When looking for a physical therapist, you might have noticed different letters after the therapist’s name and wondered what they mean. This “alphabet soup” represents degrees, credentials, and certifications that the therapist has achieved. Physical therapists are licensed by state regulatory boards and certified by the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), which has established specific guidelines for how therapists can present their credentials.

  1. Let’s Start With the Basics

 John Smith, PT, DPT

Physical therapists are identified by:

  • their name
  • their professional license (“PT”), and
  • the highest degree they’ve obtained, which is typically either a Master’s of Physical Therapy (“MPT” or “MSPT”) or a Doctorate of Physical Therapy (“DPT”)
  1. Now Let’s Take It a Step Further

Physical therapists may pursue additional specialized certifications, which then become represented with additional letters behind their name. Again, referring to the APTA’s guidelines, after the items outlined in the step above, the order of designation of letters should be:

  • Specialist certification credentials (in alphabetical order)
  • Other credentials external to APTA
  • Other certification or professional honors

Below, we’ve provided a quick guide to the credentials that you may see behind your EXCEL therapist’s name. Being familiar with all these letters can help you pick the physical therapist right for you. 

  • DPT – Doctorate of Physical Therapy
    A clinician who has obtained their Doctorate of Physical Therapy has completed a clinical program from an accredited university and passed their board of certification examination. A DPT is different from a PhD because rather than focusing on research and scholarly work, obtaining a DPT requires specific clinical competencies to practice independently. As of 2020, all physical therapy programs will be required to be doctorate programs.
  • MPT/MSPT – Master’s of Physical Therapy
    Similar to a DPT, a clinician who has obtained their Master’s of Physical Therapy has completed an accredited program at the graduate level and passed their board of certification examination.
  • ATC – Certified Athletic Trainer
    A Certified Athletic Trainer is an allied health profession in and of itself. To become an ATC, a student must graduate with at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited athletic training program. Once schooling and clinical rotations are completed, he or she must pass a board of certification exam. One board certified, an ATC is required to maintain ongoing continuing education requirements to keep active certification and licensure.

American Board of Physical Therapy Specialist credentials: 

  • OCS – Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopedic Physical Therapy
    An Orthopedic Clinical Specialist must apply to the board after submitting evidence of a minimum 2,000 hours of direct patient care in an orthopedic specialty clinic, or have completed an APTA-accredited post professional clinical residency. Upon completion of clinical requirements, the practitioner must sit for yet another certification exam to obtain this credential.
  • SCS – Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Sports Physical Therapy
    A Sports Clinical Specialist must undergo similar requirements as an OCS, with the additional modification that the hour requirement must include 100 hours of documented athletic venue coverage (similar to Athletic Training coverage).

Other specialty credentials:

  • CEAS – Certified Ergonomics Assessment Specialist
    A Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist will be able to provide and design specific assessments and solutions for workplace discomfort.
  • CSCS – Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist
    A Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist is a professional who applies scientific knowledge to training athletes with the primary goal of improving athletic performance. This certification is regulated by the National Strength and Conditioning Association and requires practitioners to pass the CSCS examination.
  • CSMT – Certified Spinal Manual Therapist
    A Certified Spinal Manual Therapist is able to demonstrate current, evidence-based treatment for spinal related disorders. This certification focuses on manual therapy and manipulative treatments and is offered by the International Spine and Pain Institute.
  • MDT – Certified in the McKenzie Method® of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy®
    A physical therapist that holds a cert. MDT credential is proficient and certified in the McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy. This method of assessment and treatment is a classification system and a classification-based treatment for patients with spinal or extremity pain. The McKenzie Method uses primarily self-treatment strategies to achieve lasting improvement.
  • MTC – Manual Therapy Certification
    A Certified Manual Therapists utilizes specific hand placements and application to restore normal movement to the joints and soft tissues. To obtain a manual therapy certification a practitioner must complete a series of seminars while culminate in a comprehensive examination consisting of written, oral and practical testing, along with a comprehensive online review and face-to-face evaluation.

Is your head spinning yet? Believe it or not, this list is not inclusive and is ever-growing! If you ever are curious about what those letters next to your therapist’s name stand for, just ask them!

Beth Pelletier, ATC

Beth Pelletier, ATC

Physician Relations Coordinator