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I’ve always known that I wanted to work with the athletic patient population, and quickly learned that they can be among the most difficult patients to treat, because of the demands of needing to return to sport as soon as possible and not miss too much competition time. Further exacerbating this, every parent of a youth athlete thinks their son or daughter is the next LeBron James or Serena Williams, so they can add to the pressure to get their child back to playing. For some of these high level patients, there is even more external pressure from college recruiters or professional scouts.
After PT school, I realized I lacked the confidence working with these patients. The movement faults and impairments I knew to look for in the average patient were not obviously apparent in these patients, and some of their symptoms only came on with high level activities. I was fortunate to have done a 16 week clinical internship with a phenomenal therapist (shoutout to Jeff Wang at Glendale Adventist Therapy and Wellness Center!) at the end of PT school, who pushed me to improve every day of that clinical experience. After that, I knew I wouldn’t stop continuing to seek out learning opportunities to work in this field.
"The movement faults and impairments I knew to look for in the average patient were not obviously apparent in these patients, and some of their symptoms only came on with high level activities."
In addition to perhaps struggling with working with athletes in the clinic, new grads are not qualified to provide sideline coverage at athletic events. The SCS is a specialty certification that designates an expert in athletic injury management, including acute care, treatment, rehabilitation, prevention, and education. Read this article for more details on why the SCS is worth pursuing if you are interested in some day providing on field coverage.
Fast forward 5 years, and now I can say that I am confident in my ability to treat the athletic patient population. Here are some tips on how to pass the SCS exam:
"This may not be immediately obvious, but sports patients are really at the end of the day ortho patients, they just move faster."
1) Consider taking an orthopedic residency. This may not be immediately obvious, but sports patients are really at the end of the day ortho patients, they just move faster. Completing an orthopedic residency involves weekly mentoring from a clinical specialist, didactic learning, and honing in on clinical reasoning. Additionally, you can also consider a sports residency or fellowship. Here is the American Board of Physical Therapy Residency and Fellowship Education (ABPTRFE) website.
2) Familiarize yourself with the SCS application process, exam format, and test materials. Here is the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS) SCS candidate guide.
3) Study, study, study. Unlike the OCS exam, there is no Current Concepts (if you are preparing for the OCS, this is the definitive material to study to pass the exam. As such, you will need to study from several different sources in order to adequately cover the material covered in the SCS exam. I used the following sources:
Each source has material to study, with practice tests. You'll have to figure out what works best for you, but as for myself I knew I needed to set up a plan to keep myself accountable. My friend and colleague from fellowship, Shemaiah Holness, assigned ourselves 1-2 chapters each from the above study materials to go over each week, and had review sessions every Sunday in which we would go over the material and practice quizzes. This worked out well for us as we didn't want to let the other down by not preparing that week.
Of course, there are other study material sources, but these are what I used. Among the others I know of are Evidence in Motion and Praxis, however personally I chose not to pursue these opportunities simply because it was not financially feasible, as they are not cheap. Give yourself at least 3 months, preferably more to study and go over practice exams, and resist the temptation to procrastinate as the SCS exam is definitely not something that can be passed by cramming in the weeks leading up to it!
After taking the test, you will have to wait 3 agonizing months until learning if you've passed, but if you follow the above tips, you will have prepared adequately and set yourself up for success. The SCS is definitely a certification that is worth the effort to pursue, as less than 2% of all APTA members are recognized with the credentials. Good luck!
Robert Dulay, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, FAAOMPT is currently practicing in Southern California with Kaiser Permanente
Robert Dulay, PT, DPT, OCS, SCS, FAAOMPT
Doctor of Physical Therapy
Board Certified Orthopaedic and Sports Clinical Specialist