Ever wonder what that alphabet soup means after a PT’s name? PT, MPT, MsPT, DPT, tDPT, OCS, CSCS, COMT, FAAOMPT, the list goes on and on. I, like most people, originally assumed that the more letters you have behind your name must mean that you are smarter and a more qualified professional in your field. There is some truth to that, but just because one has a bunch of creditials behind their name doesn’t mean they are a better PT than one who doesn’t have any. Some credentials are much harder to obtain than others. For example, someone could get a bunch of easy certifications and have a long list behind their name, giving the appearance of experience and vast knowledge. Another person could have just one creditial but it is a very hard and time consuming certification requiring strenuous testing. So what do they all mean? Here is a quick breakdown of the more common credentials:
PT, MPT, MsPT, DPT, tDPT – These all essentially mean the same thing. These credentials are what is required to be a practicing physical therapist. The only difference is when you graduated physical therapy school. When physical therapy first began the required degreee was a Bachelor degree. Once you obtained this you were legally able to become a liscensed physical therapist. This is the PT behind the name. Over the years the educational requirments have changed. A Master’s degree in physical therapy was then required to become a liscensed PT. This is the MPT. The MsPT is a Master’s of Science degree in Physical Therapy. To my knowledge all Master degrees in physical therapy are science degrees, so the “s” is a personal preference. The current degree required to become a liscensed physical therapist is a Doctorate in Phyiscal Therapy, the DPT. People who are already practicing but wish to earn a doctorate can obtain a transitional doctorate, the tDPT.
Is a clinician with a DPT better than one with a PT degree? – No. What the letters or lack thereof before the “PT” tell you is when the therapist graduated from PT school. If it is just PT then they have probably been a therapist for a while, having graduated in the 80’s and early 90’s. If it says MPT then the therapist went to PT school in the late 90’s and early ’00’s (like myself). Therapists who have a DPT have most likely graduated in the past 5 years. Even though a recently graduated therapist had much more schooling while in PT school than one who graduated 20 years ago, it doesn’t mean the older therapists aren’t up to date on the latest information. For one thing, experience is huge. Also, as therapists we are required by the state to have 40 hours of continuing education every two years. The therapist can choose any course he or she has interest in, as long as it has been approved by the state. This helps therapist keep up to date on the newest developments within the field.
COMT, OCS, FAAOMPT, CSCS, ScD, and the rest – So what about all the rest? COMT stands for Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist. This is a certification showing extra competency in manual techniques. There are a variety of PT organizations that you can earn this certification through, so all COMT’s are not exactly alike. I recently earned mine through the International Academy of Orthopedic Medicine (IAOM) on manual treatment of the spine. This involved taking 6 continuing education courses, each counting for 24 hours, which covered the entire spine. I then had to take 200 question written test and a practical exam in which I had to perform evaluations and mobilization techniques from memory. It took about 6 months of studying and I’m glad it’s over!
OCS means Orthopedic Clinical Specialist. This is a very long (up to 8 hours) written test that a therapist can take after having worked a minimum of 2000 hours in an orthopedic setting.
FAAOMT is a Fellow in the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy . I don’t know a lot about this one yet, only that it involves a year or two of the therapist working at an approved clinic under the supervision of a current Fellow. It’s a very intensive time of learning due not only to the how and why’s, but the hands-on aspect of well. Anyone with this behind their name has put in a good deal of work!
CSCS is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. Many therapists who are more involved in the sports and athletic world take this written exam to aid in the treatment of athletes.
The ScD is a Doctorate of Science Degree in Physical Therapy. This is different from the DPT in that it is not a entry level degree. You must be a practicing therapist to earn the ScD. It requires taking many extensive courses online and in person over several years. Several universities offer this degree. This is my next educational goal, and I plan on earning it through Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, where I earned my MPT degree.
Well, I hope that cleared it up a little bit. There are many more certifications out there, some are good, some not so good. So when researching a therapist, ask them what their certifications mean. I’m sure they would be glad to tell you. We’ve worked hard to earn them, and we are happy to explain how our newly attained knowledge will help you in your recovery!