Contact Us   |   Print Page   |   Report Abuse   |   Sign In   |   Register
Understanding the PT Degree
Share |


                                             PT & PTA Degree Breakdown

Initials or degrees following a healthcare professional's name, often signifies education earned, experience, and level of competency and expertise in a particular area.

The following table explains degrees and initials often used in the Physical Therapy Profession. These designators identify PTs and PTAs' level of academic education and/or area of advanced education, experience, and skill.

For more information regarding academic designators please contact APTA's Professional Development Department at




Regulatory Designators



The initials PT represent all licensed physical therapists.

Physical therapists are licensed professionals who have completed an accredited physical therapist program (professional entry-level degrees have evolved from certificate to a clinical doctoral degree) and have passed a licensure examination.


The initials PTA represent all physical therapist assistants who are permitted to provide physical therapy services under the direction and supervision of a physical therapist.

Physical therapist assistants are educated at the associate degree level. Depending on state law, they may be licensed, certified, registered, or unregulated. They must meet the state requirements to work as a PTA.


Physical therapy aides and technicians have no regulatory designator.

Physical therapy aides and technicians are on-the-job-trained workers in the physical therapy clinic who assist the PT/PTA with tasks related to physical therapy services. They are not eligible for license, certification, or registration.

Professional Designators


The initials FAPTA represent Fellow of the American Therapy Association. These are PTs who have been recognized by the Association for work that has resulted in lasting and significant advances in the science, education, and practice of the profession of physical therapy

Fellows of the American Physical Therapy Association are physical therapists. Most have advanced degrees, but that is not a requirement for being nominated or selected as a fellow.


APTA Designators Indicating Advanced Clinical Practice in Specialty Areas









Specialist certification initials represent PTs who demonstrate competence in both specialized knowledge and advanced clinical proficiency. The special areas are listed below:

  • CCS (Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Certified Specialist)
  • ECS (Clinical Electrophysiologic Certified Specialist)
  • GCS (Geriatric Certified Specialist)
  • NCS (Neurologic Certified Specialist)
  • OCS (Orthopedic Certified Specialist)
  • PCS (Pediatric Certified Specialist)
  • SCS (Sports Certified Specialist)
  • WHCS (Women's Health Certified Specialist)


PTs must meet the following minimum eligibility requirements to sit for the specialist certification examinations:

  1. Current licensure to practice physical therapy in the United States, Puerto Rico, or the Virgin Islands; and
  2. Evidence of a minimum of 2,000 hours of direct patient care in the specialty area, 25% of which must have occured within the last 3 years.

Additional specific requirements are required by each specialty area. PTs must pass the specialist certification examination and be recognized by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties to use the designator. The certification is effective for 10 years, after which re-certification is required



Academic Designators



These initials represent PTs with an entry-level master's degree:Master of Physical Therapy or Master of Science in Physical Therapy.

Indicates physical therapists who earned a master's degree upon completion of the physical therapist professional program.


These initials represent PTs with a Clinical Doctoral Degree in Physical Therapy.

Indicates PTs who earned a clinical doctoral degree upon completion of the physical therapist professional program. Also indicates licensed PTs (already holding a certificate, bachelor, or master's entry-level physical therapist degree) who have completed a post professional transitional doctoral physical therapist degree program to advance their knowledge and skills to the clinical doctoral level.




These initials represent PTs who may have completed post professional (beyond entry-level) master's degrees in physical therapy, including master of science (MS or MSc), and master of art (MA).

Post professional master's degree programs advance the PTs knowledge beyond that of entry-level, generally in an area of clinical, research, or administrative concentration.








These initials represent PTs who complete master's degrees in related areas such asmaster in health (MHE),master in public health (MPH),master of business administration (MBA),master in public administration (MPA), and master in health science (MHS or MHSc).

The master's degree designator typically follows the regulatory designator (eg, PT, MS). These programs often require a scholarly work called a theses.








These initials represent PTs other post professional clinical doctoral degrees, including the doctor of science (ScD or DSc),doctor of science in physical therapy (DScPT),doctor of physical therapy science (DPTSc), science doctor of physical therapy (ScDPT), and doctor of health science (DHSc or DHS).

Post professional clinical doctoral degrees may generally advance the practicing physical therapist's knowledge and skill in contemporary practice and/or may focus on a specialized area of clinical practice with a mentored clinical practice experience. Some of these programs are designed to prepare the graduate for the board specialty certification examination, and some require a doctoral project or dissertation.


These initials typically represent PTs and PTAs who have earned the academic doctor of philosophy degree, to be able to conduct independent research and to prepare for a role as an academic faculty member.

Doctor of philosophy denotes an academic doctoral degree that includes a major scholarly work called a dissertation. Typical PhD program require 60 or more credits beyond the post professional master's degree.




These initials represent PTs who earn doctoral degrees in areas not related to physical therapy, such aslaw (JD),education (EdD), and psychology (PsyD) depending on their interests and work responsibilities.


Association Management Software Powered by YourMembership  ::  Legal