By the 1980s the number of special interest sections and subsidiary special interest groups, or SIGs, had grown markedly. There was some concern that APTA was becoming too fragmented, but it was far outweighed by the reality that APTA could not singularly meet all the specialized needs of its membership, which was apparent by the number of members who were active in a section — about 40,000 or 66% of the membership.
With that came the continued need to create an appropriate process for voluntary specialist certification, which had begun in the mid-1970s but by the mid-1980s was making significant progress. In 1985, three candidates — Linda Crane, Scot Irwin, and Meryl Cohen — became the first to take a specialty exam and receive Advanced Certification in Cardiopulmonary Physical Therapy.
Subsequently, specialist certification was awarded in clinical electrophysiologic physical therapy and pediatric physical therapy (1986), neurologic physical therapy and sports physical therapy (1987), orthopaedic physical therapy (1989), geriatric physical therapy (1992), women’s health physical therapy (2009), and oncologic physical therapy (2019). A specialization in wound management physical therapy was approved by the APTA House of Delegates in 2019, with the first exams being slated for 2022.
In 1994 the certification process received an added boost when the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties created an electronic testing process that was available in nearly 100 testing sites around the country. By 2020, ABPTS had certified more than 27,000 clinical specialists, with record numbers of applicants each year.