After an intense, three year, non-stop DPT program we are prepared to play the role of physical therapist in almost any setting. After graduation many of us may feel so elated to finally have a Friday night that does not involve studying that we may not jump right into studying for additional certifications. However, this article on Monster.com says that PTs with specialized certifications are more desirable and are the first to get hired. Do you think that holds true for new grads? Do you think the more letters you have after your name the better (even if the patient has no idea what they mean)? Or do you think that becoming so specialized with certifications backs you into a tight corner and you are no longer able to be seen as a general physical therapist? Do you plan to obtain any extra certifications in school or closely following graduation? Let’s talk about it on Wednesday, April 3rd at 9pm EST! See ya on Twitter!


Click here for chat analytics and transcript.


  1. I would encourage new grads to get their feet wet and get as much general experience as possible before looking at specialization and certification. A broad and well-rounded experience base is vital to make the most of your specialization and certification. I think it also speaks volumes to employers.
    My own history was one of broad experiences from pediatrics, geriatrics, cardiopulmonary, acute care and Neuro-rehab before I finally found my calling in Orthopedics. I didn’t get any certification until I had already racked up 15 years of clinical practice.
    Not saying you should wait that long but at least 5 years broad clinical experience is a must.

  2. After you graduate, you generally need hours of time mastering what has been learned. You’ll need time to learn the results/impact you have with your thought processes and treatment strategies. You’ll need hours of time working with various individuals to learn how best to communicate and connect with a lot of different people. Then, in some cases, you’ll be delegating and supervising. You’ll have to learn via documentation how patients respond to your plans of care.

    Certification is great and I definitely recommend it. I’d advise waiting until you pull the whole package together and have years beneath your belt before certifying. I waited 10 years. I felt by that time, I truly was ready, had done the hours and the work to be considered a specialist IF I passed the exam.

  3. Certification is arguably one of the most overrated things I see in the physical therapy setting. The CSCS is one that many PT’s have after their name. This test can be passed by reading the Essentials text one time through. It does very little to help treat someone with pain. Add the fee to maintain your certification plus the $4-500 to maintain your APTA membership and possibly $125 for your AAOMPT membership. You are looking at $800 per year for alphabet soup.

    Certifications are meant to pay someone. Look at the McKenzie/Paris/Maitland/ISPI/Osteopractor/Institute of physical art/ASTYM/Graston classes. The list goes on and on. All have levels to attain some form of orthopedic black belt.

    The board specialty has some pros and cons. It is a good review of differential diagnosis, red flags, screening etc. The con is outdated, biomechanical treatments and paradigm questions (see McKenzie/Paris/Maitland/TBC, etc). As Selena suggests, coming out of school and practicing for one year (2000 hour requirement) and passing a $1200, 200 question multiple choice exam does not mean you are a clinical specialist. Looking at the above sentences, you are looking at an additional $2000 to add letters to your name. Your employer does not care. Your employer will only care if your productivity is high. That’s what keeps the doors open.

    Would I rather see a therapist with PT,DPT, CSCS, OCS, FAAOMPT telling the patient they have an issue in the tissue, cracking necks, backs or a PT that understands pain, basic science, graded exposure/exercise and psychosocial factors impact of care? I choose the latter. Do yourself a favor and open up books, journals, think about thinking (meta-cognition), save money and take a biopsychosocial approach to your patient.

    One final thought; read Melzack, Wall, Craig, Woolf, Moseley, Butler, Threlkheld, Mel Siff, Nijs, George, Bialosky.

    1. Boy, aren’t we down on certifications! I can promise you that you don’t pass those things without going above and beyond normal PT practice and experiences. There is critical thinking involved, along with problem solving. Are they perfect, no. Do they cost alot of $$? Yes, too much. But to say they don’t man anything or are not useful, that is certainly arguable. If I were to interview for a job, and the employer told me that they were not interested in anyone who had certification initials behind their name b/c they didn’t feel they were important, I would wonder what they were basing their beliefs on. I certainly wouldn’t take a job with an employer like that!
      I agree that one should continually improve their skills and knowledge base, no doubt. But the person above seems to think that you cannot have certifications AND have ” a PT that understands pain, basic science, graded exposure/exercise and psychosocial factors impact of care”. Of course you can have/be both. In fact, I would say that those who take it upon themselves to improve their skill sets by obtaining certifications are EXACTLY the same ones that you refer to as “a PT that understands pain, basic science, graded exposure/exercise and psychosocial factors impact of care”
      Just me 2 cents!

