Does Anyone Know the Difference Between a PT (Physical Therapist) & a RPT (Registered Physical Therapist)?

Question by Heather C: Does anyone know the difference between a PT (Physical Therapist) & a RPT (Registered Physical Therapist)?

Best answer:

Answer by Lo
Ah yes, alphabet soup…

RPT is a now archaic description, standing for “registered physical therapist.” The term was widely used prior to the 1990’s when all physical therapists graduated with either a Bachelor’s Degree or an equivalent Certificate of Completion (usually 18 months of study for someone who already had a Bachelor’s Degree in another field of study). In the 1980’s, more politically active physical therapists in the American Physical Therapy Association decided that calling themselves “registered” was contrary to law, since each state has a practice act requiring all practicing physical therapists to be registered anyhow. Therefore, “PT” came into being amongst those physical therapists who actually read their professional journals once in a while. However, there existed further confusion. A competing political group of physical therapists involved in the Council of Licensed Physiotherapists called themselves “PhT.” At this stage, all physical therapists (or physiotherapists) had equivalent education, and it did not matter if you went to an RPT, PT or PhT for care.

Now PT’s are very bright people and many seek to better serve their patients by pursuing higher education. These therapists added MPT to the soup to describe a Master’s in Physical Therapy. Many Bachelor’s programs were just a few credits shy of the Master’s Degree anyhow.

However, academians, in an effort to perpetuate their existence, added clinical doctorate Level education to the mix (DPT) which has today become the gold standard in the education of a physical therapist. Many PT’s are scrambling to get their tDPT, or transitional in order to remain competitive in the market. Many older physical therapists, such as myself, will not succumb to the pressure, as the additional education is costly and entitles us to have the same job which we are now doing! Any physical therapist will tell you that experience matters most when treating a patient.

To further complicate the alphabet soup, board certified clinical specialist distinctions arose from the academic world. Now you may see, “Mary Jones, PT, OCS, NCS, PCS…” and so forth. The specialist distinctions are: CCS – cardio and pulmonary; ECS – electrophysiological; GCS – geriatric; NCS – neurologic; OCS – orthopedic; PCS – pediatric; SCS – sports certified; or WCS – Women’s Health. In the near future, we will also see an oncology specialty. Specialty certifications are nice, but possessing one does not necessarily give that PT more skillful hands. Not possessing one just may mean they’re coaching Little League or driving to ballet lessons in their spare time!

Confused enough? When seeking care from a physical therapist, you may want to do an online investigation with the individual’s state licensing board if there are any past or pending disciplinary actions against that PT. In choosing a therapist, the magical question to me remains to be, “Have you ever worked with this before?”

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