“I went to PT for my shoulder and it didn’t work.” We have all heard a version of this story from a friend, family member or acquaintance. The next part of the story typically involves one of two things: a long-winded explanation of the current status of the shoulder pain complete with live demonstrations of all movements that make the offending limb hurt, or a recollection of splints, slings, expenses and time off associated with the surgery that followed the failed course of physical therapy.
What is not usually verbalized is the belief underlying the initial statement: all physical therapy is equal. Somewhere between its humble beginnings at towards the end of the 19th century and today, the physical therapy profession absorbed a generalized identity. Unlike the field of education, where we readily accept that there are both varying degrees of quality of educators and potential of relevance of those educators to the student, Physical Therapists are not often differentiated from physical therapy. We, as a society, seem to believe that physical therapy for a shoulder injury will essentially look the same whether it is delivered by the Physical Therapist at the clinic across the street or the one closer to home. In short, there is an expensive – both in terms of dollars spent and unnecessary, ongoing pain – misunderstanding out there: a PT is a PT is a PT.
As a 15-year veteran of the profession, I can assure you that this is far from true. With over 300 accredited physical therapy doctorate level programs in the U.S. alone, thousands of institutes providing continuing education courses and 35 unique practice settings, the physical therapy profession is far from uniform. But, most importantly, advances in postgraduate clinical training are currently widening the gap between the Physical Therapist across the street and the one closer to home.
After earning their license to practice, Physical Therapists can but are not required to choose from a variety of rigorous clinical specialization tracks. Physical therapy residencies and fellowships are in-clinic, structured training programs designed to significantly advance skills in specialties such as sports and orthopedics. Residencies and fellowships include one year of ongoing mentoring with an experienced therapist and post-professional coursework.
“Participating in the orthopedic residency program helped me learn to streamline my examination and treatment to get to the problem faster, and target each client’s specific needs. For athletes, this means I can get them back to their sport as safely and quickly as possible,” says Sarah Winder, PT, DPT at Outpatient Physical Therapy in Kent.
Physical Therapists can also choose to earn Board Certifications in eight specialty areas, including orthopedics and sports. To be eligible to sit for the rigorous examination, a Physical Therapist must complete at least 2,000 hours of direct patient care in their specialty area. When you see the letters “OCS” and “SCS” after a Physical Therapist’s name, you can be assured of two things. First, they have relevant clinical experience. Second, they are part of an elite group of Physical Therapists: Less than 10% are Board Certified in the United States. Because of the Board Certification process, Adam Turley, DPT, SCS, OCS, CSCS at Outpatient Physical Therapy in Covington says he has a better understanding of return to sports concepts in rehabilitation. “It’s not the letters after your name that make you a better therapist. It’s the passion about your profession that drives you to pursue those letters and the ongoing commitment to staying up-to-date with research and practice management of athletes.”
Adam and Sarah are Physical Therapists who chose the less traveled path of ongoing, rigorous training and testing after graduating from PT school. Because their clinical experience and education are unique, their patient care is too. So, the next time physical therapy comes up in conversation, or you have a need for it yourself, remember Adam and Sarah. Ask your potential Physical Therapist questions such as, “Are you residency trained?” or “Do you have any Board Certifications?” Because now you are in the know: A PT is not a PT is not a PT.
by Holly Pennington Outpatient Physical Therapy
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