The intent of this blog post is to share the experiences of four Ohio University Doctorate of Physical Therapy (DPT) program graduates who have pursued physical therapy residencies (Orthopedic, Neurologic, Sports, Women’s Health).
We wish to provide resources and a discussion of each of our experiences for those contemplating physical therapy residency programs. Here is a little bit about each of us and where we are currently practicing.
What Is A Physical Therapy Residency?
Physical Therapy residency programs are geared towards providing post-doctoral education in certain specialty areas of physical therapy (as listed below). Residency programs provide opportunities for professional growth via one-on-one mentoring, structured didactic coursework, and various other learning opportunities. Most residents practice as licensed physical therapists and treat patients in a clinical setting for the majority of their work week, while also having the benefit of working with a mentor for a certain number of patient care hours each week. Residents also attend specialty courses and fulfill duties as diverse as teaching, research, or working with sports teams depending on the requirements of their specific residency program. Residency programs may be associated with academic institutions or privately owned physical therapy companies, such as Therapeutic Associates Physical Therapy or Upstream Rehab Institute(Benchmark Physical Therapy).
If there is a board certification for that specialty area, (certified by the American Board of Physical Therapist Specialties), then the residency will prepare residents to sit for the exam to obtain this certification (e.g. “Orthopedic Clinical Specialist; OCS”) or “Neurologic Clinical Specialist; NCS”).
ABTRFE, or “The American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education”provides accreditation for physical therapy residency and fellowship programs (much like CAPTE does for DPT education). As of this blog writing, there are currently 275 residency programs listed that are accredited through ABTRFE!
Residency programs are currently offered in these areas:
Orthopedics, Neurology, Sports, Acute care, Cardio/pulmonary, Geriatrics, Pediatrics, Women’s health; there are also select programs in: clinical electrophysiology (1), wound management (1), oncology (2)
Is Pursuing Residency Right for You?
Just because it exists does not mean that residency is the best path for you! As a physical therapist, you may have professional goals of owning your own clinic, working in specialty areas, or have teaching or research ambitions that may make residency more or less beneficial for you. Furthermore, you may have family or financial obligations that could make the time or financial demands of residency unappealing or unrealistic.
Reasons to DO a residency:
- Accelerate the “learning curve” for clinical reasoning
Derek:“Quality opportunities within sports medicine are hard to find as a new graduate, and I wanted to help fast track my clinical reasoning skills working with athletes of all levels from high school to professional.”
Jim: “My clinical analysis is much more refined, much quicker, and gets patients better in a much shorter time frame.”
- Structured mentorship
Rosey: “Women’s health can be a sensitive topic and I wanted to have good mentorship as I began treating these patients.”
Jim: “I loved the one-on-one mentorship.”
- Opportunities for RESEARCH (some programs)
- Opportunities for TEACHING (some programs)
Leda:“I have really found myself attracted to teaching as a passion and future career ambition and so I applied for residencies with built in opportunities to gain more teaching experience”
- Specialty certification and/or improve skill set and marketability for future job opportunities
Reasons NOT to do a residency:
- Residency is a lot of extra work (extra didactic work, teaching/research responsibilities, mentoring etc.)
Rosey:“It can feel a little overwhelming at first with all the responsibilities you are juggling and extra work. For example, we have to fill out a patient care log and didactic log all year to make sure that I hit the required 1800 hours of residency time”
- Residency costs money
Most programs either charge you tuition or reduce your salary to offset program costs. Though, it is best to think of your “take home pay” in residency as a combination of monetary salary and education benefits!!! Salary in residency should cover living expenses, though often is lower than other physical therapists practicing in similar geographic and practice settings due to the cost of education .
Derek:“The biggest consideration is to know what you’re getting into. Most sports residencies worth their weight will require long hours on a reduced salary.”
- You may have to travel more
(either for clinic work or didactic coursework) and the expense falls on you!
Leda: “The worst part about my residency experience is my driving commute in Atlanta traffic. It takes me about 1 ½ to 2 hours of driving each day to get to and from the PT clinic that I currently work at.”
- You have other “extras” in your lifethat may deserve attention or priority (family, moving, significant life stressors or illness, financial demands etc.) and so residency may be unrealistic or difficult to manage
How To Apply For PT Residency Programs:
Luckily, most programs accept the standardized application “RF-PTCAS” (“Residency and Fellowship Physical Therapy Centralized Application Service”). Remember applying for DPT programs with “PTCAS”? The residency application process has some similarities to that process. The centralized application for residency is time consuming and there are multiple parts to the application. You will be asked to enter demographic information and certifications, upload educational transcripts and letters of recommendation (usually from physical therapists that you have worked with: i.e., clinical instructors), and to submit answers to essay questions regarding your interest in residency or other prompts. Also, each specific program may have additional essay questions or a supplemental application that you must complete. You will be charged an application fee for each program. More information on applying can be found here: RF-PTCAS Website.
*Note:there are some programs that do NOT use RF-PTCAS and have their own residency application that must be completed.
Not All Residency Programs Are the Same:
Residencies do not have standard time frames or application deadlines. However, most are around 12-14 months in length and most applications are due in the fall/early winter depending on the start date for the program (RF-PTCAS applications usually open in October).
Residency programs also differ in the experiences that they provide. Some may have requirements for teaching or research projects. Some provide didactic coursework on-site as weekend classes, while others use online modules, and still others require travelling for off-site (sometimes out of state!) weekend courses. It is important to evaluate what YOU are looking to get out of residency and then search for programs that fit your own needs and professional goals.
What Is The Residency Experience Like?
Jim: “FIREHOSE – very overwhelming at first, a lot of time commitment, and a lot of deep thinking that I wasn’t sure my brain could handle!”
“A lot of work” but motivating!
Rosey:“I feel like there is a ton to learn about pelvic health and I want to know it all right now! So it can feel a little overwhelming.”
Leda: “It is very rewarding to be able to take courses and apply skills right away versus being in a DPT program as a student and having to wait until your next clinical rotation to practice those skills. I am loving the mix of learning and application, reading and hands on learning that is possible!”
“Hard work” but a good balance:
Derek:“Residency is demanding and they want someone who can handle all that is going to be put on their plate. The variety of experiences, clinical, on-field, educational, and research keeps things fresh and provides a good balance.”
“Opportunities for Interprofessional Collaboration”:
Jim: “CONNECTIONS: I felt like I met everyone in my network, met providers across the continuum, and had a grasp on the pulse of my entire organization.”
“Fantastic Learning Experience”
Rosey: “There are educational and learning opportunities everywhere and my mentors and directors are very supportive of my learning.”
Derek: “The residency structure requires me to justify every treatment and intervention I provide for my patients and that introspection and self-reflection keeps me accountable and actively learning with each patient.”
Jim: “I loved to be able to experience specialty clinics, attend very challenging CEU courses, and to be able to have access to the most complex patients.”
Leda: “We have opportunities to practice new manual therapy techniques, regularly learn and use Clinical Practice Guidelines (CPGs) for diagnosis and treatment including diagnostic test clusters, and are pushed to justify treatments based on the best evidence and up to date research in orthopaedics.”
We hope this information helps you as you decide if a physical therapy residency is the right fit for you!
Please feel free to post questions in the comments section below