One of my favorite things about an occupational therapy degree is that it can serve as a on-ramp into a variety of different specialty certifications.
Many therapists end up informally specializing over the course of their career, simply by practicing in the same area consistently and keeping up with continuing education requirements.
In some instances, though, an occupational therapist can benefit from advanced training and certification.
This post is for occupational therapists who see a need in their area, are looking for a new challenge, or simply feel bored in their current OT practice.
I will provide a ball park figure of the amount of training and cost involved in each path. Please note that the figures are estimates. Regarding time, I did not factor in the time needed to prepare for and take the certification exam, as that would vary depending on the individual.
You can follows links for more comprehensive information about each certification. Links are not endorsements of certain programs.
Certifications to Expand Your OT Practice
Certified Lymphedema Therapist (CLT)
In the SNF setting, I practiced basic lymphedema management under the close supervision of a CLT. However, the opportunity to serve more clients by expanding my expertise was apparent. There are many CEUs out there about lymphedema management, but to be a full-fledged CLT the training can involve the following:
Certified Hand Therapist (CHT)
The OTs I know within this specialty identified early on that this was the path they wished to pursue. Due to the amount of hours required, this is not a certification that you can stumble into. You can practice hand therapy on a basic level with your OT degree, but a CHT certification will set you apart in terms of obtaining referrals. Basic requirements include:
- Prerequisite: 5 years experience as an OT
- Time: 4000 hours of direct practice experience in hand therapy
- Cost: The application for the certification exam is $500
Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)
Thank goodness for the ATPs I have consulted with over the years. As an average OT, you will quickly discover that the world of assistive technology can be hard to keep up with when you are managing a busy caseload. An ATP certification can open the door to specializing in: job accommodations, computer accessibility, vehicle modifications, architectural modifications and home modifications, augmentative and alternative communication, environmental controls, positioning devices, seating and mobility, sensory aids, and learning accommodations.
ATPs in North America are certified by RESNA. Certification requires:
- Time: 1000 hours of work experience
- Cost: The application for the certification exam is $500
- Renewal: Every 2 years, $150 and documentation of related work experience and continuing education
Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS)
A SMS is a specialized ATP. I have worked with SMSs in wheelchair related matters and relied heavily on their expertise in assessment, funding options, and follow-up.
- Prerequisite: ATP certification
- Time: 1000 hours or more in seating and mobility-related service
- Cost: The application fee for the certification exam is $250
Certified Stroke Rehabilitation Specialist (CSRS)
This is a great option for those of you working in inpatient settings. If you're looking to invest in some continuing ed- why not get a certification?
- Time Four 8-hour seminars (Cost: $800)
- Cost: The application fee for the online certification exam is $175
Neuro-Developmental Treatment Certification (C/NDT)
NDT is a hands-on approach based in movement analysis and is most commonly utilized in adults with stroke/brain injury as well as children with cerebral palsy and other neuro-motor disorders.
- Prerequisite: Must be a member of the NDTA (Cost: $105/year)
- Time: Completion of a certification course that can be completed in 2 weeks or over a series of weekends
- Cost: Courses range from $2,500-3,000
Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)
If you're like me, as a new grad you've probably recommended a home modification without a full understanding of what implementation would entail. The CAPS certification signifies training in design, marketing, and business management related to assisting seniors age in place. The certification entails:
- Time: 3 day-long courses (Cost: $330)
- Cost: $218 graduation fee
- Renewal: $83 annual renewal fee and 12 hours of cont. ed every 3 years to maintain certification
Physical Agent Modalities (PAM) Certification
I'm struggling to find an overview of the licensing requirements in the 50 states, please send one my way if you find one. Suffice it to say that many states do not consider PAM application to be an entry level skill. As for my experience, when I first started working, my COTA was certified in PAM and I was not. As the requirements vary from state to state, the ongoing training hours and costs will vary as well. Here is one example of a course:
Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS)
If you regularly work with patients who have experienced a brain injury, joining The Academy of Certified Brain Injury Specialists would be a worthwhile endeavor. A perk of the program for all new paid applicants includes a one-year subscription to the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation— a $130 value....nice!
