Specialist Certification Process

  • Upcoming Testing Opportunities

    The next available administration for the specialist certification examinations will be February 28 - March 14, 2015, via electronic testing.

    Exam Length and Format

    The exam is entirely written, with approximately 200 items, is designed to objectively measure the application of advanced knowledge and skills required of physical therapy clinical specialists as described in the Description of Specialty Practice (DSP) for each specialty area. The exam is composed of objective multiple-choice questions that either stand-alone or are part of a series that relates to a case study.

    Candidates are given six (6) hours to complete the specialist certification examination. The examination is administered in two 3 hour sections, with an optional lunch break after the first section.

    Experience Requirements

    After gaining at least 2,000 hours of clinical practice experience working directly with patients in the chosen specialty area, a clinician may opt to sit for the specialist certification examination. Although a clinician may complete the required number of hours in about one year, it is anticipated that it may take longer because of factors like work setting, job, and specialty area.

    Applicants are strongly encouraged to assess their readiness to sit for the examination by reviewing such documents as the Description of Specialty Practice (DSP), and the Self-Assessment Tools for Physical Therapists in their specialty area.

    Self-Assessments

    Physical therapists who are interested in sitting for the specialist certification examinations are encouraged to assess their readiness to successfully complete the specialist certification process. Certain APTA documents, such as the DSP or and Self-Assessment Tools for Physical Therapists, may be useful.

    The DSPs have been developed for each specialty area and outline the knowledge, skills, and abilities related to clinical practice in the specialty area. DSP content is based on a detailed practice analysis conducted by the specialty council. The specialty council develops the examination for each DSP and includes a percentage of questions from each of the major content areas identified in the practice analysis. The written examination includes the advanced clinical competencies described in the DSPs.

    The Self-Assessment Tools for Physical Therapists is designed to help individuals evaluate their current level of knowledge and skills in the specialty area against a set of nationally accepted advanced clinical competencies. Upon completing the competency ratings, physical therapists can begin to develop a professional development plan to increase knowledge and skills in practice in the specialty area. The plan might include continuing education courses, college/university courses, mentoring, or clinical residency.

    Retaking the Exam

    Those who don't pass the test the first time may retake the examination the following year by submitting a two-page repeat candidate form, an update of clinical practice hours, and current license verification. Repeat candidates or those who delay sitting for a certification exam must, at the time of their reapplication, meet the clinical practice requirements for the current examination administration. An application will remain on file for only 2 exam administrations, and after that time an applicant must submit an entirely new application and review fee to be eligible to sit for the exam. All repeat test takers for the 2015 test administration must pay a reapplication review fee and the examination fee listed in the 2015 Information Booklet and Application and 2015 Reapplicant Information Booklet and Application.

    Application Fees

    Fees for specialist certification include a nonrefundable application review fee that is submitted at the time of application, and an examination fee which is submitted after an applicant is approved to sit for the exam. The exam fee is submitted each time a candidate takes the examination.

    Certification is valid for ten years, and there are no maintenance fees or annual dues. Note that fees are higher for APTA nonmembers. Following are the fees for the 2015 examination.

    APTA Member Application Review Fee: $515 | Nonmember Application Review Fee: $860

    APTA Member Exam Fee: $800 | Nonmember Exam Fee: $1,525

    Review Courses

    Please contact the APTA section in your specialty area for information on the availability of continuing education courses and review courses that cover advanced specialty practice. Not all specialty sections offer review courses. (ABPTS and the specialty councils do not review or endorse the content of any courses.)

  • American Physical Therapy Association | 1111 North Fairfax Street, Alexandria, VA 22314-1488 703/684-APTA (2782) | 800/999-2782 | 703/683-6748 (TDD) | 703/684-7343 (fax)