with a DPT program, by private physical therapy businesses and by hospitals throughout the U.S. These programs are typically 12 months in duration with start dates and application due dates that vary throughout the year.

Currently, residency programs exist within the following specialty areas:

  • Acute care
  • Cardiovascular and pulmonary
  • Clinical electrophysiology
  • Faculty
  • Geriatrics
  • Neurology
  • Oncology
  • Orthopedics
  • Pediatrics
  • Sports
  • Women's health
  • Wound management

Many physical therapy residency programs utilize RF-PTCAS for their admissions process. For those that do not use RF-PTCAS, interested therapists must contact the program directly to learn how to apply. To see a list of all residency programs which are accredited, a candidate for accreditation or currently developing, check out the ABPTRFE website.

ABPTRFE accreditation process

Physical therapy residency programs in the United States are accredited by the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency & Fellowship Education (ABPTRFE). This process takes into account the expertise and feedback of both physical therapists and non-physical therapists in higher education to ensure a high standard of education and training.

The process is both standardized and transparent. Its focus is on assuring that residencies deliver quality programs that support continuous improvement, advance the profession and enhance patient care. Developing programs interested in gaining initial accreditation should expect the process to take more than a year. To learn more about how to apply for candidacy, check out the ABPTRFE website.

The ABPTRFE consists of a Board of 10 members (8 PTs, 2 members of the public) appointed by the American Physical Therapy Association's Board of Directors, an Onsite Team of both PTs and public members, a Candidacy Review Council and a Standards Committee.

Board members carry out many important duties including developing and amending standards, policies and procedures that an accredited program must follow, developing an evaluation and renewal process for residency programs, accrediting programs, selecting candidacy review council members, handling grievances and much more.

The Onsite Team verifies that residency programs are meeting their mission and demonstrating successful participant achievement, confirms that programs are implementing the correct policies and procedures and documents whether programs meet ABPTRFE Quality Standards.

The Candidacy Review Council is tasked with evaluating physical therapy residency programs that are seeking ABPTRFE initial accreditation and providing recommendations to the ABPTRFE on whether the developing residency program should be granted candidacy status.

Finally, the Standards Committee annually reviews suggestions from internal and external stakeholders on the adequacy of policies, procedures and standards and submits this feedback and proposed revisions to the ABPTRFE.

As you can see, residencies are held to high standard and continual review.

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The life of a physical therapy resident

Physical therapists residency enrollees find themselves in between full-time student and full-time therapist life. Residents carry a caseload of patients and may spend time in various settings such as inpatient, inpatient rehab, outpatient, home-based or school-based rehab.

They simultaneously participate in a curriculum that will broaden and deepen their understanding of practice in that specialty area with lectures, assignments and due dates to stay on top of. One of the most helpful components of participating in a residency is having a residency mentor. Residency mentors are experienced professionals practicing in that specialty area who provide one-on-one mentoring to help residents build their clinical practice skills.

As most therapists graduate from their DPT program with student debt, it is important to consider the financial implications of participating in a residency program. The cost of enrolling in and participating in a residency varies by program.

When researching programs, consider these costs to help you make a wise financial choice:

  • Tuition costs and program fees (some programs cover these for the resident at 100%, others do not)

  • Stipend or salary (some programs pay the resident 100% of a non-resident therapist salary and others only a percentage)

  • The cost of living or moving to the location of the residency

  • The cost of travel to and from any program-required learning activities

  • Commute-related costs to and from one or multiple work sites

While physical therapy residency has its challenges, it also confers many benefits. Physical therapy residency graduates can feel confident they are armed with knowledge of the latest evidence-based treatment and management strategies for patients in their specialty area.

They have also been exposed to a wide variety of patient cases and been mentored by experts in their field which will build competency and confidence in their first full time job post-residency. When applicable, they can also sit for a specialty exam for board certification. Though having a specialty board certification and participating in a physical therapy residency does not necessarily mean an increase in pay, all of these aspects can make a physical therapist more desirable to clinic managers and academic institutions and set them up to be leaders in their field.


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