10 Physical Therapy Certifications to Amplify Your Career [2023]

What are the Physical Therapy Specialties and what are the Benefits of having Physical Therapy Specialty Certifications?

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10 Physical Therapy Certifications to Amplify Your Career [2023]

Article last updated in September 2023.

After four years of undergraduate studies and three years of clinical education, physical therapists earn just one set of credentials upon graduation. But what if you’d like to expand those credentials to amplify your career? Join the ranks of more than 30,000 PTs who earned physical therapy specialties, or specific certifications, to advance their skills across unique areas of expertise.

From women’s health to wound management, physical therapy specialties are a chance to dive deep into a particular passion or area of interest. Not only will you gain another certification — which can enhance career and salary opportunities — but you can also provide a greater quality of care to each patient.

Learn more about the ten types of PT certifications available today.

Main Takeaways From This Article:

  • Physical therapy certifications are types of continuing education courses that provide therapists with advanced knowledge to treat patients.
  • Receiving a physical therapy certification is a major milestone in the professional development of PTs who want to amplify their career.
  • Therapists must successfully complete thousands of specialty care hours and pass a skills-related certification exam to earn certifications.

What Are Physical Therapy Certifications?

Physical therapy certifications are specialized focuses attained by PT professionals to supplement their existing skill set and comply with the requirements to offer specialty patient services. PT certifications are typically obtained after completing a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree, which is initially required to receive state licensing and legally practice physical therapy.

Physical therapist certifications encompass various focuses, including but not limited to geriatric, pediatric, and oncology care, offered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specializations (ABPTS). A physical therapy certification demonstrates that a professional has met the requirements to become “board certified” and diversify their practice with specialized services.

Are PT Certifications Different from Add-On Services?

Physical therapy certifications are not the same as physical therapy add-on services.

PT certifications can be added after a PT or PTA’s name to indicate focus in a certain physical therapy field. On the other hand, physical therapy add-ons are additional skills that can be incorporated into patient care but cannot be added onto a PT or PTA’s title to indicate a specific focus.

Physical therapy certifications also require a minimum of 2,000 care hours. While you must be a licensed therapist and undergo a hands-on education course, most add-on services require less than 100 dedicated care hours.

What are the Benefits of a Physical Therapy Specialty?

Physical therapy programs educate across a variety of topics but lack an individual focus. Physical therapy certifications allow PTs to pursue the individual physical therapy fields that appeal the most to them, whether that be pediatrics, sports medicine, or anything in between. Even more, those who opt for a physical therapist certification are able to learn advanced skills in one specific area.

Specialization allows therapists to work to become leaders and mentors within their respective fields. Plus, it signals to patients and referral sources alike that the PT has a deep understanding of a specific condition. Between enhanced credentials and heightened referrals, PTs with specialties have a better chance of earning higher physical therapy salaries and greater career opportunities.

10 Physical Therapy Specialty Certifications [2023]

Let's take a look at the ten established types of physical therapy certifications designated by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specializations (ABPTS), with guidance on how to achieve them through American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) approved courses.

1. Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Clinical Specialist (CCS)

The cardiovascular and pulmonary specialization was the first board certification established by the APTA House of Delegates in 1981. Originally referred to as “cardiopulmonary,” therapists with a CCS certification help patients manage and heal from an assortment of heart and lung conditions, such as heart attacks or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

A cardiovascular and pulmonary specialization is particularly beneficial for physical therapists who want to advance their knowledge of more complex areas of anatomy, like understanding how to interpret patient vital signs, identify valvular disorders, and diagnose respiratory conditions. PTs with a CSS certification can often find opportunities in hospitals and outpatient clinics.

To qualify for a CSS certificate, you must:

  • Complete 2,000 hours of direct cardiovascular patient care OR an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical residency program
  • Obtain an Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certification from the American Heart Association
  • Complete a data analysis project or case study related to the cardiovascular and pulmonary focus
  • Pay the application fee (beginning at $550) and the exam fee (beginning at $810)

2. Neurology Clinical Specialist (NCS)

Following CCS, the neurologic specialty area was approved by APTA in 1982. Physical therapists with an NCS certification treat developmental, systemic, and traumatic disorders that impact the neuromuscular system, like stroke, Parkinson's, and multiple sclerosis. These individuals specialize in examining, diagnosing, and treating neurologic dysfunction via preventive, evaluative, and rehabilitative physical therapy.

A neurological physical therapy specialty is ideal for advancing the careers of physical therapists with an inherent interest in topics such as behavioral sciences or neurological patient diagnosis and care. A certified physical therapist with NCS credentials can unlock opportunities in a variety of physical therapy settings, including an outpatient clinical practice and skilled nursing facility (SNF).

