Are you a physical therapist (or soon to be a physical therapist) interested in a specialist certification or becoming a travel therapist? Becoming a physical therapist is an amazing way to help others recover from injuries, bring relief to those in pain, and sharpen your overall skills as a medical professional. It is also a profession that enables you to see more of the country than you probably previously thought. 

Even if you’re certain about pursuing a physical therapy career, you may not be aware of the different physical therapy specialties you can choose from. Not every licensed physical therapist is the same, and many of these specialties will require a specific path to certification. From physical therapy pros and cons, to differences in salary, and even the duties performed on the job, this article will cover everything you need to know about each physical therapy specialization.

What Can You Specialize in as a Travel Physical Therapist?

As a certified and licensed physical therapist, here are the top 6 PT specialties to choose from when becoming a traveler with Host Healthcare:

1. Neurological Certified Specialist

2. Orthopedic Certified Specialist

3. Pediatric Certified Specialist

4. Certified Hand Therapist

5. Director of Rehabilitation

6. Acute Care Physical Therapist

Whether you’re new to the different types of physical therapy or you’re simply looking to learn more before you make a decision, it’s important to understand the unique qualifications, job descriptions, and education needed to pursue these different careers. 

Read on to begin your journey into the world of travel physical therapy!

#1 Neurological Certified Specialist (NCS)

A Neurological Certified Specialist is a physical therapist who works on treating issues in the nervous system. Chronic pain and discomfort related to nerve damage, spinal cord injuries, and chronic nervous system diseases are all treated by this type of physical therapy specialist. 

Common issues that cause a patient to go visit a certified Neurological physical therapist include:

  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Muscular Dystrophy
  • Stroke
  • Brain injury
  • Dystonia

A Neurological Certified Specialist must pass a specialty certification test administered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. This is done after completing a concentrated residency program or a minimum of two years working with neurology patients.

#2 Orthopedic Certified Specialist (OCS)

Orthopedic physical therapy is essential for identifying and resolving bodily issues many of us experience. An Orthopedic physical therapist treats patients who are dealing with conditions of the musculoskeletal system. Diseases and injuries that cause pain or damage to the bones, joints, and muscles can be treated by an OCS. Common issues that would bring a patient to visit an Orthopedic PT are:

  • Arthritis
  • Bone fractures
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Spinal alignment
  • Tendonitis
  • Bursitis
  • Plantar Fasciitis 
  • Joint injuries and inflammation

Before becoming an Orthopedic Specialist, you’ll need to complete a minimum of 2,000 hours of orthopedic patient care. Like all physical therapy specialists, passing a certification exam is also required.

#3 Pediatric Certified Specialist (PCS)

Many children have injuries and conditions that require the help of a Pediatric Certified physical therapist. A PCS is trained to care for patients under 18, and they typically care for a wide range of patients—from babies to teenagers. Since a Pediatric Certified Specialist is not specific to one type of medicine, they often treat a wide variety of conditions. Some of the most common reasons a patient may need Pediatric physical therapy include:

  • Missed growth milestone
  • Developmental delay
  • Genetic disorder
  • Sports injury
  • Birth defect
  • Muscle and nerve conditions, such as multiple sclerosis

Pediatric Certified Specialists spend a lot of time helping children learn basic functions in order to stay on the proper developmental path. From simple exercises that involve balance, walking, and picking things up—to more complex treatment plans, you can expect to see a variety of work in this field. 

To become a certified Pediatric Physical Therapist, you’ll need to complete an internship program during graduate school, a residency program after graduation, and pass the Pediatric certification exam before receiving your clinical specialization.

#4 Certified Hand Therapist (CHT)

Certified Hand Therapists are one of the more specific types of Physical Therapist. While some specialties focus on a broad field of medicine, a CHT focuses on a localized and essential part of the body—the hands. 

Reasons why patients may seek out Hand Therapy include:

  • Hand injury
  • Post-operational recovery
  • Neurological rehabilitation of the hands
  • Preventative treatment against hand conditions

A Certified Hand Therapist must already be trained as a physical or occupational therapist. Becoming a CHT also requires three years of physical therapy experience and a minimum of 4,000 hours of upper extremity rehabilitation practice. A Certified Hand Therapist must renew their credentials every five years in order to continue their specialty practice.

