• The OCS . . . Is it worth it?

    Therapy Partners’ practice owners put a high value on learning and professional development. Over half of the therapists of the clinics have attained specialty designations. 33 have their OCS; 5 have their SCS; 6 have the FAAOMPT designation; 2 have attained CHT designation. These are some HIGHLY skilled therapists!

    I recently had the pleasure of interviewing several TPI physical therapists who have attained their OCS designation.



    Ryan Tully, PT, OCS OSI PT Maplewood Clinic




    Ryan Torgrude, PT, OCS, PTOSI Coon Rapids Clinic.




    Todd Kruse, PT, OCS, Wenger Physical Therapy Mankato.



    Shari W.-49

    Shari Walters, PT, OCS, OSI PT Somerset Clinic.




    Amy Prose, PT, OCS, OSI PT White Bear Lake Clinic.




    Pete Larson, PT, OCS, OSI PT W. St. Paul Clinic.




    Check out their great input and advice!


    So Ryan, Shari, Ryan, Todd, Amy and Pete . . . you are all very talented physical therapists who get high acclaims from your patients and achieve outstanding FOTO outcomes. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your busy days to share your thoughts on the OCS and how it has impacted your career . . .


    1) What inspired you to take the OCS exam?

    Tully: I took the OCS last year, and I decided to take the exam 2 years ago when I came on board with OSI PT because of the support that was provided to improve my clinical skills. I don’t think that taking or passing the OCS automatically makes you a better clinician, but the preparation for the exam can. I really tried to use that preparation, studying, and reading relevant research to do some reflection on how I was practicing and really try to change my practice to reflect the best available evidence.

    Walters: I took the OCS exam a number of years ago. Taking the OCS was a personal accomplishment that I wanted to achieve to show a higher level of knowledge and to challenge myself.

    Torgrude: I took the OCS a couple years ago. Working toward the highest levels of specialty in orthopedics has been a personal goal of mine since working with some amazing Board Certified PT’s when I was in grad school. Their level of expertise really astounded me and motivated me to achieve similar levels of high quality patient care.

    Larson: I just took the OCS this year. Having an “OCS” means achieving excellence in orthopedic physical therapy, and that was something I wanted. Taking and passing the OCS exam was always a goal of mine since graduating from PT school. I felt that it was a way of validating my talents and hard work I have put into my career thus far, and a way to separate myself professionally in the realm of orthopedic physical therapy.

    Prose: I took the OCS a number of years ago. For me, becoming a certified orthopedic clinical expert was always a professional goal.  I had practiced for 7 years before taking the exam and felt at that time I was ready for the challenge and wanted to elevate myself professionally.

    Kruse: I took the OCS exam last year. I love learning about orthopedics and enjoy it even more now that I have experience and real life cases and thoughts to apply as I learn.


    2) What resources – study materials, blogs, journals, people, etc – did you access to prepare for the OCS Exam?

    Tully: I used EIM’s test prep course online and independent study courses from the APTA to guide much of my preparation. I also followed a lot of great clinicians on twitter, Karim Khan (@BJSM_BMJ), Mike Stewart (@knowpainmike), Adam Meakins (@AdamMeakins), Erik Meira (@ErikMeira), Kristian Thorborg (@KThorborg), Mike Reiman (@MikeReiman), Body in Mind (@BodyInMind), and NOI group (@NOIGroup), just to name a few, to get more up to date research and individuals thoughts and interpretation of new research. I listen to a few therapy podcasts including PhysioEdge, The BJSM Podcast, and The Physio Matters podcast. And finally, I would peruse a few blogs like noijam.com, pain-ed.com, and blogs.bmj.com/bjsm/.

    Walters: I took the APTA sponsored course “Current Concepts in Orthopaedics” and read the Magee orthopaedic textbook

    Torgrude:  2 other PT’s and I studied together one night a week for approximately one year. We also used resources provided by the Orthopedic Section of the APTA.

    Larson:   I went the circuitous route in regards to studying for the exam. I started studying for the OCS when I signed up for the EIM Manual Therapy Certification fourteen months prior to taking the test. This certification is heavily evidence-based and very thorough, which provided me with a good foundation. Once I had completed the certification, I primarily used the EIM OCS Prep Course, a multitude of journal articles/magazines, and this “Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Secrets” book. I am also lucky enough to work for a company who has several OCS therapists, so I was able to pick their brain for additional study tips and resources.

    Prose: I studied with one other colleague.  We set aside one night per week to get together and review the “homework” we assigned ourselves.  We used our Magee orthopedic textbook, the “Orthopaedic Physical Therapy Secrets” book, as well as an APTA home study course from the APTA’s Orthopaedic Section.