To obtain an NCS certificate, physical therapists must:

  • Complete 2,000 hours of direct patient care in a neurology specialty setting OR an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical neurology residency program
  • Pay the application fee (beginning at $550) and the exam fee (beginning at $810)

3. Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)

An orthopaedic specialization is similar to an NCS certification; however, an OCS therapist prevents and treats dysfunction of the musculoskeletal system and its related neurovascular components. Orthopaedic specialists focus on bone, joint, muscle, tendon, and ligament injuries, as well as musculoskeletal disorders such as arthritis and post-surgery physical capacity and movement.

Becoming a certified orthopedic manual therapist can advance your core physical therapy education to learn more about complex corrective and prophylactic techniques involving the neuromusculoskeletal system. Many physical therapists who complete their OCS certification often go on to find advanced positions in surgical facilities, hospital trauma units, and private practices.

To qualify for an OCS certification, physical therapists must:

  • Complete 2,000 hours of direct orthopedic patient care OR an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical orthopedic residency program
  • Note: Beginning in 2025, the 2,000 direct patient care hour requirement will be subdivided into body region groupings
  • Pay the application fee (beginning at $550) and the exam fee (beginning at $810)

4. Geriatric Clinical Specialist (GCS)

The geriatric specialization wasn’t certified until 1992 but has since gained popularity, especially as the lifespan of the average American continues to increase. A geriatric clinical specialist is a type of physical therapist who focuses on aging patients with musculoskeletal disorders like osteoporosis and arthritis, as well as neurological diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

With over 10,000 Americans turning 65 daily, there’s never been a better time to obtain a geriatric specialization to boost practice profit. Of the upcoming senior population, 70% will need some form of long-term care, and another 50% will require high levels of care. In other words, it’s safe to say that a variety of care settings — including assisted living facilities (ALFs) and nursing homes — will require an influx of PTs with a geriatric specialization very soon.

To obtain a GCS certification, physical therapists must:

  • Complete 2,000 hours of direct patient care in a geriatric care setting OR an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical residency program
  • Pay the application fee (beginning at $550) and the exam fee (beginning at $810)

5. Pediatric Clinical Specialist (PCS)

On the opposite end of the spectrum from GCS providers are PCS providers, or types of physical therapists that focus on traumatic, developmental, and systemic disorders among children. A pediatric specialist cares for newborns, toddlers, and even teenagers, often with patient conditions that range from cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy to autism.

A certified pediatric clinical specialist can expect to gain hands-on experience in various pediatric care practices, including genetic disorder management and diagnosing of musculoskeletal conditions in adolescents. Physical therapists who become PCS certified can find career opportunities in a wide range of healthcare settings, such as neonatal intensive care units, pediatric intensive care units, and PT programs in children’s hospitals.  

To qualify for a PCS Certification, physical therapists must:

  • Complete 2,000 hours of direct patient care in a pediatric care setting OR an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical pediatric residency program
  • Pay the application fee (beginning at $550) and the exam fee (beginning at $810)

6. Oncologic Clinical Specialist (OCS)

The APTA House of Delegates approved board certification in the area of oncologic physical therapy in 2016. While oncology is a specialization, these types of physical therapists focus on multiple needs per patient, including cardiovascular and pulmonary, musculoskeletal, neuromuscular, and integumentary rehabilitative needs. Oncology specialists provide secondary care for both cancer and HIV patients currently navigating weakness, chronic pain, or loss of bone density.

Physical therapists seeking an oncology certification will work with an assortment of ages and learn how to effectively navigate cancer treatment side effects in patients, such as peripheral neuropathy and lymphedema. Oncologic clinical specialists can often land job positions in outpatient cancer care facilities, surgical hospitals, and private medical practices.

To obtain an OCS certification, a physical therapist must:

  • Submit a case report based on a patient seen within the last three years that exhibits specialty practice in oncologic physical therapy
  • Complete 2,000 hours of direct patient care in an oncology care setting OR an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical oncology residency program
  • Pay the application fee (beginning at $550) and the exam fee (beginning at $810)

7. Electrophysiologic Clinical Specialist (ECS)

An electrophysiologic specialty refers to the use of electricity to monitor, evaluate, produce physiologic responses, and effectively treat human dysfunction. This PT specialty focuses on administering electrodiagnostic and electrotherapeutic clinical procedures to address conditions related to nerve or muscle damage, such as autoimmune or motor neuron diseases.

