What Qualifications Should You Look for in a Physical Therapist?

A woman works with a physical therapist.
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If you’ve ever been referred to a physical therapist, you know that these professionals focus on helping patients to regain their functionality after an illness or injury via targeted exercises, stretching and other techniques. Hopefully you had a great experience, got a few pointers on how to avoid re-injuring yourself, and are feeling much better today. But have you ever wondered what kind of training it takes to be a physical therapist (PT)?

The next time you or a loved one require physical therapy, consider this. All licensed physical therapists have a minimum of an undergraduate degree plus a post-graduate degree – a minimum of six years of college education. Post-graduate degrees in physical therapy used to be offered at the master’s level, but today ALL post-graduate physical therapy programs offer doctoral degrees only – so chances are that your PT is actually a DPT or “Doctor of Physical Therapy.” The doctor will see you now!

DPT programs provide prospective physical therapists with substantial training in the classroom, plus experience in the lab and clinical setting. Only after a person has completed this post-graduate education are they eligible to take the National Physical Therapy Examination to become a licensed physical therapist. This extensive exam is administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. It measures the applicant’s knowledge of a wide variety of body systems including musculoskeletal, cardiovascular, neuromuscular, metabolic, gastrointestinal and integumentary (skin and its appendages) systems.

Specialties and Advanced Certifications

Many physical therapists choose to specialize in treating particular areas of the body, such as the shoulders, knees, neck, spine or hands. They may also concentrate on addressing sports injuries or providing stroke rehabilitation, prenatal/postpartum care or another area within the physical therapy field.

In addition, a select number of licensed physical therapists will go on to pursue board certification in a designated clinical specialty. The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) provides board certification in eight areas including orthopedics, sports, geriatrics, cardiopulmonary, neurology, women’s health, pediatrics and clinical electrophysiology. A ninth area of specialty – oncology – will be joining the list within the next two years.

Those who want to be designated as board certified in a clinical specialty will have to complete a residency or fellowship in their selected area. While requirements vary according to area of specialty, all applicants for board certification must complete at least 2,000 hours of focused practice within their specialty to be eligible for the board certification exam.

Board-certified Physical Therapists - the Cream of the Crop

The bottom line is that, for a physical therapist, board certification is the gold standard. It indicates that an individual has advanced clinical knowledge, skills and experience, along with an undeniable dedication to their profession. Just 4% of the 16,000+ licensed physical therapists in the state of Florida are board certified in a clinical specialty.

With this in mind, the Spine Health Institute would like to congratulate seven of our team members who recently earned their board certifications. Please join us in honoring Phil Agostinelli, Doug Allen, Samantha Corkwell, David Garcia, Monica Lugo Isola, Randi Richardson, and Sam Singleton.

To learn more about the Spine Health Institute’s physical therapy program in conjunction with Florida Hospital Sports Medicine and Rehab, call Call407-303-5452. You can also book an appointment online at TheSpineHealthInstitute.com.

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