- Time: 500 hours of direct contact experience with individuals with brain injury and completion of training or self-study (Self-study manual is only $40)
- Cost: Application for the certification exam $300
- Renewal: $60, annually
Lee Silverman Voice Treatment- BIG (LSVT BIG)
Don’t be thrown off by the name. LVST treatment is for people with Parkinsons. It began with a focus on voice treatment, but now also features a BIG certification that focuses on utilizing bigness of movement to improve overall movement quality.
This certification can be completed completely online!
Certified Hippotherapy Clinical Specialist (HPSC)
It takes the right set-up to provide hippotherapy, but for those occupational therapists who have experience with horses and access to facilities this is a great opportunity.
- Prerequisites: (1) At least three years of full-time or the equivalent (6,000 hours) experience as an OT and (2) experience riding horses
- Time: A minimum of 100 hours of one-on-one direct treatment in hippotherapy practice within the three years prior to certification application deadline
- Cost: The cost for applying for the certification is $375
- Renewal: Every 5 years
Certified Kinesio Taping Practitioner (CKTP)
If you love that colorful tape, a CKTP certification is a great way to incorporate kinesio taping into your practice with full confidence. Through the certification process, you can specialize in: Neurological Concepts, Sports Orthopedic Concepts, Myofascial Massage Concepts, Lymphatic Concepts, Pediatric Concepts and Hand Therapy Concepts.
This certification is also available to OTAs!
- Time: 4, 8-hour courses
- Cost: $1049
- Renewal: Annual membership in Kinesio Taping Association International is required ($49/year)
Sensory Integration and the Sensory Integration Praxis Test (SIPT)
This is one of the more intensive certifications. The training program is sponsored by The University of Southern California Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy together with The Western Psychological Society. The current courses currently available are all on the West Coast, so travel might be involved!
That being said, this comprehensive course covers everything form sensory integration theory, assessment, interpretation, and intervention.
Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CRDS)
Take the wheel of your driver rehabilitation knowledge and apply for certification through the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists.
- Time: 1,664 hours of experience providing direct Driver Rehabilitation services
- Cost: Examination fee is $550
Certified Industrial Rehabilitation Specialist (CIRS)
Looking to implement or enhance a full industrial rehab/ Return-to-Work rehabilitation program? This certification is for you!
- Time: 3 day course (either in person or online)
- Cost: $975 for course and $350 processing fee
- Renewal: Every 4 years, $350
Certified Industrial Ergonomic Evaluator (CIEE)
Interested in industrial, warehouse and manufacturing ergonomics? This certification compliments work in Industrial Rehabilitation, Work Injury, Work Hardening/Conditioning.
- Time: 3 day course (either in person or online)
- Cost: $900 for course, $250 for application
- Renewal: Every 4 years, $250
Aquatic Therapeutic Exercise Certification (ATRIC)
I know I was always jealous when our PTA headed off to the pool for aquatic sessions, so why not dive into the benefits of aquatic therapeutic exercise with a certification?
- Time: 15 hours online or hands on continuing education
- Cost: There is a package for $675, exam (onsite or online) $255
- Renewal: $49, annually
Certified Autism Specialist (CAS)
If you regularly work with clients who fall on the autism spectrum, this certification is one way to demonstrate that you have continued education in the area of autism and achieved competency standards.
- Prerequisite: 2 years working as an OT
- Time: 14 CEU hours related to autism
- Cost: Regisration fee for the exam is $495
- Renewal: $199, every 2 years
SAEBO Certified Therapist
This certification indicates that you understand the principles of Saebo’s Functional Dynamic Orthoses and the Saebo Arm Training Program. The course also covers current research for common treatment strategies for the upper hemiparetic limb.