    Kruse: I mainly use 4 resources:

    1. The EIM study course and prep exam, but I did not do all the article readings from the course. Articles take too much time for one small topic, but I read some of them and used the practice tests and other information.
    2. I heavily read and studied all of the Orthopedic Independent study Course series from the Ortho section and learned from their practice tests.
    3. I used textbooks. I fully read Evaluation of Ortho. and Athletic injuries. Starkey. I read a majority of Orthopedic Physical Therapy Secrets. Placzek, and Sports Rehabilitation of the Shoulder and Knee by Manske
    4. I didn’t attend, but I did read slides and used all the practice questions to study from Wilson OCS prep course.


    3) How many hours of studying . . . on average . . . did you put into your preparation for the OCS Exam?

    Tully: Studying for the OCS exam on average included 5-10 hours of reading, note-taking, and reviewing old notes and studies per week.

    Walters: I committed to reading one chapter in the textbook per week so I started reading early enough to get the entire book read. I would estimate about 80 hours.

    Torgrude:   6-8 hrs a week for about a year.

    Larson: I spent 10-15 hours per week studying PT outside of work for fourteen consecutive months.   While I wasn’t studying for the OCS per se during the EIM Manual Certification, I studied several hundred hours either directly or indirectly for the exam over that time period.

    Prose: Between 2-4 hours/week

    Kruse: I don’t know for sure, but I started studying at least 7 months before the OCS exam and studied some materials pretty much every day for the last 2 to 3.


    4) Did you study alone or with other people? And how did that work for you?

    Tully: I studied by myself and that worked very well for me. I do better with a lot of room for self-reflection and thinking through problems. I don’t do as well with structured time with others for studying.

    Walters: I studied alone as I can be more efficient and get more done in a shorter amount of time that way.

    Torgrude:   I studied with other people for about 2-3 hrs per week and one my own for 5-6 hrs per week. It was a great mix, we had an assigned topic that we studied that week and reviewed at the week’s end together.

    Larson: The majority of time I studied by myself, as the test prep includes lots of combing through journal articles, reviewing concepts or learning about obscure conditions and tests. That being said, I did meet up with a co-worker for review a handful of times, and I found that really helpful too. I think a good balance between individual and group would be ideal.

    Prose: I studied with a colleague once a week.  For me, this was a great way to have some one to bounce ideas and questions off of, share in the stress that came with studying for this exam and help structure the study sessions.

    Kruse: I mostly study alone with lots of hours trying to fully understand the bigger picture of topics. I then worked to explain things with the other two therapists at our clinic who were also studying for the exam.


    5) Briefly describe the process of taking the OCS Exam 

    Tully:   Taking the OCS exam was a lot like taking the PT board exam. You go to a testing center, get checked in to a testing room. They make sure that you do not have anything with you that may unfairly aid you in test taking. The test itself is computerized and broken into 2 sections. You have 7 hours to complete the two sections including an hour for lunch.

    Walters:   I stopped studying 2 days before the exam and took a mental break. I tried to get a good night sleep the night before. I had to drive an hour to the exam and got there very early. I was extremely nervous prior to the exam. Once the exam started, I was able to concentrate and my nerves calmed down. The exam is 8 hours long so I was the first one in the testing room and was almost the last one to leave as there were many other people taking various tests at the same time as mine.

    Torgrude:   It felt like any other standardized, computerized test. You spend the day in front of the computer struggling to find all the answers that you know are buried in your brain somewhere and walk out knowing you did your best; but having no idea if you passed.

    Larson: The OCS Exam itself felt like I was back taking boards…just longer, plus to me the stakes were higher. When I walked into the OCS test, I walked in as an orthopedic physical therapist, preparing to take a test that proves (or not) my knowledge in my own field.   This was about me validating my career choice, my hours and hours of studying, and prepping for my future.   I was nervous, but also excited because I felt ready for it.

    Prose: I recently re-certified my OCS, but when I sat for the exam, it was at a test taking center and a 4 hour multiple choice test, much like boards.  The questions were primarily spine related with extremities sprinkled in.

    Kruse: It was just like other computerized board exams. I had just taken the ATC exam the previous year, and the OCS and ATC exams are very similar.


    6) What was the anticipation – the wait – like?

    Tully:   Waiting for the test results was a long time. Luckily it was long enough that eventually you just sort of stop thinking about it until June.

    Walters:   Once the test was done, I was very relieved and felt that I had done my best and would wait and see if I passed. The anxiety was worse before the exam than afterward. Obviously, I was very excited to see my name with OCS behind it on the envelope coming from the Certification Board after several months of waiting.

