Why do so few students know the difference between residencies and fellowships? To broaden the question, why do so few students know what educational opportunities are available to them following graduation?
Chris, Brian, and I often get asked "what is the difference between a residency and a fellowship program?" I am going to answer this question from an orthopedic perspective so please feel free to add your own perspective if you come from a different background. When talking with students about residency and fellowship programs, I often relate the question to the medical school model. Generally, medical students enter a residency program following medical school. A residency is a post-professional planned learned experience in a specific field of interest. For example, students interested in Orthopedics pursue Orthopedic surgery residencies. Following a medical residency, doctors have the opportunity to pursue a fellowship program. Using the example above, an Orthopedic Surgeon may choose to enter a hand surgery fellowship. Each step of learning further specializes the candidate. The process is similar for physical therapists.
Following graduation, physical therapists have the opportunity to enroll in residencies. These programs are generally one year long and prepare students for their specialty certification. For example, Chris and I completed an Orthopedic Residency and were able to sit for our Orthopedic Clinical Specialty (OCS). Brian completed a Sports Residency and sat for his Sports Clinical Specialty (SCS). Other residency programs exist for the many other specialties of physical therapy- geriatrics, pediatrics, cardiopulmonary to name a few. The residency teaches you to be a clinical expert.
Following residency, I chose to enter a fellowship in manual therapy. To enter a fellowship program, one must either complete a residency program, be a clinical specialist, or complete a year of pre-fellowship coursework. Pre-fellowship coursework can be obtained in several ways. (For example, Chris and I recently paired with OPTIM to start a COMT program. Our COMT program gives candidates the opportunity to pursue a manual therapy fellowship if they choose.) Fellowship training is not appropriate for new physical therapy graduates so the pre-fellowship year is a method of preparing students for fellowship training. It is the most advanced clinical certification a physical therapist can receive.
I hope this helps differentiate physical therapy residencies vs. fellowships. Let me know if you have further questions!
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James Heafner PT, DPT, OCS:
Owner and lead physical therapist at Heafner Health, cash-based physical therapy in Boulder, CO. Areas of expertise include orthopedic and manual therapy, functional movement, pain science, and movement science.
In May 2013, I earned my Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Saint Louis University. After graduating from the Harris Health Systems Orthopedic Residency in October 2014, I moved to Boulder, CO. Since living in Boulder, I have started my own cash-based PT practice, earned my OCS certification, and teach for the OPTIM Fellowship and COMT program in Houston TX and Scottsdale, AZ.
Chris Fox PT, DPT, OCS: Physical therapist at Foothills Sports Medicine & Physical Therapy in Scottsdale, AZ and regularly lectures at the Phoenix Campus for NAU's DPT program and for Optim Manual Therapy's COMT program. Completed multiple advanced manual therapy courses implementing aspects of biomechanical analysis. He received his DPT from Saint Louis University in 2013. Completed Scottsdale Healthcare's Orthopaedic Residency (now Honor Health) in July 2014. He became a Board Certified Orthopaedic Specialist in 2015. Level I Expert in FMS and SFMA , Kinetacore FDN Level 1 certification, and IASTM Technique course completion. He would like to pursue further education in McKenzie Technique, Dry Needling, Strength & Conditioning, Orthopaedic and Manual Therapy.
Brian Schwabe PT, DPT, SCS, CSCS:
- Board Certified Sports Physical Therapist (SCS) at Elite OrthoSport in Santa Monica, CA which specializes in treating collegiate/professional athletes and clientele from the Beverly Hills, Hollywood, and Santa Monica areas.
- USC Sports Residency Trained Physical Therapist (<1% of all PT's residency trained)
- DPT from Saint Louis University
- Future plans/interest include:
1. USAW, SFMA & Catapult Systems technology for NBA teams
2. Pursuing a position as a sports physical therapist &/or Strength coach for a Division 1 athletic medicine department or professional sport team.
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