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Hack Your Own Residency Training

02/08/2015, 4:30pm EST
By Ryan Balmes

DIY Residency Training

If you're a big internet blog nerd like me, then I'm sure you've heard of Its a good site with endless ways to improve your life, life hacking style.

This blog post is inspired by one of my readers and subscribers. Thank you, Nicole, for reading and subscribing.

So, Nicole asked me, what are the best continuing education courses available out there for a new grad? Definitely a tough question to ask. Having only been out of PT school for about 3 years, all I ever know is from my preset curriculum from residency and fellowship training.

But Nicole is exactly the kind of reader this blog is created for. I created this website to help colleagues  who want to achieve a higher level of clinical practice, most often achieved after residency training, but cannot commit to a formal residency program. I know that a residency program isn't feasible for many reasons: new family commitments, money issues, inability to relocate, and last but not least, not enough residency programs available.

In the spirit of life hacking, I would recommend that you hack your own residency training.

You see, out there are orthopaedic physical therapy programs that offer their didactic and lab courses open to other practicing professionals. A large portion of residency training is the didactic coursework, so by taking these same courses, you'll get to experience most of what a residency program has to offer. The best part is, you don't even have to compete for that residency spot!


One of the best reasons for taking courses offered from a residency program, is because the curriculum is designed and aimed for participants to be ultimately successful for one thing: becoming a board certified clinical specialist with the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties (ABPTS). For new grads, this would be the only certification I would be concerned about.


Understand that residency programs are placed on very high standards. More specifically, a residency program's curriculum must cover the ABPTS's Description of Specialty Practice (DSP). The DSP is the guiding document defining what it means to practice as a specialist.

So you see, those residency courses offered are different from other continuing education courses.


Being the big PT nerd that I am, I did some quick Google searching to list out some ortho residency programs, where their courses are open to the public. These may also be continuing education courses that are modeled after the DSP:

The method is fairly simple, and you would require really only two things: time and money.

I'd recommend seeing if you can use your continuing education benefits from your employer to pay for these courses. If you don't have continuing education benefits, then definitely negotiate! That or pay for it yourself - it'd be well worth every penny.


Lastly, looking ahead, you can plan the timing of these courses in preparation for the OCS exam. You can be eligible to sit for the OCS exam after having at least 2,000 hours in the orthopaedic physical therapy speciality practice. The entire application and approval process from start to finish to actually taking the exam took 7 months so plan accordingly.


Now understand that taking the same ortho residency courses is only one part of hacking your own residency education. The bigger chunk that's helpful is the mentoring aspect, which unfortunately is not as easy to hack on your own. You could of course find an OCS colleague to learn from, but understand that no all mentors are created equal. Mentors for residency programs are usually vetted by the program for their experience and effectiveness as mentors.

There are programs that offer simply mentoring for clinical skills. Take for example this program here out in California. Or even here in Georgia, there's a new company offering mentoring service as well.


Happy hacking everyone.

Sponsored by Ryan Balmes, DPT

Ryan Balmes, DPT

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Ryan Balmes is a physical therapist practicing orthopaedic and sports physical therapy with performance always in mind. He is a board certified clinical specialist in Orthopaedics and Sports physical therapy and a Fellow of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Manual Physical Therapists. With his specializations, Ryan is passionate about giving back to the profession by teaching and mentoring to elevate clinical practice. Ryan's personal blog page can be found at his Haven Profile. 

Tag(s): Physical Therapy Pulse  All Articles  Ryan Balmes, DPT