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What Kind of Education and Certificates Should My Physical Therapist Have?
January 12, 2018

Physical therapists are medical professionals who treat a vast array of patients every day. The physical therapy treatment program is a crucial part of a patient’s recovery.

Becoming a licensed Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) is quite an accomplishment! Acquiring a license signifies that the therapist has met all state requirements to practice physical therapy in that particular state. Not only do physical therapists have to have a Bachelor’s degree just to be accepted into a physical therapy program, but they must also meet other academic requirements as well. Some of the additional educational requirements include observation or volunteer experience in a physical therapy setting, completing science prerequisite classes, maintaining satisfactory GPA, as well as passing and submiting Graduate Record Examination scores.

Once a physical therapy student is accepted into a physical therapy program, courses of interest are biomechanics, which relates to how the human body is structured and moves, in addition to human anatomy and the musculoskeletal system. Aspiring physical therapists also study pathology, which addresses the causes and effects of illnesses, and neurological dysfunction management which examines how a disorder in the Central Nervous System affects neurological processes in the brain. During the last stretch of the coursework, physical therapy students participate in clinical internships which provide hands-on classes in the physical therapy arena. This experience offers practical training regarding assessment, patient care, treatment, screening, and intervention. In all, the DPT program takes an additional three years of schooling to complete.

Once the students have completed the coursework and met all the DPT program requirements, they can apply for their professional physical therapy state license in their state of residence. According to the American Physical Therapy Association’s website, every state differs slightly in their guidelines, but most require that the applicants have graduate degrees in physical therapy from the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education accredited agency. Candidates must also pass the National Physical Therapy Exam to obtain a state license. Many states require continuing education credits to maintain and renew the license in the future.

Study.com advises that it is not mandatory that a DPT become board certified, but it does provide a more reputable profile. When a DPT becomes certified in a specialty, they are more likely to have their pick of employment opportunities, as well as other opportunities for career advancement. DPT can obtain certification in one of the nine specialties from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. Some of these specialties include:

  • Pediatric (PCS)
  • Women’s Health Women’s Health (WCS)
  • Geriatric (GCS)
  • Oncology (OCS)
  • Sports (SCS)
  • Clinical Electrophysiology (ECS)
  • Neurology (NCS)
  • Orthopedic (OCS)
  • Cardiovascular and Pulmonary (CCS)

In addition to the prior coursework that the DPT has taken, they must complete the training for their choice of specialty. This means that they will attend an additional 2,000 hours of clinical experience. This usually totals about 1-3 years to complete. Prospects must pass a written exam for their area of interest as well. Participants in the specialty programs must already have a degree for admittance. An example of a physical therapist’s name that has a specialty certification would look something like this – First Name Last Name, DPT, NCS, GCS.

So, the next time a patient sees a physical therapists name with different initials behind it, they will know that those initials represent. Knowing what the initials mean will help patients identify which therapist will suit their needs best.