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A pandemic may have prevented an in-person event recognizing their achievements, but it didn't stop more than 3,000 PTs and PTAs from the achievement itself — earning board certification or recertification in a physical therapy specialty, or demonstrating advanced proficiency as a PTA. Their efforts were recognized in a March 25 virtual event sponsored by APTA and the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties.


Traditionally, new and recertified specialists and advanced proficiency PTAs are honored during the APTA Combined Sections Meeting. When the coronavirus pandemic necessitated the move to a virtual CSM, the ABPTS event had to adapt as well. 

Before representatives from each specialty reported on the numbers of new and recertified specialists, APTA President Sharon Dunn, PT, PhD — herself a board-certified orthopaedic clinical specialist — provided opening remarks, as did ABPTS Chair Julie Peterson, PT, DPT, a board-certified clinical specialist in women's health physical therapy.

Dunn told viewers that their efforts result in rewards beyond individual accomplishment.

"You of course deserve recognition on a personal level, but you also deserve recognition for your commitment to the health of your patients and society at large," Dunn said. "You embody APTA's mission and vision when you pursue and achieve a specialty certification as a physical therapist or advanced proficiency as a physical therapist assistant, so thank you."

Peterson framed the night's achievements as part of a longer professional journey and challenged all specialists to shoulder responsibility to continually strive for professional growth.

"While being a specialist affords you leadership, with this comes the risk of becoming stagnant," Peterson said. "I challenge you to swim upstream, to consider the Jesuit "modo de proceder" — to be mobile, open to new ideas, blind to national borders, mutually supportive, and restlessly disposed to continual improvement. Through this you will achieve ambitious goals."

APTA specialist certification was established in 1978, with the first three clinical specialists certified in 1985. Since then, the popularity of specialist certification has grown, as has the number of specialist certifications offered. There are now more than 26,500 board-certified clinical specialists, with more than 4,000 PTs applying to sit for a board certification examination in 2021. The PTA Advanced Proficiencies Pathways program is only five years old but already includes 128 designees.

Applications for the next round of specialty certifications will open later this spring. Details will be shared on the ABPTS website.

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