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post residency career paths

5 Fantastic Post Residency Career Paths for the Physical Therapist

One of the many benefits of choosing a career in physical therapy is the multitude of career paths available. Participating in a physical therapy residency program is an example of one avenue that provides clinicians an opportunity to accomplish short-term career goals while working towards earning specialty certification. More importantly, residency serves as a stepping-stone to expedite professional advancement and attainment of long-term career goals by opening the door to alternative career paths. Here are five fantastic examples of post-residency career paths that may be otherwise unattainable without residency training.

1. Fellowship

What is it?

Fellowship programs are post-professional programs intended to train physical therapists beyond specialization in a subspecialty area. More specifically, the ABPTRFE defines a clinical fellowship program in physical therapy as “a post-professional planned learning experience in a focused advanced area of clinical practice. Similar to the medical model, a clinical fellowship is a structured educational experience (both didactic and clinical) for physical therapists.” A clinical fellowship “combines opportunities for ongoing clinical mentoring with a theoretical basis for advanced practice and scientific inquiry in a defined area of subspecialization beyond that of a defined specialty area of clinical practice.”

Who is it for? What are the requirements?

        • New graduates are not eligible for admission to a fellowship program.
        • If you are considering an Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapy Fellowship, candidates may be required to have completed an orthopedic residency program and/or have obtained ABPTS board certification as an Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist. Admission requirements vary among OMPT fellowship programs.
        • General requirements for a fellowship candidate include (1) completion of a residency program in a related specialty area, (2) is a board-certified specialist in the related area of specialty, or (3) has demonstrated clinical skills within a particular specialty area.

Where can I find more information?

According to the ABPTRFE, there are currently 43 accredited fellowship programs, and this number is growing. For more information about clinical fellowship programs and a directory of programs please visit the ABPTRFE website.

2. Postprofessional Advanced Education

There are several programs that provide post-professional graduate educational degrees and advanced certifications for physical therapists. Examples of such programs include clinical doctorate degree (e.g., DScPT, DHSc, DPTSc), advanced masters degree (e.g., MS of Athletic Training), and certificate levels (e.g., Certification in Manual Therapy). Completing a physical therapy residency is generally not a requirement for acceptance into these programs. One of the most common examples is the post-professional Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy (DScPT) degree program. This program is offered in various learning formats (distance versus onsite) and outlines different course requirements depending on the institution. In general, this degree prepares an individual to become a master clinician along with providing skills to teach and do research if so desired. Additionally, the student may have the option to complete a graduate certification program and, for example, become a Certified Manual Therapist.

More information regarding post-professional degree programs can be found on the APTA website.


3. Leadership Roles

Many individuals who complete residency programs have the opportunity to become involved with residency program development and continued growth of advanced clinical practice. Involvement with residency programs can include program development, faculty positions, mentoring, program director, etc. Additional leadership and career advancement opportunities include positions as clinic directors, supervisors, adjunct faculty members, and the like.


4. Entrepreneurship

Perhaps you have always dreamed of opening a physical therapy practice? Being your own boss? Or using your specialization as a marketing tool to treat a specific patient population? Residency education accelerates the skill development of an entry-level clinician to make this an attainable goal. It prepares you to be confident in your clinical decision-making as an autonomous practitioner. Another benefit of residency is gaining a broad network of advanced practitioners that are available to assist you if needed. Furthermore, residency training can be tailored to address specific business management objectives.


5. Intercollegiate and Professional Sports Opportunities

Participating in a sports residency program is one of the most advantageous avenues to pursue a career in sports medicine. And it is almost necessary if not dual-credentialed as an athletic trainer. Aside from developing advanced competencies in clinical skills and evidence-based practice, sports physical therapy residents have the added advantage of developing a broad network of relationships with sports medicine professionals. This enables the sports physical therapist to pursue a variety of career opportunities including: professional or intercollegiate sports teams; athletic clubs or associations; in a private practice that specializes in injury prevention, health and wellness, and/or performance enhancement; recreational facilities or sports complexes; or as first responders at training or competition sites.


Closing Remarks From the Author

Clinicians sometimes debate whether there is value in post-professional residency and fellowship training. For me, the value lies within the goals of the individual.

Where do you want to take your career as a physical therapist?
What impact do you want to have on the growth of the profession?
Do you want to be a leader or business owner in a specialty or subspecialty area of practice?

Residency is more than just how you grow during your training, it is how you grow from it. So if your goals don’t end with earning your doctor of physical therapy degree, then residency is a valuable component your career path.

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About Shanon Fronek

Shanon Fronek
Dr. Shanon Fronek completed her B.S. in Biology at Wilmington College in 2011 and graduated from the University of Dayton in 2014 as a Doctor of Physical Therapy. Currently, she is working towards becoming a Sports Certified Specialist while completing the Sports Residency program at Saint Francis University. Dr. Fronek also holds a leadership position within the Sports Physical Therapy Section on the Public Relations Committee.


  1. Ryan Tollis

    Great article, but I am confused on the wording stating it is a requirement for fellowships to first attend a residency.Can you please provide your source for the following:

    “If you are considering becoming a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists (FAAOMPT), fellowship candidates are required to have completed an orthopaedic residency program and have obtained ABPTS board certification as an Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist.”

    I don’t believe you are required to have attended a residency to become a Fellow, it is just one of the paths to get there. Per the AAOMPT website, eligibility criteria is:

    *Minimum of one year of post- professional orthopaedic clinical experience with one of the following:
    *1. APTA residency training, 2) board certified clinical specialist credential (e.g., OCS), or 3) equivalent of the above determined through portfolio review process.

    If there have been updates to the requirement please share.

    • Shanon Fronek

      Hi Ryan,

      Thank you for sharing your feedback. I understand where the content was a little misleading and I have made some edits.

      You are correct, generally speaking, residency is not always a requirement to participate in a fellowship program. However, when specifically discussing the topic of post-residency careers paths, completing an orthopedic residency program and subsequently obtaining the OCS credential is the most widely accepted requirement across all the OMPT fellowship programs. As you mentioned, there are other pathways to OMPT fellowship including: (1)demonstrating a minimum years of experience (I’ve seen as many as 5 years), and/or (2) being a credentialed clinical specialist in a related area, and/or (3) completing a residency program in a related specialty area. Admissions requirements do vary by program, so readers are encouraged to seek information from each program of interest for more specifics regarding admissions requirements.

      Thanks again for commenting and allowing me to clarify.

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