With about 2 months before the next Orthopaedic Certification Specialization Exam (OCSE), I thought it would be a good time to discuss studying techniques for the exam. As with any exam, it's important to be aware of the type of material that you will be tested on along with the method of questioning. From my discussion with physical therapists that have passed the OCS and after reviewing the goal of OCS certification, it appears that a major component involves "evidence-based practice" applied to many case scenarios.
As a base, I have been using the APTA Orthopaedic Section's monographs. They include a component for each joint in addition to one based solely on "evidence-based practice." Each monograph is written by an expert in the area and typically includes reviews of anatomy, kinesiology, epidemiology, examination, treatment, and case scenarios. Each author refers to various studies throughout their article. Additionally, there are surgical monographs for most of the joints, so that you can have a more focused review from the orthopaedic perspective on each joint for surgical candidates.
To add to the evidence-based preparation, I have been including the Clinical Guidelines produced by the APTA and a review of recent JOSPT articles (last 2 years). This can be a tricky area for preparation as testing is typically several years behind current evidence (which is behind current best practice), due to the long process for development of test questions. Because of this, it is important to both know what used to be and what currently is the correct method of managing specific pathologies. Think back to your NPTE. I'm sure you may have realized there quite a few outdated questions and answers. For example, modalities were commonly used to manage acute injuries, when much of the current literature doesn't support that. It is for that reason, we must be particular when reading each questions and the available answers.
Finally, I am also including the Sahrmann texts in my preparation. I honestly did not think they would be necessary (or even a good idea to include) for preparation as Sahrmann's approach isn't as widely studied or supported in evidence-based practice. However, recently some PT's that took the exam last year informed me there was a Movement Impairment Syndrome component to the exam, so it may be beneficial to include it in your studies.
Hopefully this provides a basis for many of you planning to take the OCS this year. I plan to update the list with a review after taking the exam with any changes I feel like should have been made with my preparation. There are alternative approaches for the exam as well. Many residencies or classes themselves have a specific component for preparation for the examination. I fortunately have some notes from a former co-worker that she had from an exam-prep class that I will be utilizing in my studies. What else are you including in your exam prep?
James Heafner DPT, Chris Fox DPT, and Brian Schwabe DPT, CSCS are recent graduates of Saint Louis University's Program in Physical Therapy.