Become the Expert Your Patients Need

When I first started practicing as an OncoPT, I couldn’t wait to become an expert like Drs. Nicole Stout, Amy Litterini, or Kathryn Schmitz.  They just seemed to have so much knowledge, I couldn’t wait to be just like them.

Fast-forward to today, I still think they’re the experts with all the answers, but I’ve realized I don’t have to have ALL the answers to help my patients today.  And neither do you.

What we should be doing instead is filling the gaps in our knowledge.  One of the best ways to do this is by preparing to become a specialist.

Notice I didn’t say become a specialist.  I said, preparing to become a specialist.  

By embarking on the journey to specialization, we expose ourselves to the great big world of cancer rehab research, best practice, & where the gaps are in our understanding of cancer rehab.  This journey challenges us to be the best OncoPT we can & really understand why we’re prescribing what, where, & why.

In this Q&A session I did with APTA Oncology Student & New Professional Subcommittee, we covered the basics on how specialization actually helps our patients (hint: it’s not because we have more letters after our name), how to specialize, & how to spread the word about cancer rehab in your own community.

Listen now!

How Specialization Actually Helps Our Patients

We should be choosing to specialize to BECOME an expert.  When you better understand the side effects of cancer treatments, the cancer itself, the interventions best supported to address a patient’s impairments, you become the expert your patients need.

You don’t specialize because you’re an expert.  You specialize TO BECOME an expert.

And the knowledge you gain doesn’t just help your patients now, but also their families, communities, & neighbors now AND in the long run.

The Two Paths to Oncology Specialization

Per ABPTS, there’s two options to oncology specialization:

  • “Option A – Applicants must submit evidence of 2,000 hours of direct patient care as a licensed U.S. physical therapist (temporary license excluded) in the specialty area within the last 10 years, 25% (500 hours) of which must have occurred within the last three years. Direct patient care must include activities in each of the elements of patient and client management applicable to the specialty area and included in the Description of Specialty Practice. These elements, as defined by the Guide to Physical Therapist Practice, are examination, evaluation, diagnosis, prognosis, and intervention.”
  • “Option B – Applicants must submit evidence of successful completion of an APTA-accredited postprofessional oncologic clinical residency completed within the last 10 years that has a curriculum plan reflective of the Description of Specialty Practice for Oncologic Physical Therapy. Experience from residencies in which the curriculum plan reflects only a portion of the DSP will not be considered. Applicants who are currently enrolled in an ABPTRFE-accredited clinical residency or enrolled in a residency program that has been granted candidacy status may apply for the specialist certification examination in the appropriate specialty area prior to completion of the residency. These applicants are conditionally approved to sit for the examination, as long as they meet all other eligibility requirements, pending submission of evidence of successful completion of the ABPTRFE-accredited clinical residency to APTA’s Specialist Certification Program no later than one month before the examination window opens. To verify your residency program’s accreditation status, visit”

Most applicants will pursue option A (which is exactly what I did).  There are very few accredited residency programs, with very few spots.  In my opinion, it’s not worth waiting for a spot when there’s patients who need your help now.

Do not try to read every single article on the resource list.

It will absolutely overwhelm you.  Plus, it’s definitely not the best way to spend your precious time.  Instead, prioritize the resource guide topics that you are MOST uncomfortable with & start with those resources.

Have an article you need, but it’s behind a paywall?  90% of the time, authors will happily send you a copy of their article if you email them.  

Plus, Twitter has a wealth of articles floating around if you know who to follow 😀 (like TheOncoPT, APTA Oncology, etc.).

How to keep track of your oncology patient care hours

Make notes in an Excel spreadsheet or track them in a journal.

Use your facility’s electronic medical/health records to also check your oncology patient load.

Until next time, this is Elise with TheOncoPT.  And remember you are exactly the physical therapist that your patients with cancer need. So let’s get to work.

Download your FREE checklist 5 Things You Need to Write Your Case Report:

Grab your FREE Ultimate Oncology Specialist Study Guide here.

Find the minimum requirements to become an oncologic specialist:
Review the specialist candidate guide:

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