• Since the inception of board-certified physical therapy clinical specialization in 1978, board certification was not lifelong; it was valid for a period of 10 years. To be recertified as a clinical specialist, the specialist had to demonstrate ongoing practice in the specialty area by meeting a minimum number of practice hours and also by either passing the exam again, preparing a professional development portfolio (PDP), or by completing an APTA-credentialed residency program. In assessing the recertification process, several issues came to the attention of ABPTS regarding this process:

    • Most specialists (88%) have chosen to recertify using the PDP option. While this shows ongoing activity in the specialty area, there is little quality control regarding the specific activities listed in the PDP, and there is no independent assessment of knowledge in the specialty area.
    • The specialty councils have repeatedly attempted to revise the PDP to improve the quality of data and the representativeness of specialist practice, but despite multiple revisions there continues to be a shared sense among the specialty councils and ABPTS that the PDPs do not capture the essence of specialist practice.
    • As the number of specialists has increased over the past 25 years, the workload required by specialty councils to review the PDP documents has become overwhelming.
    • A study that ABPTS conducted of recertification of multiple health care professions has indicated that most certification boards are not using a portfolio approach.
    • A continuing competence model is a necessary step of accountability to our patients, health care organizations, and to the public to ensure a certain level of quality and expertise in physical therapist clinical specialist practice.
    • A continuing competence-based model would be more consistent with the direction in which state licensing requirements are moving.


    The purpose of a transition to the Maintenance of Specialist Certification process is:

    • To more effectively verify current competence as an advanced practitioner in the specialty area.
    • To more effectively evaluate professional development and clinical experience.
    • To better encourage ongoing education and professional growth.
    • To keep pace with the rapidly expanding specialty knowledge base and scientific evidence that guides our clinical decision-making.
    • To promote improved health outcomes related to physical therapy specialty services.


    ABPTS has developed a model for certification that focuses on continuing competence of the physical therapist specialist. This new model has been titled the "Maintenance of Specialist Certification" and includes the following elements:

    • Professional Standing and Direct Patient Care Hours.
    • Commitment to Lifelong Learning Through Professional Development.
    • Practice Performance Through Examples of Patient Care and Clinical Reasoning.
    • Cognitive Expertise Through a Test of Knowledge in the Profession.

    Requirement 1: Professional Standing and Direct Patient Care Hours

    • In years 3, 6, and 9, a specialist must submit evidence of current licensure as a physical therapist in the United States or any of its possessions or territories.
    • In years 3, 6, and 9, a specialist must submit evidence of 200 hours of direct patient care acquired in the specialty area within the last 3 years. Direct patient care hours accrued in year 10 may be applied to the year 3 requirements for the next MOSC cycle.

    Requirement 2: Commitment to Lifelong Learning Through Professional Development

    • Each board-certified specialist is obligated to participate in ongoing professional development, within his or her designated specialty area, which leads to a level of practice consistent with acceptable standards. Each specialist may choose to pursue professional development that leads to a level of practice beyond prevailing standards.
    • A web-based system to track continuing competence in a specialty area will be developed. This system will provide an individual account tracking mechanism for each specialist to record professional development activities during years 3, 6, and 9 of his or her certification cycle. There is not an hour requirement in this area, but the specialist must show evidence of professional development activities (equivalent to 10 MOSC credits) within 2 of the 3 designated activity categories in years 3, 6, and 9. By year 9, a specialist must have accrued a minimum of 30 MOSC credits and demonstrated professional development in each of the 3 designated activity categories. These activities include professional services, continuing education coursework, publications, presentations, clinical supervision and consultation, research, clinical instruction, and teaching.

    Requirement 3: Practice Performance Through Examples of Clinical Care and Reasoning

    • The purpose of this requirement is to document continuing competency in patient/client management in the specialty area.
    • The specialist will use an online system to complete 1 reflective portfolio submission in years 3, 6, and 9 of his or her certification cycle. These reflective portfolio submissions will be used to demonstrate the specialist's use of clinical care and reasoning. Each submission must have a reflective component and must have documentation that reflects clinical reasoning.
    • These reflective portfolio submissions will not be scored but will be screened for completion of required information and reflection.

    Requirement 4: Cognitive Expertise Through a Test of Knowledge in the Profession

    • During year 10 of the certification cycle, the specialist will be required to sit for a recertification examination, comprising approximately 100 items. The exam will be specialty specific, assess an individual's cognitive expertise in the specialty area, and reflect contemporary specialist practice.
    • The exam blueprint breakdown for this exam will mirror that of the initial certification exam, as noted in the various Descriptions of Specialty Practice. Items will be coded and pulled from existing specialty item banks.
    • Successful completion of requirements 1-3 are prerequisites for sitting for the recertification exam. If a specialist fails to receive a passing score after the first attempt, he or she will be permitted to sit for the exam 1 additional time and will maintain his or her certification during this 1-year grace period.

    Proposed Timeline for Implementation

    • Systems will be in place for the launch of the new MOSC process by mid-2016.
    • All individuals who are newly certified or recertified as of 2013 will be subject to the new MOSC process. This will include a waiver of the first 3-year requirements, meaning that board-certified specialists certified or recertified in 2013 and 2014, and those who will certify and recertify in 2015, will be required to fulfill the year 6 (second 3-year) requirements beginning in 2016, 2017, and 2018 respectively.  As of 2016, all individuals who will newly certify or recertify will be subject to the MOSC process, as described, in its entirety.
    • The first recertification exams will be administered in 2023.

    Any additional questions/concerns should be addressed to staff at spec-recert@apta.org or 800/999-APTA (2782), ext. 3165.

  • Last Updated: 8/15/2016
    Contact: spec-recert@apta.org