#5 Director of Rehabilitation (DOR)

A Director of Rehabilitation oversees the entire rehabilitation program at their place of work. This type of physical therapist has slightly different duties than the others on this list. As a Director of Rehabilitation, your daily tasks will most likely consist of:

  • Training staff
  • Preparing therapy plans
  • Recruiting other physical therapists
  • Evaluating patient care
  • Leading treatments
  • Sorting out issues within the department

Becoming a Director of Rehabilitation requires a bachelor’s degree in a related major. A master’s degree is also needed for some DOR jobs, and relevant experience on your resume is typically necessary to be hired.

#6 Acute Care Physical Therapist

One unique factor about an Acute Care Physical Therapist is that they work with hospitalized patients. The type of work an Acute Care Physical Therapist does can vary depending on which part of the hospital they work in. This type of physical therapist may help patients who are hospitalized for:

  • Cancer
  • Injury
  • Intensive Care Unit
  • Cardiac issues
  • Oncology

Any condition that forces a patient to be bedridden or severely limits their mobility may require the help of an Acute Care Physical Therapist. 

The main job of a therapist in this specialty is helping patients practice their motor functions and prepare to leave the hospital. Acute Care Therapists help people regain their mobility and live comfortably once they’re released. 

The three main duties this type of therapist focuses on are:

  • Bed Mobility – This refers to a patient’s ability to move around while sitting in bed, which is an important first step to getting the body back to normal following a hospitalization.
  • Transfers – A transfer is a patient’s ability to move from one position to another. For example: moving from the bed to a chair.
  • Ambulation – Ambulation is the technical term for being able to walk. An Acute Physical Care Therapist will help patients who have lost motor function, muscle control, and range of motion to begin taking their first steps after hospitalization.

What is the Highest Paying Physical Therapy Specialty?

Although passion is a motivating factor in choosing your physical therapy specialty, money is important, too. A traveling physical therapist salary is going to vary slightly depending on your title. Below is a list of the average annual salary range for each type of specialist:

  • Neurological Physical Therapist – $32,000 – $116,000.
  • Orthopedic Certified Specialist – $55,218 – $82,912.
  • Pediatric Certified Specialist $42,048 – $77,737.
  • Certified Hand Therapist $73,124 – $93,852.
  • Director of Rehabilitation $46,127 – $79,479.
  • Acute Care Physical Therapist – $54,346 – $87,585.

It’s important to keep in mind that these figures are only an average, and traveling healthcare professionals can make upwards of $100,000 per year with Host Healthcare. In addition to your traveler status, there are some other factors that will influence the amount of money you make annually:

  • Experience
  • What state you live in
  • Gender

Overall, the type of specialist with the highest starting salary was Certified Hand Therapist—however, the specialty with the most room for growth was Neurological Physical Therapist. 

How Do You Get a Specialty in Physical Therapy?

Moving into a specialized field within physical therapy is going to require additional certifications.

The first step to becoming any type of physical therapist is earning a doctor of physical therapy (DPT) at an accredited school. This program typically takes three years to complete, and consists of various science classes and clinical practice. 

Most DPT programs require a bachelor’s degree prior to admission. 

After you’ve completed your DPT program, you’ll need to pass a Physical Therapy licensing exam administered by the state. In addition to this necessary Physical Therapy certification, you’ll also be tested in your chosen specialty by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties. Once you complete additional training and gain your certification, you’ll be able to work as a Physical Therapy specialist.

Specialize in Physical Therapy Across the Country with Host Healthcare

For those who want to bring their healing hands to patients around the country, Host Healthcare is here to help. When you sign up to become a traveling physical therapist with Host Healthcare, you can choose any of the six categories listed here for your application. 

Discovering the exact type of physical therapy that interests you is a crucial step toward advancing your career.  Once you’ve chosen a specialty, gained your certifications, and become a full-fledged physical therapist, you can begin an adventurous journey with Host Healthcare.

The way Host Healthcare works is simple: you sign up as a traveling healthcare professional, and we send you to a new location for a set period of time. Becoming a traveler with Host Healthcare is a great way to see the country, help others, and keep a steady travel therapy job that’s anything but boring. 

Apply today as a physical therapy specialist, and stop wondering what it might be like to travel while doing what you love!