Skip to main content

Since the inception of board-certified physical therapy clinical specialization in 1978, board certification was not lifelong; it was valid for a period of 10 years. To be recertified, specialists had to demonstrate ongoing practice in their specialty area by meeting a minimum number of practice hours and either passing the exam again, preparing a professional development portfolio, or completing an APTA-credentialed residency program. 

In assessing the recertification process, several issues came to the attention of ABPTS regarding this process:

  • Most specialists (88%) chose to recertify using the PDP option. While this shows ongoing activity in the specialty area, there is little quality control regarding the specific activities listed in the PDP, and there is no independent assessment of knowledge in the specialty area.
  • The specialty councils repeatedly attempted to revise the PDP to improve the quality of data and the representativeness of specialist practice, but despite multiple revisions there continued to be a shared sense among the specialty councils and ABPTS that the PDPs did not capture the essence of specialist practice.
  • As the number of specialists increased, the workload required by specialty councils to review the PDP documents became overwhelming.
  • A study that ABPTS conducted of recertification of multiple health care professions indicated that most certification boards were not using a portfolio approach.
  • A continuing competence model is a necessary step of accountability to our patients, health care organizations, and to the public to ensure a certain level of quality and expertise in physical therapist clinical specialist practice.
  • A continuing competence-based model is more consistent with state licensing requirements.


The purpose of the transition to the Maintenance of Specialist Certification process is:

  • To more effectively verify current competence as an advanced practitioner in the specialty area.
  • To more effectively evaluate professional development and clinical experience.
  • To better encourage ongoing education and professional growth.
  • To keep pace with the rapidly expanding specialty knowledge base and scientific evidence that guides our clinical decision-making.
  • To promote improved health outcomes related to physical therapist specialty services.


ABPTS developed a model for certification that focuses on continuing competence of the physical therapist specialist. This Maintenance of Specialist Certification model includes the following four requirements:

  1. Professional standing and direct patient care hours.
  2. Commitment to lifelong learning through professional development.
  3. Practice performance through examples of patient care and clinical reasoning.
  4. Cognitive expertise through a test of knowledge in the profession.

Timeline for Implementation

  • As of 2016, all individuals who newly certify or recertify are subject to the MOSC process, as described, in its entirety.
  • The first recertification exams will be administered in 2023.

Any additional questions/concerns should be addressed to staff at or 703-706-3165.