By obtaining certification to become an ECS, physical therapists gain hands-on experience with technology and manual PT techniques to improve circulation, prevent blood clots, and encourage patient wound recovery. An electrophysiologic clinical specialist can often find career opportunities within an advanced practice, diagnostic centers, and rehabilitation facilities.

To qualify for an ECS certificate, physical therapists must:

  • Submit documentation of professional education that includes at least one learning experience related to clinical electrophysiologic physical therapy
  • Submit a patient report demonstrating a peripheral nerve entrapment, polyneuropathy process, and a radiculopathic process
  • Submit a testing log highlighting a minimum of 500 electrodiagnostic examinations conducted within the last 10 years
  • Complete 2,000 hours of direct patient care in an electrophysiologic care setting OR an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical residency program
  • Pay the application fee (beginning at $550) and the exam fee (beginning at $810)

8. Sports Clinical Specialist (SCS)

Sports physical therapy is a holistic approach to preventing, managing, and rehabilitating sports injuries, as well as educating the patient to prevent future damage. Appropriate for a variety of settings, including hospital-based clinics and sports medicine centers, a focus on sports physical therapy involves the pathological, physiological, and performance problems of novice and professional athletes.

As a sports clinical specialist, a professional can also practice physical therapy in the field, such as in traditional athletic environments with their patients. It’s not uncommon for a physical therapist with this specialty certification to also double as a strength and conditioning specialist or a professional who aids in injury reduction and improving athletic performance.

To obtain an SCS certificate, a physical therapist must:

  • Become certified in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) through the American Heart Association’s BLS Healthcare Provider Course OR the American Red Cross CPR program
  • Demonstrate an understanding of First Responder standards and Emergency Cardiovascular Care (ECC) guidelines by submitting evidence of a specialty council-approved educational program OR certification completion
  • Hold certification as an athletic trainer (ATC), an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), or an Emergency Medical Responder (EMR)
  • Submit evidence of at least 2,000 hours involving direct sports patient care, with 100 of those hours documented in an athletic venue
  • Pay the application fee (beginning at $550) and the exam fee (beginning at $810)

9. Women’s Health Specialist (WCS)

As the name might indicate, women’s health specialists are the types of physical therapists who focus on the unique health conditions that affect women of all ages, from pregnancy and postpartum to menopause. WCS providers are familiar with the foundational, behavioral, and clinical sciences behind women’s health to address issues such as pelvic and low back pain.

Women’s health specialists will typically gain strong clinical expertise in pelvic floor health and rehabilitation and provide treatment for various women's health issues, including postnatal abdominal separation, post-surgical issues, and incontinence. PT professionals with a WCS certification can find positions in numerous women-centric healthcare settings, including OBGYN practices, labor and delivery hospital units, and surgical rehabilitation facilities.

To qualify for a WCS certificate, physical therapists must:

  • Submit a case reflection demonstrating specialty care in women’s health involving a patient that was seen in the last three years
  • Complete 2,000 hours of direct patient care in a women’s health care setting OR an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical women’s health residency program
  • Pay the application fee (beginning at $550) and the exam fee (beginning at $810)

10. Wound Management Specialist (WMS)

Recently added in 2022, the wound management specialist certification involves assessing, understanding, and managing multiple types of superficial and deep wounds as well as integumentary conditions.

Those interested in wound care management can expect to work with various patient types, ranging from those navigating mobility and wounds following a traumatic accident to immobile patients at risk of wound development. Wound care certified therapists have the ability to practice patient care in trauma hospital settings, rehabilitation centers, and even home health care facilities.

To obtain a WCS certificate, physical therapists must:

  • Submit a case reflection demonstrating specialty practice in wound management physical therapy involving a patient seen in the last three years
  • Hold a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification from the American Heart Association's BLS Healthcare Provider Course OR American Red Cross CPR for the Professional Rescuer course
  • Complete 2,000 hours of direct patient care in a wound management setting OR an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical residency program
  • Pay the application fee (beginning at $550) and the exam fee (beginning at $810)

The Bottom Line: MWTherapy's Role in Certification Success

Physical therapy specialties aren’t just a chance to indulge your passions; they’re an opportunity to advance your career. As you venture into a new physical therapy specialty, browse through the best physical therapist certifications and compare the potential time commitment, required case studies, and mandatory application and exam costs to determine the top pick for your career.

Understanding the various requirements of PT certifications allows you to effectively map your long-term professional goals—and obtain the career advancement opportunities you desire most. If the above list of physical therapy certifications has inspired you to grow your business, take the first steps by investing in an EMR solution that can help streamline an efficient, profitable, and compliant practice. Book your demo to experience the MWTherapy difference today.

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