  4. I waited 9 years until I got my first certification, and felt that was best for me. It took a long time to get comfortable with my understanding of orthopedic PT, and how I was able to use new research in my daily practice. From there I went into more certifications, and have a very rewarding career where I do some teaching, am part of ortho residency faculty, and still work full time in the clinic in my areas of specialization. I would encourage all to consider certifications sometime in their future, but feel becoming an experienced generalist was absolutely needed in order for me to take the path I did.

  5. I will also say that I never did aquire more than just my BS in PT (1991). I definitely took the clinical route vs the didactic/classroom. I have no regrets in this decision. And no extra debt!

  6. Great question Lauren. I cannot comment right now because I am at work. I will comment tonight when I get home. Keep up the good work and I enjoy your posts.

  7. this is a very complex question especially when you take in all of the factors: student loan debt, which branch of PT to get into, career paths, certifications, etc… as I was just a new grad a couple of years ago also. i am only 5 years out of school. I apologize for the misspelling and poor writing. I am in a hurry, but I really want to comment on this. first: The real world is completely different than the bubble of academia. I think healthcare along with PT will be under a major change soon. Everything will be based on outcomes whether you are in the standard insurance vs cash based system. you will have to show great outcomes, period! Have you ever heard of the 10,000 hour rule? no need to wait 10-15 years. specialize and become an expert within 5 years. if you were a patient would you like to be seen by a general PT or the PT who is board certified? would you like to be treated by a PT with a masters or and PT with a doctorate? if you were a patient with LBP would you rather be seen by your PCP or by the orthopedic physician spine specialist? as you practice more and see the difference in healthcare with these two tracks, specialization is better. I feel we need to get away from the general practitioner. I feel a DPT and board certified is more marketable and you need to take advantage of this. marketing is where us as PTs, we struggle with but being board certified is more marketable. with theory and practice, both PTs may still show good outcomes, and if you continue to strive to get better, you can still be a great PT who has 15+ years experience without a DPT. dont compare outcomes from 2 good clinicians MPT 15+ years vs DPT new grad resident, but compare outcomes with PT vs chiro, PT vs physicians. My advice for new grads is to get as good as you can as fast as you can. show you can get great outcomes with your patients. whether this is with a mentor or a residency. If you have a great mentor that will push you and help guide you, you may not need a residency. if not, complete a residency, specialize and get good quick. all of the other credentials after your name are nice to have professionally, but to the public your FAAOMPT, MTC, cert SMT, etc. does not matter. I personally like the extra credentials and for me it challenges me to strive for more and get better. but at a certain time in your career you need to see if it is financially worth it, and will it teach you new skills that will allow you to show better outcomes with your patients. with increased student loans now, finance will be a factor. this is a great profession to get into, we just need to be smart about the future of PT, create new ways of business and treatments, showing great outcomes (better outcomes than the standard), and choosing a great career path that is best for you! hope it helps! keep up the good work Lauren and PT think tank!


  8. also, I second Matt’s statement: never stop reading journals, critical thinking, and challenging the standard!

  9. I have very mixed feelings on this subject. I too, have a BS in Physical Therapy, however I feel specialization is very important for those of you who seek to work to a higher level in your area of special interest. I think the “old school” BS student did need more experience to decide what we wanted to specialize in than the new doctorate of PT students. We had only 4 years to complete our general requirements and our PT studies. The new doctorate PT students are more mature and have more clinical experience before they graduate than we did. That does not mean everyone is ready for a residency right out of PT school. For those that are and know what they want to specialize in…I think it is a great idea to pursue your interests. I also agree that most students will benefit more from a residency if they have a couple of years of experience first. I have 25 years of experience and have been a clinical mentor in a sports physical therapy residency for several years. I have my masters degree and many specialty certifications…but, it is not the letters behind my name that makes me a good PT. For those of you criticizing the many that pursue a residency or further certifications…it is isn’t about the letters behind your name, or the extra money. It’s all about the knowledge you gain from master clinicians and a greater exposure to research, teaching and evidence based practice. It is no different than a doctor pursuing a residency for the purpose of becoming a specialist in their area of interest For those of you who think it’s about the money or the letters behind your name…you are definitely missing the purpose of pursuing a residency or attending a continuing education course.

Comments are closed.