APPROPRIATE USE OF PHYSICAL THERAPIST DESIGNATIONS
During June of 2016, the American Physical Therapy Association’s House of Delegates adopted a motion (RC 4-16) that limits the use of abbreviated physical therapist designations after a physical therapist’s or physical therapist assistant’s name. The motion, which was introduced by the Arizona delegation, is designed to decrease consumer confusion: the use of abbreviations is reduced, while other physical therapist designations—including many honors and certifications—are either written out in full or omitted, depending on the circumstances. During discussion of the motion, a member of the Arizona delegation produced an enlarged, mock business card of a physical therapist, who had a lengthy list of abbreviations and designations following the P.T. designation, with the majority of the abbreviations/designations not being easily identified by the APTA members present. The point of the presentation was: If physical therapists could not easily recognize or identify the meanings of many of the abbreviations/designations used by their colleagues, than how could non-medical consumers be expected to know the meanings
The APTA has now provided guidance to its members regarding proper order and appearance of acceptable physical therapist designations. The association will use these guidelines in its written materials and encourages APTA components and individual members to follow them as well. There are now 5 categories of abbreviated designations, with category 1 being PT or PTA. The second designation category is the Highest earned physical therapy-related degree (DPT, MPT, MSPT, or BSPT), and the third designation category is Other regulatory designation(s) issued by government entities (ATC, ATC/L, LMSW, LMT, OT, OTR/L, RN, SLP and others as identified). The fourth designation category is Other earned academic degrees (AuD, BA, BS, DO, DPM, DSc, MA, MBA, MD, PharmD, PhD and others as identified). The fifth designation category is optional and includes the fellowship desigantion FAPTA ( Catherine Worthingham Fellow of the American Physical Therapy Association). fellowship designations other than FAPTA will be spelled out. The APTA no longer recognizes or uses the previously used American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties abbreviations (OCS, GCS, NCS,etc) and recommends spelling out these certifications whenever there is room to accommodate them. The APTA will now spell out NON-APTA certifications and honors when space is available and it is contextually appropriate to note the designation, but they will not abbreviated after someone’s name.
An example of compliant use of the current guidelines on business cards, letter and email signatures, when space is available would be Joe Blow, PT, DPT, Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Orthopaedic Physical Therapy, Fellow of the American Association of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists, or if space was not available, simply Joe Blow, PT, DPT. Other relavant examples of the current compliant use of Designations by the APTA and its members can be seen on the the public aPTA webpage on Appropriate Use of Designations at http://www.apta.org/Designations/.
Since only approximately 30% of all licensed physical therapists and 10% of licensed physical therapy assistants are actually APTA members (figures are from APTA), a point of interest resulting from this APTA newly mandated more restrictive use of designations/abbreviations is whether or not non-APTA members will abide by the new guidelines, or what type of enforcement will be enacted if an APTA member does not abide by these guidelines when listing designations on business cards, letter and email signatures etc. CE For Therapy is aware of 100’s of acronyms and designations currently being used by Physical Therapists who provide Continuing Education Link to Credentials/Acronyms page, and we will update this post whenever we see a trend or result that we can report on.