By Jami Cooley, RN, CNWC
Physical therapists make a profound difference in the lives of their patients. They help them restore function, regain independence, prevent disability, manage pain, and achieve their overall health and fitness goals. Many PTs choose to obtain physical therapy specializations in one or more areas to acquire advanced clinical knowledge about a particular field of practice, enhance their credentials, engage in new research, or help advance the physical therapy profession as a whole by becoming a respected leader in their field.
If you’re a PT looking to achieve this type of professional growth, it’s well worth the financial and time investment to obtain a board-certification from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS).
Physical therapy specializations
Currently, ABPTS offers board-certification in nine physical therapy specializations, with a tenth area becoming certifiable in 2022. Advance your career with one of these 10 physical therapy specializations.
- Geriatric Clinical Specialist (GCS)
- Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)
- Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Clinical Specialist (CCS)
- Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialist (ECS)
- Neurology Clinical Specialist (NCS)
- Oncology Specialist
- Pediatric Clinical Specialist (PCS)
- Sports Clinical Specialist (SCS)
- Women’s Health Specialist (WCS)
- Wound Management Specialist
Each specialty has its own eligibility criteria, but all physical therapists must meet the following requirements:
- Hold a current permanent and unrestricted physical therapy license in the United States.
- Submit an application and pay the application fee to APTA by the application deadline.
- Pay a clinical specialty exam fee and pass the exam.
PTs can choose to complete more than one of the physical therapy specializations. However, the ABPTS does not recommend that applicants apply in more than one specialty area during the same year due to certification preparation and time constraints. The ABPTS policy does not allow an applicant to submit the same direct patient hours for more than one specialty area.
ABPTS physical therapy specialties
Geriatric Clinical Specialist (GCS)
Geriatric physical therapists help elderly patients be as active as possible and live a healthy lifestyle while maintaining their safety. Short-term and long-term rehabilitation for seniors involves recovery from illness or chronic disease as well as achieving a higher level of independence. Learn more about becoming a Board-Certified Geriatric Clinical Specialist.
Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)
Orthopedic specialists provide treatment for musculoskeletal injuries or disorders to improve function and reduce pain. They also develop advanced plans of care for post-surgical patients. Learn more about becoming a Board-Certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist.
Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Clinical Specialist (CCS)
Cardiovascular and pulmonary specialists provide monitored rehabilitation and exercise treatments for patients with a history of heart problems such as myocardial infarction or patients with respiratory illness such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Learn more about becoming a Board-Certified Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Clinical Specialist.
Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialist (ECS)
Electrophysiologic specialists treat conditions related to nerve or muscle damage. They also perform diagnostic testing with electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies (NCS). Learn more about becoming a Board-Certified Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialist.
Neurology Clinical Specialist (NCS)
Neurology specialists treat patients with injuries or disorders of the nervous system which includes, but are not limited to, chronic headaches, seizures, stroke, Parkinson’s Disease or multiple sclerosis. Learn more about becoming a Board-Certified Neurology Clinical Specialist.
Oncology specialists treat patients with various types of cancer, many of whom are either undergoing chemotherapy or radiation or have just completed this type of treatment. Learn more about becoming a Board-Certified Oncology Specialist.
Pediatric Clinical Specialist (PCS)
Pediatric specialists develop treatment plans for conditions specific to young children and teens including cystic fibrosis, autism, Down’s Syndrome, and more. A therapist can further fine-tune their clinical expertise by choosing to work with a certain age group such as newborns. Learn more about becoming a Board-Certified Pediatric Clinical Specialist.
Sports Clinical Specialist (SCS)
Sports specialists treat athletes from weekend warriors to elite professionals. This area of physical therapy involves prevention or treatment of physiological, pathological, or performance problems in sports. Learn more about becoming a Board-Certified Sports Clinical Specialist.
Women’s Health Specialist (WCS)
Women’s health specialists treat a wide variety of conditions such as post-partum pelvic pain, menopausal symptoms, pregnancy-related incontinence, and more. Learn more about becoming a Board-Certified Women’s Health Specialist.
Wound Management Specialist
Wound management specialists treat and prevent integumentary issues. Learn more about becoming a Board-Certified Wound Management Specialist.
Empower your professional practice
While it does take time and commitment, the rewards that come from achieving your board-certified physical therapy specialty are well worth the effort, opening the door to new and exciting job opportunities in the field for which you are most passionate.