Many professions require an extensive level of education, and medicine is certainly one of them. It can be confusing to see a string of extra letters after someone’s name. What does it all mean? And what does it mean to you, the patient?
Physical Therapists today receive a similar base education and are all required to pass the same National licensure exam. But pathways towards this profession - and through it, once we are actually treating patients - are not always so clear.
Firstly - what are all those letters? The letters after a clinician’s name primarily denote their profession. MD stands for Medical Doctor, DDS is a Doctor of Dental Science, DO is a Doctor of Osteopathy, DC is a Doctor of Chiropractic, and DPT is a Doctor of Physical Therapy, just to name a few. In the profession of Physical Therapy - you may see some variations. While the Doctorate degree is the most recent entry-level degree (for about the past 10 years), you may see PTs with a Master’s degree (MSPT) or even a Bachelor’s degree (BSPT). While the level of degree is different, the years of experience that these clinicians posess is invaluable.
The remaining letters after the degree stand for certain certifications or achievements that the clinican has earned. While the requirements of the different certifications varies greatly - often from 2-3 courses to upwards of 3+ years and dozens of courses - the accomplishments of each are to be commended.
Finally - what does it mean to me, the patient? By many state laws (including New York), PTs are required to complete a number of continuing eduation hours every three years to maintain their licensure. However, a single class does not result in a certification. Many certifications require multiple courses, and written and/or oral/practical exams. The achievement of those extra letters signifies many sacrificed weekends and vacation days, hours spent studying and a commitment to advancing our clinical practice. The result is a higher level of care and a greater skillset to offer you, the patient.
A very brief list is included below, along with some links, for your own interest and research.
PT - The credentials PT stand for Physical Therapist. Some variations (BS PT, MSPT, DPT) denote the clinician's degree. BS PT holds a Bachelor of Science. This was the entry level degree until about 1979. MSPT is a Masters of Science in Physical Therapy, and this advanced degree was the education level until about 1999. As the profession became more research based and autonomous, the degree then transitioned to a Doctor of Physical Therapy. In many states, including New York, DPTs may treat patients without a prescription.
OCS - Orthopedic Certified Specialists pass a comprehensive exam that covers all aspects of Orthopedic Physical Therapy. Specialists with this certification often work with Outpatient PT clinics or sports teams.
SCS - Sports Certified Specialists pass a comprehensive exam that evaluates PTs in the specialty area of Sports Physical Therapy. These specialists are often associated with professional sports teams.
CSCS - Physical Therapists and personal trainers may take an exam to become a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. This material is valuable in designing exercise programs for patients, clients and athletes.
CFMT - The designation of Certified Functional Manual Therapist is awarded from the Institute of Physical Art in Steamboat, CO. The approach is an eclectic and active approach to treating orthopedic and neurological disorders. This certification often takes years to prepare for and culminates in a week-long exam, which may explain why there are only about 200 CFMTs in the US.
COMT - Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapists have studies the Maitland approach to treatment and passed examinations that demonstrate competency.
FAAOMPT - Clinicians with these letters have completed an intensive training called a Fellowship. A Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Therapists has reached the highest level of PT training.