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Alphabet Soup


Are more letters better?

The question brings to mind the popular AT&T commercial currently airing which features a guy in his 30s sitting around a table in a classroom with a group of four kids.  He asks similar questions, “Is bigger better?”, “Would you rather be faster or slower?”, “Would you rather have more or less?” while the cameras roll, catching the excited answers of the kids and his deadpan responses.  I bet if he asked those kids (or a group of adults, for that matter) if more letters behind a name were better than fewer letters, they would all agree that more is better.  But is that really the case?  Are the number of letters after a therapist’s name  related to their skill as a physical therapist?

No other profession knows their alphabet better than healthcare.  Only in healthcare do you find such a mix of letters designating specific licenses, degrees, and certifications extending beyond a practitioners name, often coming close to Twitter’s 140 character count limit.  Sitting around the table at the Sports Physical Therapy Section conference in Las Vegas one year, several of my colleagues and I began quizzing one another on just what all of those letters meant.  One physical therapist even had a running list he kept on his iPhone where he wrote down every combination of letters he came across after someone’s name.  We stumped each other with a few, which made me wonder if consumers were just as confused by all of those letters.

In this month’s edition of Today in PT, writer Terese McUsic describes several different certifications and states, “PTs are increasingly finding that adding specialty designations can increase their patient base and enable them to explore cutting-edge therapies.”  John Lowman, PT, PhD, CCS, chairman of the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties claims that certification can increase credibility in the eyes of referral sources though, from my experience, referral sources rarely know what even the most common physical therapy credentials stand for.

A statement I hear with increasing frequency is, “He’s a DPT.”  No, he’s a PT.  The fact is, most consumers believe that a physical therapist with a DPT is more skilled than one who earned their Masters of Science or even Bachelor’s Degree in Physical Therapy.  I would argue that the difference in degree is more a reflection of how long the therapist has been practicing, since the DPT degree was far less common as little as 10 years ago.  However, this is not an article meant to discuss the value of a DPT, but rather to point out that referral sources and patients alike need to be informed about the various credentials after your name, and how those certifications may not only differentiate you as a therapist, but also influence your treatment philosophy and style.

Credential List (special thanks to Bryce Taylor, PT, MS for helping out with this list):

PT-physical therapist (not personal trainer)

MS-Masters of Science

DPT-Doctor of Physical Therapy

DPTSc-Doctor of Physical Therapy Science

DHSc- Doctor of Health Sciences

DHS-Doctor of Health Sciences

CCS – Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Certified Specialist

ECS – Clinical Electrophysiologic Certified Specialist

GCS – Geriatric Certified Specialist

NCS – Neurologic Certified Specialist

OCS – Orthopaedic Certified Specialist

PCS – Pediatric Certified Specialist

SCS – Sports Certified Specialist

WCS – Women’s Health Certified Specialist

FAAOMPT-Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapists

FAPTA- Fellows of the American Physical Therapy Association

DMT-Doctor of Manual Therapy

MOMT- Master of Orthopedic Manual Therapy

CSMT- Certified Spinal Manual Therapist

GDMT- Graduate Diploma in Manipulative Therapy

MCSP- Member of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

CFMT-Certified Functional Manual Therapist

COMT- Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist

OMT-Orthopedic Manual Therapist

MDT- Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy

CMP-Certified Mulligan Practitioner

ATC-Athletic Trainer

CSCS-Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist

CLT- Certified Lymphedema Specialist (not to be confused with Certified Lab Technician)

CPE- Certified Professional Ergonomist

CVT- Canine Physical Therapist (yes, our best friend needs PT too!)

CERP-Certified Equine Rehabilitation Practitioner

CDMS- Certified Disability Management Specialist

LMBT- Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist

MMT- Master Massage Therapist

LMT-Licensed Massage Therapist

RYT-Registered Yoga Teacher

CPI-Certified Pilates Instructor (though there is no one Pilates Certification Board)

PES- Performance Enhancement Specialist

HFS-Health Fitness Specialist

ART-Active Release Technique

CKTP- Certified Kinesiotape Practitioner

CGFI-1- Certified Golf Fitness Instructor Level I

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continuing education, physical therapy, physical therapy degrees