The physical therapy clinical specialization program is administered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS), which is the governing board for the specialist certification program within the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA). To date, more than 4,100 physical therapists have achieved board certification in the specialty areas of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary, Clinical Electrophysiologic, Geriatric, Neurologic, Orthopaedic, Pediatric, and Sports physical therapy. The number of certified specialists has grown from 197 in 1990 to 4,126 in 2002.
ABPTS recently surveyed employers of board certified physical therapists to answer the following question: How do employers of physical therapists across various practice settings recognize the value and meaning of the ABPTS certified specialist credential?
The response rate was 56%, with seven hundred fifty four surveys returned and used for data analysis. The employment facilities that were surveyed included private practice offices, outpatient facilities or clinics, acute care hospitals, academic institutions, skilled nursing/extended care/intermediate care facilities, sub-acute rehab hospital (inpatient), home care, and school systems. Respondents reported active involvement in oversight responsibility for the physical therapy function/program at their facility and the supervision of physical therapists, with more than 96% reporting being involved in hiring and employee selection. Accordingly, the survey data provided a valuable source of information about the meaning and value of the specialist certification credential to employers of physical therapists.
The survey posed eleven questions about issues related to the survey respondent's facility and ABPTS clinical specialization. Because it was hypothesized that responses would differ according to practice setting, the data were cross-tabulated on the basis of practice setting. Highlights from this section of survey follow:
Almost half the facilities use ABPTS board certification in marketing efforts. 63% of employers in private practice and 58% of the academic institutions report doing so. These data suggest that the presence of certified specialists on staff in these practice settings is perceived as valuable by employers in attracting patients/clients or, in the case of academic institutions, students to the facility.
Survey respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement with eleven indicators of outcomes of job performance for ABPTS certified specialists. Because it was hypothesized that responses would differ according to practice setting, data were cross-tabulated on the basis of practice setting. Highlights from this section of the study follow:
Results of this study provide a starting point for ABPTS to evaluate how the specialist certification program is viewed by and meets the needs of key stakeholders, specifically the employers of physical therapists. Within this sample, employers are aware of specialist certification and many provide support for the process of achieving specialist certification. Of note, (1) more than half of the employers surveyed pay some of the costs associated with obtaining clinical specialization; and (2) 43% of employers indicate that job applicants who are board-certified are given priority in hiring. In some facilities, a salary increase and/or other reward, such as a change in job title, increase in authority or responsibility, is considered as a result of obtaining specialist certification. Overall, the data suggest that many employers, particularly those in private practice, academic settings, hospitals, and outpatient facilities, value ABPTS specialist certification and demonstrate this value by providing financial compensation and non-financial rewards to physical therapists who achieve specialist certification.
Physical therapists may also find this information useful in helping them better understand current employer perceptions regarding specialist certification in various practice settings as well as potential outcomes associated with being a certified specialist. Overall, the results of this study suggest that being a certified specialist may make a physical therapist more marketable and open career opportunities.