A Comprehensive List of Physical Therapy Specialties
Want to earn more and provide better care? Consider a specialty in physical therapy
By Ben Wobker, PT, MSPT, CSCS, SFMAc
Life as a physical therapist is more exciting than ever. As a top career, physical therapy offers tons of great options. You can choose your work setting, including clinics, hospitals, the gym, or even at home. Another great opportunity is to become a board-certified PT specialist in a wide range of specialties, from orthopedics to women’s health to oncology.
The certification process is intense; on average, physical therapists spend nine months or longer prepping for their exams. PTs who sit the exams often say the many hours of practice required to become certified make it a worthwhile journey. Board-certified physical therapists are recognized in the industry for their for their unique abilities and determination. They set themselves apart not only from their peers, but also other healthcare professionals.
The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists (ABPTS) offers board-certification in nine specialty areas of physical therapy.
A CCS helps patients regain function in their cardiac and respiratory systems after injury or illness. “It’s one of the best things I ever did,” says Ethel Frese, PT, DPT, MHS, CCS. “I think having a CCS behind my name gives a certain degree of respectability in terms of people knowing you’ve had to go through the process of becoming a certified specialist, that you’ve passed a rigorous exam, that you have a clinical expertise.”
If you’re interested in the use of electrotherapy, electromyography, and other therapeutic techologies that assist in healing, an ECS certification may be for you. “I was the second woman to get board-certified in clinical electro,” says Elaine Armantrout, PT, DSc, ECS. “It’s actually one of the best things I’ve ever done to enhance my career. I can say with certainty that if I didn’t have board certification, I wouldn’t be practicing physical therapy the way I do now today.”
A GCS certification is ideal for physical therapists who are “committed to providing the best evidence-based care to older adults.” This board certification was approved in 1989. “[Getting certified is] pushing us to be better and to be better for our patients, [because] in the end that’s what we’re here for,” says Jennifer Cabrera, PT, DPT, GCS.
A neurologic physical therapist specializes in evaluating and treating patients with movement problems due to injury or disease of the nervous system. With the NCS certification, “I’ve earned the trust and respect of my patients,” says Morris Beato, PT, DPT, GCS, NCS. “You will learn how to take care of your patients better, and you will become a better clinician.”
Orthopedic physical therapists treat conditions affecting the musculoskeletal system. These may include fractures, muscle strains, ligaments sprains, tendonitis, and bursitis. Regarding certification, Marie Johnson, PT, PhD, OCS says, “It’s really a way to differentiate that you have taken this extra step to study and make sure that you’re current in the general field of orthopedics. I believe it helped me get referrals from physicians.”
Pediatric physical therapists have helped children with musculoskeletal and mobility problems since the polio epidemic of the 1920s. “The specialist certification process only elevates the profession,” says Jane Sweeney, PT, PhD, FAPTA, PCS. “It elevates it by providing a system that physical therapists can test themselves to learn the competencies for that specialty area.”
As a sports certified specialist, you are considered an expert in athletic injury management—including acute care, treatment, rehabilitation, prevention, and education. “In the clinic, [certification and specialization] really helped with patient selection,” says Michael L. Fink, PT, DSc, OCS, SCS. “I have patients driving over an hour from out of state to seek me out, seek the services that I can provide for them.”
As a WCS, you will treat patients across their life span, from young athletes and childbearing women to elderly men and peri-menopausal women. “Board certification has allowed me to communicate with my patients, with the community, and with all of my referral sources at an expert level,” says Natalie Sebba, PT, DPT, CLT, WCS.
With an oncology certification, you can help patients affected by cancer and chronic illness improve their movement and wellness at every stage of their lives. Physical therapy has been shown to help manage a range of impairments associated with cancer treatment, including lymphedema, cancer-related fatigue, nerve damage, weakness, and pain.
Luna is assembling a team of motivated and entrepreneurial physical therapists, about 40% of whom have board-certified specialties. Whether you’re a physical therapist or would like to become a PT, these board certificaitons let you combine a particular interest with your love of healing to create your perfect career. Learn more about how you can own PT career.