The field of physical therapy is incredibly broad and intersects with many branches of medicine. As such, you can choose to specialize in one or more areas throughout your career. If you have a specific field of interest that you want to expand your expertise in, you can do that by earning specialized certifications.
Being certified affirms your advanced knowledge, skills, and practice in your chosen specialty.
What is a physical therapy specialization?
Physical therapy specialization is an optional continuing education process designed to help physical therapists expand their expertise through additional training.
You may choose to specialize in one or more areas. Specializing requires 2,000 hours of experience in a specific area of interest and additional requirements, such as passing an exam or completing a residency. You can then apply for specialty certification from the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA).
The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) is responsible for certifying clinical specialists in physical therapy in the US. Over the years, the ABPTS has certified over 30,000 professionals who have demonstrated advanced clinical knowledge and skills in various physical therapy specialty areas.
What specialist certifications can PTs earn?
Physical therapists can hold more than one certification. However, you must apply for each credential separately with new clinical hours. Multiple certifications can increase your career options by demonstrating your expertise in several areas.
At the moment, the ABPTS offers ten distinct specialty areas — with a tenth area becoming certifiable in 2022. These are:
1. Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Clinical Specialist (CCS)
A Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Clinical Specialist (CCS) is a physical therapist who is an expert in assessing and treating patients with diverse and complex cardiovascular and pulmonary disorders. For instance, they can help patients manage respiratory diseases and recover from heart attacks.
2. Geriatric Clinical Specialist (GCS)
Geriatric Clinical Specialist (GCS) is a certification awarded to physical therapists who specialize in providing the best evidence-based care to older adults experiencing difficulty moving around due to surgery, illness, or an injury.
3. Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)
A Board-Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist (OCS) demonstrates an exceptional level of training and expertise in evaluating and treating musculoskeletal conditions.
4. Neurology Clinical Specialist (NCS)
The Neurology Clinical Specialist (NCS) certification demonstrates advanced clinical knowledge, experience, and skill in neurologic practice. NCS physical therapists help patients recover from a severe brain or spinal cord damage, peripheral nerve injuries, and other neurological injuries.
5. Pediatric Clinical Specialist (PCS)
Board-Certified Pediatric Clinical Specialists (PCSs) focus on treating physical conditions in young people, from infants to teenagers. PCS physical therapists provide evidence-based care to achieve their maximal potential and function through skilled and purposeful play.
6. Oncology Specialist
Oncology physical therapists focus on helping cancer survivors mitigate pain, restore strength, increase endurance, as well as regain and improve overall health. You can even choose to work with specific populations, such as kids or older adults.
7. Women’s Health Clinical Specialist (WCS)
The WCS (Women’s Health Clinical Specialist) certification demonstrates expertise in treatment for female patients. WCS physical therapists help patients recover from pregnancy complications and other conditions more likely to affect female bodies than male bodies.
8. Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialist (ECS)
Physical therapists with the Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialist (ECS) certification focus on evaluating and treating damage to joints, muscles, tissues, and wounds using electrotherapy and electromyography.
9. Sports Clinical Specialist (SCS)
Sports Clinical Specialist (SCS) certification indicates an expert in athletic injury management, including acute care, treatment, rehabilitation, and prevention. You can work with high-level professional athletes or be the primary medical provider for local sports teams or sporting events.
10. Wound Management Specialist
Wound Management Specialist is the latest addition to ABPTS’ list of board-certified specialties. Physical therapists with this board certification specialize in the care and treatment of acute, chronic, and non-healing wounds.
Certification requirements vary from one specialty to another. In most cases, you must complete at least 2,000 hours of work in the specific field, complete or participate in an APTA-accredited clinical residency program, and pass an exam to become board-certified in your area of interest.
Do specializations and certifications advance my career as a physical therapist?
As a physical therapist, specializing in one or more practice areas can be highly rewarding. Specializing in a particular area of physical therapy allows you to indulge your passions by pursuing clinical areas of interest that appeal the most to you.
It can also advance your physical therapy career. First, continued education is vital to developing and advancing your career as a physical therapist, and it does not stop when you start working.
Secondly, as you specialize and earn your certifications, you interact with other physical therapists in person and online. These interactions can help you network and develop career prospects. You can also gain insight into the profession, current issues in the field, upcoming physical therapy events, and the latest research.
Where can I earn these certifications?
Are you a physical therapist looking to advance in your career? Perhaps you are considering branching out into a specialized field or even management. Brooks Rehabilitation’s Institute of Higher Learning offers numerous opportunities for earning certifications and specializations in physical therapy.
Headquartered in Jacksonville, FL, Brooks Rehabilitation has been a comprehensive source of physical rehabilitation services for 50 years. Join our friendly and collaborative specialty teams for an opportunity to earn certifications in your clinical area of interest, including neurological, geriatrics, orthopedics, pediatrics, sports therapy, women’s health, oncology, and more.
Take a look at our latest course catalog and contact us for more information about career opportunities in physical therapy!