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The American Physical Therapy Association, a national professional organization representing  100,000 members throughout the United States, established the specialist certification program in 1978. Specialization is the process by which a physical therapist builds on a broad base of professional education and practice to develop a greater depth of knowledge and skills related to a particular area of practice. Clinical specialization in physical therapy responds to a specific area of patient need and requires knowledge, skill, and experience exceeding that of the physical therapist at entry into the profession.

The specialist certification program was established to formally recognize physical therapists with advanced clinical knowledge, experience, and skills in a special area of practice and to help consumers and the health care community identify these physical therapists.

Elements of the Program

The APTA Specialist Certification Program includes three essential elements:

  1. It is a voluntary process. Participation in the certification process is initiated only at the request of the individual.
  2. It is a nonrestrictive process. No attempt is made to prohibit anyone from practicing in a specific area, and board-certified physical therapists are not required to restrict their practice to the area in which they are certified.
  3. It is a coordinated process. ABPTS serves as the central mechanism for certifying specialists. This reduces duplication of effort and provides reasonable uniformity in the level and type of standards used as the basis for certification.

Minimum Eligibility Requirements for Specialist Certification

ABPTS has established minimum eligibility requirements to sit for the specialist certification examinations:

  1. Applicants must hold a current permanent/unrestricted license to practice physical therapy in the United States or any of its possessions or territories.
  2. Evidence of a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in the specialty area, 500 (25%) of which must have occurred within the last three years. Eligible direct patient care hours only include the time spent practicing within your specific specialty area, and with the permanent/unrestricted license to practiced.

Specialty councils, with the approval of ABPTS, develop specific requirements to be eligible to sit for the certification examination in their specialty area. These requirements vary across specialty areas and include factors such as evidence of hours in general physical therapist practice, hours of direct patient care, and evidence of competency in cardiopulmonary resuscitation and emergency care.

The Path to Specialization

Achieving board certification can improve patient care and open professional doors. This presentation explains how. 

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About the Exam

Understanding how the ABPTS examinations are developed, administered, and scored demystifies the testing process and helps you perform to your fullest potential.

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