- Time: 8 hours (self study available) (includes post-test for certification)
- Cost: $195 for the course
Basic DIRFloortime Certification
As a refresher, DIR stands for The Developmental, Individual Difference, Relationship-based Model. Floortime is the framework for understanding play developed by Dr. Stanley Greenspan. This certification prepares clinicians to develop a DIRFloortime intervention program tailored to the unique challenges and strengths of children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and other developmental challenges.
Following the basic training, there are further tiers of certification. You can read about those here.
Certified Low Vision Therapist (CVLT)
The CLVT uses functional vision evaluation instruments to assess visual acuity, visual fields, contrast sensitivity function, color vision, stereopsis, visual perceptual and visual motor functioning, literacy skills in reading and writing, etc. as they relate to vision impairment and disability.
- Prerequisites: Verification from CLVT supervisor that the applicant demonstrates basic competency in all core domain areas
- Time: 350 hours of discipline specific, supervised practice
- Cost: Eligibility, exam and certifications fees amount to $680
Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
This certification will be most beneficial to occupational therapists who work in primary care or community health. A Certified Diabetes Educator is a health professional who possesses comprehensive knowledge of and experience in prediabetes, diabetes prevention, and management.
- Prerequisite: 2 years of OT practice
- Time: Minimum of 1000 hours of DSME experience with a minimum of 40% of those hours accrued in the most recent year preceding application AND a minimum of 15 clock hours of continuing education activities applicable to diabetes within the two (2) years prior to applying for certification.
- Cost: $350 for application fee. Cost of counting education not calculate due to variability
- Renewal: Every 5 years, 75 hours of continuing ed, cost $250
Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner (CPRP)
The CPRP credential is for professionals who work in adult psychiatric settings and seek to stay up to date on best practices for serving adults with severe and persistent mental illness. The test demonstrates credential also demonstrates competency in best practices.
- Prerequisite: Work experience must be in psychiatric rehabilitation/recovery-oriented environment serving adults and transition-age youth (ages 16+ years) with serious and persistent mental illness
- Time: 45 training hours that relate to the seven practice domains of psychiatric rehabilitation
- Cost: Exam fees $495
- Renewal: Every 3 years, 45 contact hours, $245
AOTA Sponsored Certifications
AOTA Board Certifications are offered in the areas of...
- Gerontology (BCG)
- Mental Health (BCMH)
- Pediatrics (BCP)
- Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)
Board certification in these practices areas is awarded through the AOTA. Here's a nice article on "Why & How." Requirements include:
- 5 years experience as an OT
- 5,000 hours in any capacity in the certification area in the past 5 years
- 500 hours of delivering OT services as a OT in the certification area in the past 5 years
- An extensive application, including a reflective portfolio, that will be peer-reviewed (Cost: $525)
- Renewal after 5 years
AOTA Speciality Certifications are offered in the areas of...
- Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM)
- Environmental Modification (SCEM)
- Feeding, Eating and Swallowing (SCFES)
- Low Vision (SCLV)
- School Systems (SCSS)
Speciality certifications are less intensive than board certifications. Note that many of the requirements in the application are already met by obtaining your license and NBCOT credentials. Requirements include:
Obtaining Your Post-Professional OTD
Recently obtained your MOT? Many post-professional OTDs are now offered via distance learning. There are some juicy conversations on Reddit and OTConnections about the merit of the OTD vs. a PhD vs. sticking with an MOT. The short version seems to be if you are interested in clinical leadership, the OTD is the way to go. If you wish to focus on research, a PhD could be beneficial. You need to be aware that obtaining an OTD will not automatically translate to a higher salary or new job opportunities.
Below is one example of a program. I would love to know the full range of costs between the different universities.
I would be remiss not to mention that many OTs pursue second degrees that compliment their work as an occupational therapist. When I first started reading OT publications regularly, I was often confused by the alphabet soup following people's names. Here is list of common degrees:
- Doctor of Education (EdD)
- Doctor of Science (ScD)
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
- Master of Public Health (MPH)
- Certified Rehab Counselor (CRC)
- Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Health Care
I hope this list was helpful to you as you think about where to go with your OT degree! I'm sure I've left out some options/valuable information, so please share in the comments section.