Becoming a Clinical Electrophysiology Physical Therapist: The Ultimate Guide
March 15, 2021
Electrophysiology physical therapists use electricity to heal people. As an EPT, you'll use innovative science and cutting-edge technology to help patients recover from wounds, muscle spasms, neuromuscular disorders, and chronic pain.
Electrophysiology—the use of electricity in medical applications—is most common in cardiology, where it is used to treat arrhythmia, among other conditions. The practice has applications beyond the cardiovascular system, however. It can also be used to diagnose and treat musculoskeletal and nervous system conditions, and it can be very effective in wound management. Both of these applications are central to electrophysiology physical therapy.
Through electrophysiology, PTs can help patients:
- Avoid blood clots
- Prevent and treat muscle spasms
- Improve circulation
- Relieve pain
- Recover from wounds, including ulcers and post-surgical incisions
Clinical electrophysiology physical therapy was first recognized as a practice in 1982, making it a relative newcomer to the PT discipline. Today it remains a small but growing specialization. Interested in learning how to join this elite group of PTs? In this article, we'll cover:
- Kinds of clinical electrophysiology physical therapist careers
- Pros and cons of becoming a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
- Educational commitment to become a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
- Licensure and accreditation for becoming a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
- Resources for becoming a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
- Typical advancement path for a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
- Further accreditation or education for a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
- Should you become an electrophysiology physical therapist?
Kinds of clinical electrophysiology physical therapist careers
In your clinical practice as an electrophysiology physical therapist, you'll use electrotherapy and electromyography to evaluate and treat damage to:
Much of your work will deal with diagnostics and evaluation. You will need skills in such techniques as dry needling and in managing equipment such as a TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) unit. You will also need a strong grasp of anatomy.
Electrophysiology physical therapists help patients by:
- Running nerve conduction studies
- Using electric currents to facilitate the healing of wounds
- Using general physical therapy practices to help with pain management, mobility, tissue repair, blood circulation improvement, and muscle spasms
You may choose to specialize further within the field of clinical electrophysiology by focusing on wound healing or electromyography (EMG); the latter is a diagnostic that helps find the causes of muscle weakness. To learn more about PT specializations and the different careers available in PT, consult The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) website.
Becoming a PT requires a bachelor's degree as well as a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. You do not need to earn a master's degree to enter a DPT program.
Physical therapists earn a median income of $87,930 according to the BLS. Those who have a physical therapy specialty, however, can earn even more. According to a survey from the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS), nearly 40 percent of employers offer a raise to employees who specialize. Additionally, 43 percent of employers said they would offer a "non-financial" reward, such as a new job title, to specialists to improve job satisfaction. ABPTS has board-certified fewer than 200 electrophysiology PTs, making it difficult to track specific income data for this relatively rare specialization.
Pros and cons of becoming a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
Pros of becoming a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
- Help people heal, manage pain, and feel better
- Interact with patients and form bonds over time
- Study, research and treat interesting medical conditions
- Earn a high income
Cons of becoming a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
- Watching patients struggle can be emotionally exhausting
- Diagnosing and treating pain is a big responsibility
- As in all medical professions, you could be sued for malpractice
- The job requires a significant amount of schooling
- In pursuing your education, you could accrue substantial student debt
Educational commitment to become a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
Commitment is key to your physical therapist career path, as physical therapy school, residency, and obtaining specialty certifications can take five to ten years.
It typically takes seven years of schooling (not including your residency) to become a licensed electrophysiology physical therapist. The most common pathway is first to earn a bachelor's degree in pre-physical therapy, kinesiology, or another health sciences field, and then attend a DPT program. The DPT typically requires three years of full-time study. Before beginning a program, it's a good idea to work as a PT tech or physical therapist assistant so you can get a feel for the job. Working in a clinical setting will also allow you to explore different specializations.
Some schools offer physical therapy programs that allow students to combine their bachelor's degree with their DPT. These programs reduce the amount of time students need to spend in school (often by about a year), which may also lower the total cost of your education. These programs represent an excellent option for motivated high school students who know for sure they want to be PTs. Such programs are available at schools like:
- Baylor University
- Boston University
- Drexel University
- Elon University
- Ithaca College
- Sacred Heart University
- University of Hartford
- Wichita State University
In the past, you could become a physical therapist with just a master's degree. Now, however, every new physical therapist must earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) through a Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE)-accredited program. Those holding the master's have been grandfathered; they are not required to return to school to earn the DPT. How patients and employers will treat PTs holding the MPT is another question. MPTs may do well to pursue additional education, either by adding certifications or upgrading their degrees to a DPT.
