• Both the residency and fellowship experiences combine opportunities for ongoing mentoring and formal and informal feedback to the physical therapist resident or fellow-in-training, including required written and live patient practical examinations, with a foundation in scientific inquiry, evidence-based practice, and course work designed to provide a theoretical basis for advanced practice. Each program is based on a well-defined, systematic process for establishing content validity of the curriculum that describes practice in a defined area. Residencies are created in a specialty area; fellowships should have a curriculum based in one or more subspecialty areas. In specialty areas where validated competencies have been identified, the curriculum should be based on those competencies. In addition, the curriculum should be consistent with the most current version of APTA's Guide to Physical Therapist Practice.

    Specialized and subspecialized programs must include postprofessional education and training in the scientific principles underlying practice applications. The curriculum sets forth the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values needed to achieve the educational goals and objectives of the program.

    The program has the responsibility to include activities that promote the physical therapist resident's or fellow's-in-training continued integration of practice, research, and scholarly inquiry, consistent with the program's mission and philosophy. An evaluation component helps to ensure that the stated goals are being met by the physical therapist resident or fellow-in-training through the curriculum plan.

    The program has a comprehensive curriculum that has been developed from, and is reflective of a validated analysis of practice, or comprehensive needs assessment (nonclinical programs only) and that incorporates concepts of professional behavior and ethics.

    The program's curriculum must cover the entire corresponding Descriptions of Specialty Practice (DSP), Descriptions of Advanced Specialty Practice (DASP), valid analysis of practice, or comprehensive needs assessment for that specialty/subspecialty. When a new DSP is published in the program's content area, the program must report their plan for updating their curriculum to be consistent with the most current DSP in the annual report. Those changes must be complete by the time of recredentialing.

    The program provides a systematic set of learning experiences that addresses the content (knowledge, skills, and behaviors) needed to attain the performance outcomes for the clinical residents or fellows-in-training.

    • All residents must have a minimum of 150 hours of 1:1 mentoring and 75 hours of didactic instruction over the course of the program.
    • All fellows-in-training must have a minimum of 100 hours of 1:1 mentoring and 50 hours of advanced didactic instruction within an area of subspecialty over the course of the program.

    The didactic instruction may include a variety of educational opportunities, including but not limited to, case review, didactic classroom instruction, chat room, problem solving sessions, clinical rounds, and other planned educational experiences.

    Clinical Residency Programs

    If the curriculum of the residency program is in an area or a portion of an area where American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) specialist certification exists, the curriculum must reflect the entire spectrum of the current ABPTS Description of Specialty Practice (DSP). If the curriculum of the residency or fellowship program is not in an area where ABPTS specialist certification exists, the curriculum must reflect the use of an analysis of practice using validated process. The validated analysis of practice must be approved by ABPTRFE prior to establishing the program curriculum. See the definition for "Analysis of Practice" in ABPTRFE Credentialing Handbook for requirements related to conducting an analysis of practice for the purpose of developing a new residency or fellowship practice area. Please note that ABPTRFE approval of an analysis of practice and residency program is not formal recognition of a specialty area as defined by APTA. In addition, ABPTRFE recognition does not guarantee recognition by ABPTS and ABPTS retains its authority to require additional work and documentation should a petition to establish a specialty area be filed with ABPTS.

    Sports Physical Therapy Residency Programs

    Sports physical therapy residency programs must meet the following additional requirements:

    • A minimum of 1500 hours of clinical practice in a variety of settings that allow for at least 40% sports physical therapy caseload
    • A minimum of 200 hours of sports physical therapy coverage at athletic venues

    Clinical Fellowship Programs

    If the curriculum of the fellowship program is in a portion of an area where ABPTS specialist certification exists, the curriculum must reflect the current ABPTS DSP and also extend beyond the DSP in its scope. That is, the program may establish the fellowship curriculum, including didactic content, competency expectations, and description of patients seen through one of the following two methods: 1) A valid and reliable analysis of practice in the subspecialty area; or 2) Expansion of applicable portions of a DSP providing a detailed description of the knowledge, competency expectations, and types of patients seen, including references where appropriate. Orthopedic manual physical therapy fellowships must follow the most recent version of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists (AAOMPT's) Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapy Description of Advanced Specialist Practice (DASP).

    Orthopedic Manual Physical Therapy Programs

    Orthopedic manual physical therapy programs must meet the following additional requirements:

    A minimum total of 1,000 hours with at least 90% orthopedic case load that includes:

    1. A minimum of 200 hours of theoretical/cognitive and scientific study in orthopedic manual physical therapy (OMPT) knowledge areas.

    2. A minimum of 160 hours, including 100 hours spinal and 60 hours extremity, practical (lab) instruction in OMPT examination and treatment techniques.

    3. A minimum of 440 hours of clinical practice with an orthopedic manual physical therapist instructor available

    • A minimum of 130 hours (of the 440 hours) of clinical practice must be under the direct 1:1 clinical mentoring of the instructor in which the fellow-in-training must serve as the primary clinician responsible for the patient/client's care for 110 of these 130 hours. The remaining 20 hours of the 130 hours may be devoted to observation, discussion, and interaction with the mentor on patient/client management.
    • A minimum of 40 hours (within the 440 hours) of interaction with the clinical instructors in non-patient care situations must be included in the curriculum. The focus of these hours should be related to clinical problem solving. Various methods may be employed including small group tutorials and "chat room" discussions between peers and clinical faculty, onsite or phone/web-based technology interaction.

    Developing Curricula

    First, the program should check for a valid practice analysis that details the intended subspecialty area. If there is none, the program must engage in a practice analysis. Contacting the Committee on Clinical Residency and Fellowship Program Credentialing is a critical first step to assure that the practice analysis is conducted to meet Committee requirements. By way of example, suppose an early intervention physical therapy residency program in pediatrics wanted to develop a curriculum. The program could use the Pediatric DSP as the basis for the curriculum. A fellowship program could use an already published and accepted practice analysis or develop their own practice analysis using the early intervention component of the pediatric DSP as a guideline. The fellowship is challenged to focus its curriculum on the proficiency of advanced clinical and didactic knowledge and skills for clinicians who already possess specialization.

    Curricula Development Resources 

    Practice Analysis and Curricula Standardization

    Practice analysis and curricula standardization are fundamental consumer protection and payer/policymaker survival issues. Physical therapists and consumers need to know that a residency or fellowship graduate can perform a minimally acceptable standard of care for a particular diagnosis. A system of standardized residency or fellowship curricula would indicate that all graduates of a residency or fellowship program should be able to perform the standard care for patients as described in the DACP or DSP or through a clear and sound practice analysis. It is essential that the practice analysis be valid and early discussion with the Committee is essential.

    Outcomes Assessment in Physical Therapy Education

    The Outcomes Assessment in Physical Therapy Education is a resource designed for physical therapist and physical therapist assistant educators and educational programs. Because this document presents the various perspectives on and levels of outcomes assessment, it has applicability to physical therapist residency and fellowship programs. It also describes how the various elements of assessment might fit together. The information located in this document provides physical therapy education programs, faculty, and researchers with a systematic structure for use in assessing program and graduate outcomes.

  • Last Updated: 3/26/2013
    Contact: resfel@apta.org