Leading Physical Therapy Specialties and Certifications of 2021

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Earning the title Doctor of Physical Therapy and passing the licensing exam is proof positive that a clinician is ready to enter the working world and begin treating patients. While accredited Doctor of Physical Therapy and Physical Therapy Assistant programs are held to a high standard when it comes to educating student therapists about the profession and practice of physical therapy, the reality is that the education, while comprehensive, is somewhat general, and at some point in your career you may experience a desire to take your practice to the next level.

Continuing education, mentorship programs and residency programs are three options that exist to allow clinicians to further their learning once they are licensed. A fourth option and the topic of this blog is seeking a physical therapy specialty certification or another type of certification that will not only enhance your skills as a practitioner but let patients, employers, and referral networks know that you have a certain level of expertise in a given area of practice. Below you will find a list of some certifications for physical therapy available to you.

Specialist Certifications of the American Physical Therapy Association

When thinking about specialties in physical therapy and certifications in physical therapy many therapists are most familiar with the specialist certifications conferred by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). As of June 2020, over 30,000 therapists have earned a specialist certification in one or more of the following 10 specialties:

●  Cardiovascular & Pulmonary

●  Clinical Electrophysiology

●  Geriatrics

●  Neurology

●  Oncology

●  Orthopaedics

●  Pediatrics

●  Sports

●  Women's Health

●  Wound Management

The purpose of specialization in physical therapy, according to the ABPTS is in part to provide an avenue for certification and recognition of individuals who have attained an advanced level of training in a specific area of practice and to assist healthcare consumers in finding providers in their area that are certified to provide specialty care.

The process of attaining a board certification in any of the ten areas listed above is outlined on their website but requirements for all PT specialties include both a specified number of experiential hours in the desired specialty area and a period of self-study which culminates in an examination that tests the breadth and depth of knowledge related to that area of practice. Also of note, several specialty areas have additional requirements for certification such as CPR certification or presentation of a case report. Once you are awarded a specialty certification then you will be required to meet certain requirements to maintain the certification.

Physical Therapy Assistant Advanced Proficiency Pathways

Not unlike the specialty certifications for physical therapists, physical therapy assistants (PTAs) can now participate in PTA Advanced Proficiency Pathways sponsored by the American Physical Therapy Association in the following areas of practice:

●  Acute care.

●  Cardiovascular/pulmonary.

●  Geriatrics.

●  Oncology.

●  Orthopaedics.

●  Pediatrics.

●  Wound management.

Program recognition for completion of one of these pathways lasts for 10 years and is intended to assist PTAs in gaining advanced proficiency and skill in a specific practice environment. To participate the therapist must be licensed and be a member of the APTA. Requirements for enrollment and completion can be found on the APTA website.

This process entails completion of continuing education courses, designation of a supervising physical therapist who will agree to oversee the process, provide mentoring hours and selected clinical experiences and provide the therapist with professional support; also required is selection of a clinical mentor to guide the therapist through the clinical education component. The therapist has up to 5 years to complete the program.

Certification in Lifestyle Medicine Practice

For a PT looking to diversify their practice and effect even greater change in their patients’ lives, the Certification in Lifestyle Medicine Practice conferred by the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (ACLM) is a great option. This physical therapy certification online indicates professional mastery in the evidenced-based science of preventing, treating and reversing chronic disease.

Physical Therapists are eligible for certification as an ACLM Lifestyle Medicine Professional (Masters and Doctorate-level therapists) and as a Lifestyle Medicine Practitioner (Bachelor level therapists).

While the majority of the healthcare system may be structured to perform disease management, with this certification a physical therapist can stand out as a subject matter expert who, using health behavior coaching, can decrease healthcare spending for both employers and patients, improve overall health outcomes, and promote patient autonomy and motivation for sustainable, lifelong behavior change.

Manual Physical Therapy, Pain Specialist and Therapeutic Modalities Certifications

There is nothing more powerful, one might say, than therapeutic touch. Manual therapy techniques are an important component of many therapists’ practice and they will often spend years building this skillset. Certifications in manual therapy provide advanced education and practice in a specific methodology of manual therapy and can make a therapist both more marketable to employers but also more effective as a practitioner.

While this is certainly not an exhaustive list, these highly acclaimed manual therapy certification programs are examples of those available to a therapist wanting to enhance their skills:

●  Evidence in Motion Manual Physical Therapy Certification

●  The North American Institute of Orthopedic Manual Therapy

●  The Ola Grimsby Institute

●  Institute of Physical Arts

Pain science is an ever-evolving field and one that is highly relevant to a physical therapist’s practice. Oftentimes patients come to a clinic hoping to seek relief from pain and mastering an evidenced-based approach to implementing pain science principles is an excellent way to achieve better outcomes. There are several pain science certification programs to choose from but here are a few examples you can look at:

●  Graduate Certificate in Chronic Pain Management at McGill

●  Evidence in Motion Therapeutic Pain Specialist Certification

●  Mindfulness-Based Pain Relief Practitioner Certification

Finally, when looking to add another effective modality to your treatment toolbox, some practitioners may seek out certifications in techniques such as Dry Needling (check your state practice act to see if PTs are allowed to perform this modality), Instrument Assisted Manual Therapy (IASTM) techniques or myofascial decompression or “cup therapy.”

Hand Therapy Certification

The complex network of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and fascia that exist in the hand, wrist and forearm work together in incredible harmony to provide the strength and dexterity of the hands and fingers. A Certified Hand Therapist (CHT)is a physical or occupational therapist who has at least 3 years and 4000 hours of direct practice in hand therapy and has successfully passed a comprehensive test of clinical skills and theory in upper quarter rehabilitation.

The certification in hand therapy assures both physicians and patients that their physical therapist has achieved the maximal level of competency in understanding the complex anatomy of the hand and upper quarter and in the delicate surgical techniques and rehabilitation protocols necessary to restore full function to one our body’s most valuable tools.

Pelvic Health Rehab Certification

The pelvic floor is an oft-overlooked contributor to movement and pain dysfunction. PTs often are introduced to the area of practice while in school but due to the intimate nature of many practices involved in pelvic floor rehabilitation, will have to seek out continuing education classes later on to build their confidence and proficiency in this area.

For those therapists interested in adding pelvic floor assessment and treatment to their practice, a certification in pelvic floor rehab is an excellent way to demonstrate expertise in treating patients of all genders throughout the life cycle. Both Herman and Wallace and Evidence in Motion provide certifications in pelvic health.

Lifelong Learning is the Goal

As you progress through your career you may be looking for ways to beat burnout, keep your skills sharp, transition to working in a different type of setting, or make yourself more marketable to employers. Physical therapy certification courses are an excellent way to achieve all of these goals.

With a new certification or specialist certification you can feel confident that you have attained a mastery level of practice and can start applying those new skills to patients right away. The profession of Physical Therapy is trending toward more and more specialization in 2021 as we recognize how patient outcomes are improved when therapists can reach a level of expertise and mastery in their field. Don’t let the fear of not knowing enough stop you from stepping into a new area of practice that might stoke your enthusiasm and give you the opportunity to help even more patients.

As you grow your practice using the skills you’ve learned in the physical therapy specialties, TheraPlatform can provide you with integrated teletherapy and practice management software as it is the platform of choice for Physical therapists across the country. Click here to read more about the features and how you can streamline your practice and sign up for our mailing list today for free worksheets, templates, exercises, apps and more.

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