There are some post-professional degree programs for physical therapists licensed under old guidelines. These programs help licensed physical therapists transition from their master's to a DPT. A number of them are available online. Schools that offer these programs include:
- Andrews University
- Chapman University
- Governors State University
- Hardin-Simmons University
- Nova Southeastern University
- University of Nevada - Las Vegas
- University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences
- Utica College
- Wayne State University
- Western University of Health Sciences
Licensure and accreditation for becoming a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
Physical therapy specialists are licensed and accredited through state regulatory boards, meaning that requirements vary from state to state. Check your local state regulatory board to learn the exact requirements in the state where you hope to practice. Most states require at least the following:
- A degree from an approved DPT physical therapy program
- A passing score on the national licensing exam
- Transcripts, additional assessments, criminal background check, and professional liability insurance
After earning your license, you'll complete a physical therapy residency, which is different from being a physical therapy assistant. According to the APTA, a residency includes completing a minimum of 1,500 on-the-job training hours within a 9 to 36-month period.
Once you're licensed as a general physical therapist, you can apply for specializations. There are nine in total:
- Cardiovascular and pulmonary
- Clinical electrophysiology
- Women's health
You can obtain certification through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). Minimum requirements for your board certification include:
- A physical therapy license in your state
- Clinical education experience
- Patient reports and testing logs
- Direct patient care as a licensed physical therapist or through a residency
- A passing score on the certification exam
Electrophysiology physical therapist students must complete a 1,000-hour fellowship program. These are designed to "advance one's knowledge and skill set in clinical and nonclinical settings, although these physical therapy programs are intended for the more seasoned professional looking to advance in a subspecialty area of practice," says the APTA. The fellowship must be completed within 36 months.
Resources for becoming a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) is an excellent resource for current pre-physical therapy students and clinical electrophysiology physical therapists alike. Consider attending one of the three national conferences hosted by APTA every year. Connecting with other professionals is a great way to make sure you're following evidence-based practice and meeting your patients' needs.
Membership benefits include:
- Career development
- Networking opportunities
- Information on evidence-based practices and tools
- Physical therapy news
- Payment resources
- Scholarships and financial solutions
- Discounts for hotels, car rentals, and other products
Other useful organizations include:
- The Academy of Clinical Electrophysiology and Wound Management
- The Foundation for Physical Therapy Research
- The American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties
- The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy
- Physical Therapy Political Action Committee
- World Confederation for Physical Therapy
- American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education
Typical advancement path for a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
Clinical electrophysiology physical therapists usually start out as general physical therapists and gain experience on the job before deciding to specialize. Those who decide to specialize will spend their days identifying and diagnosing patients with afflictions such as:
- Focal peripheral neuropathy (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome)
- Polyneuropathy (e.g., demyelinating, axonal, hereditary)
- Motor neuron disease
- Myopathy (e.g., muscular dystrophy, myositis)
- Neuromuscular junction defect (e.g., myasthenia gravis, botulism)
Electrophysiology PTs also may conduct clinical trials to develop and advance their careers.
Since clinical electrophysiology physical therapy is a specialty that can require more than a decade of work to obtain, it is usually a final position for physical therapists. Those with business acumen and desire may decide to open a private electrophysiological practice. This can increase income, although it does require greater attention to the business side of PT.
Further accreditation or education for a clinical electrophysiology physical therapist
Your initial board certification license will be valid for 10 years. The recertification process, called the Maintenance of Specialist Certification (MOSC), is a "model of continued competency that focuses on continued competence of the physical therapist specialist throughout the years."
The universal requirements for MOSC include:
- Valid current certification
- An application fee (about $650 or $910, depending on your APTA membership status)
- Documented evidence of the equivalent of 200 hours per year of "direct" specialty patient care for every year since you were last certified. If you are renewing a license after 10 years, the number is 2,000 hours total—with at least 200 coming in the previous three years.
- Three patient reports, each containing a different diagnosis according to the APTA specifications
There are three options to renew your certification:
- Take the "specialist certification exam"
- Complete an APTA-accredited post-professional clinical residency
- Submit a Professional Development Portfolio (PDP)
Should you become an electrophysiology physical therapist?
Physical therapists play a critical role in our healthcare system, helping to reduce pain and improve mobility for millions of patients a year. With a specialization in electrophysiology physical therapy, you will be among a relatively few practitioners in your field. How well that positions you for success depends on the demand for your services in your region. You may want to pursue another specialization in addition to electrophysiology to broaden your options and strengthen your résumé.
As an electrophysiology physical therapist, you'll have expertise in treating pathologies of the central nervous system and the musculoskeletal system. You will assist in diagnosing serious conditions and helping patients find relief from them. You'll also be proficient in managing severe wounds. If all that isn't enough, you'll also earn a pretty good living in the process. If you're a prospective PT looking for a specialization, electrophysiology is certainly worth your consideration.
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