    Torgrude:   It stinks to have wait several months to know if you passed, but I honestly did not think too much about it. Life was too busy to waste time and energy dwelling on passing/failing. If I passed…Awesome! If I didn’t, it was a great learning experience and I would take it again. With good fortune, I did pass and did not have to take it again.

    Larson:   Here’s another time where it helped working for a company with a bunch of OCS PT’s already. They told me that they all thought they’d failed the test as they left the facility (thanks for the boost of confidence, guys!), so when I was done I was ready to just forget about it for awhile.   Luckily I had a wedding to help plan, which took my mind off the test. Whenever the thought of the test crept into my mind, a jolt of anxiety went piercing through my body. I just kept reminding myself that what’s done is done, and I won’t get anywhere worrying about it.   Let me tell you, though….I don’t know what it feels like to have a heart attack, but receiving the email from ABPTS with my test results was a natural ‘stress test’ for the ol’ ticker.

    Prose: I was very nervous about my results.  I waited for a few months before my results came in the mail.  The waiting was the worst part because you had no control over anything but to sit a wait.

    Kruse: I did not have an issue with this. I was more nervous about the ATC exam the year before because I was less prepared. My preparation time and effort was so high for the OCS exam that I felt very good about the test right after I finished. There was plenty of anxiety pretest but not with waiting for my final results.


    OK high achiever Physical Therapists . . . The Bottom Line . . . the process of studying . . . learning . . . taking the exam . . . passing the exam . . .


    7) Has it helped you become a better Physical Therapist? If so – How?

    Tully:  I think sitting for the exam did help me become a better therapist. There was a lot of reading research that aided my comfort level in reading and processing research. There were a lot of opportunities to question why I pick certain treatments over others and the exposure to differing treatment methods that I may not completely have understood or utilized before.

    Walters:   I do believe that the process of studying did help me become a better physical therapist. It helped to review many things that you learn in school but don’t put into practice right away or forget about in time.   Passing the exam was affirming that you have the expertise in your specialty area and made me more confident in my knowledge in orthopedics. I believe that it shows others that you are committed to a higher standard and elevates your status amongst other healthcare professionals.

    Maintaining the OCS and recertifying your specialty also confirms that you are maintaining a higher standard in orthopedics.

    Torgrude:   For me it has been almost 10 years since I have taken the exam, so it is hard to remember that far back. It was a great learning experience for sure. Now, having the title continually motivates me to be the best PT I can be. Patients, other PTs, and providers see the designation and expect you to live up to the standards of that certification. It motivates me to be a life-long learner and stay at the top of my game.

    Larson:   Definitely. While studying for and passing the OCS exam has helped me in many areas both tangibly and intangibly, two benefits immediately stick out in my mind:

    • The depth of knowledge that the OCS demands ensured that I better know just about everything in regards to orthopedic physical therapy. There could be no short-cuts during the studying process, and therefore I learned a TON during that time. The knowledge I acquired during the test prep has helped me vastly in the clinic.
    • As I previously mentioned, an OCS exemplifies excellence in orthopedic physical therapy. Passing the exam gave me a boost of confidence in my own knowledge base, more conviction during my treatment sessions, and respect amongst my peers.

    Kruse: I now have so much more confidence with the larger and more specific knowledge base. This helps me win patients over as much as it helps me feel good about what I am trying to help them accomplish. Even in the few cases in which the patient’s case is not going well. Patients have confidence have more confidence in me as well and that helps my patient compliance and FOTO outcomes.

    Hey . . . this is great information! Several things jump out at me from all of you:

    • You are ALL very driven, dedicated physical therapists who want to be the best clinician you can be. Very impressive!
    • Take the time to be well prepared for the exam. Most of you spent 5-10 hours per week studying.
    • Everyone has different studying habits and thinking styles. Find the one that feels best to you.
    • You accessed multiple resources including other physical therapists to help you in your preparation
    • There is stress involved prior to and after the exam, but try to relax and know that after you take it, it’s out of your control.


    For physical therapists reading this who at within Therapy Partners – Ryan, Todd, Shari, Amy, Pete, and Ryan all stated it would be helpful to have an OCS study group discussion board across TPI via Office 365. We will be working to develop that resource for you.

    Inspiring? I truly hope physical therapists who read this get engaged in the OCS passion and take the exam. Regardless of whether you pass it the first time, it is a great learning experience. I have seen that those PTs who have their OCS become stronger, more confident clinicians.

    We really appreciate the input and feedback from these very talented physical therapists at TPI practices. THANK YOU!

    Keep Learning . . . Keep Leading


    Leave a reply →