Vickers Is The Rare Therapist To Earn Pediatric Certified Specialist Title

Published on: 2020/07/27


For Comprehensive Rehab physical therapist Emily Vickers, PT, DPT, PCS, the letters behind her name represent years of study. She’s a physical therapist (PT) who has earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. But it’s the three little letters at the end - PCS - that put Vickers in an elite category. 

Vickers is one of only approximately 2,000 physical therapists in the nation to be a Pediatric Certified Specialist. 

A Clinton native, Vickers knew she wanted to be a physical therapist from a young age. “I went through about six months of therapy when I was a teenager,” explained Vickers. “The main therapist I had wasn’t very open in communication, and I thought, ‘I could do better. People deserve better.’”

From that point, she was hooked. “I knew from age 14 that physical therapy was what I wanted to do,” said Vickers.

She earned an undergraduate degree in exercise and sports science from Iowa State University before earning her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree in 2007 at Belmont University, in Nashville, Tenn.

Throughout her schooling, Vickers knew she wanted her physical therapy focus to be pediatrics. “I didn’t want to work in any other area,” she admits. In order to ensure she’d always be able to find a job in pediatrics, Vickers decided to try and earn the Pediatric Certified Specialist board certification.

Only 2,000 In National Have PCS Designation

Administered by the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialists, the PCS designation is difficult to obtain.

“You have to apply in July or August to be approved to take the exam,” she explained. Just to be considered for the exam, potential candidates must meet hour requirements for time spent working in the pediatric physical therapy field in addition to earning a set number of continuing education credits.

“If you’re approved to take the exam, you then have until the following March to study,” said Vickers.

In addition to recommended continuing education classes, those attempting to earn the PCS certification spend hundreds of hours studying on their own.

“I gave up a lot over the course of that year,” remembers Vickers. “I’d study at least an hour every day, Monday through Friday. The last six months, I’d also spend 8 hours studying on Saturdays and Sundays.”

Along with studying by herself, Vickers would participate in review and study sessions online and in-person with other physical therapists attempting to earn the certification.

When the time came to take the exam, “it was intense,” said Vickers. “I think I was there for four hours … and I actually got it done quickly.”

The test was a multiple-choice exam, but instead of the traditional one right answer among multiple wrong answers format, the PCS exam has multiple correct answers for each question.

“You have to choose the best answer, and it has to be the best one to get it right,” she said.

Following the grueling exam, Vickers said she left not feeling confident. “I drove the 2.5 hours home (from the testing site), went to bed and thought, ‘Well, I’m going to have to do that again.’”

Instead, Vickers was one of the applicants who successfully earned her certification. “On the day the results were released, I remember sitting at lunch with friends and checking my email every couple of hours. A friend texted to say he got his results, so I went to check mine. When I found out I’d passed, I just started crying.”

'Tough and Time-Consuming' PCS Process Deters Many

The “tough and time consuming” nature of earning a PCS certification deters a lot of people, said Vickers. Even after earning the designation in 2013, Vickers has to work to maintain the certification.

“Every three years you have to submit a portfolio that includes what you’ve been doing for work, your community service, continuing education credits, teaching experience, publications written and a case study showing an example of treatment you’ve done and justification for why you did it,” she said. Every 10 years, those with the PCS designation must pass a min-exam to maintain their certification.

“You have to work to keep the certification, so it shows that you’re constantly striving to go above and beyond,” she said.

'My Goal Is For The Kids Not To Know They're Working' says Vickers

For Vickers, being denoted as a Pediatric Certified Specialist means she’s able to concentrate on her love of helping children.

As a physical therapist, Vickers has worked with patients as young as newborns in the NICU all the way to 21-year-olds with special needs.

“No two days are ever the same for me. Even if I’m working with the same child two days in a row, we’re doing different things. I try to do as much as possible through play. My goal is for the kids not to know they’re working,” she explained.

With each patient, the focus is different, she said. “We see a lot of children who are a little weak, clumsy or uncoordinated. I work with infants who -for no reason - are a little delayed. They’re not crawling, sitting, or walking when they should be. We work to get them up and going,” she said, adding she’s also worked with infants with Torticollis, a condition that causes neck muscles to contract.

In addition, Vickers’ patients include children with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or other chromosome disorders.

In all cases, Vickers said she wants the children to be at ease. “Some kids are really scared when they first come. They think it’s a doctor’s office and they’re worried they’re going to get shots. Others are ready to go. We try to make it as relaxed and comfortable as possible.”

She added, “A lot of kids don’t cognitively understand or care why they’re doing physical therapy, which is why we focus on the play aspect.”

It’s play with a mission, though, as she works to foster improvements. “Anytime you get to experience a first with a kid is a big deal. I still remember the first time a child took their first steps working with me. It was huge. I remember that kid as plain as day. Those big accomplishments are so special.”

She said she also loves it when the children themselves are excited. “I recently had a patient who wanted to show me how well they could stand on one foot. They were doing it so much better since they started, and we like to make a big deal about that.”

Vickers Also Is A Certified Infant Massage Instructor

Along with her PCS certification, Vickers is also a certified infant massage instructor. She uses her infant massage training in her sessions with young children but also can teach parents how to give infant massages.

“It’s such a great bonding opportunity for parents and children. We see a need especially with children who’ve been in the NICU or had surgery early in life and just didn’t get as much of that early time with their parents. It’s a great way for parents and infants to connect,” she said.

“On top of that, infant massage has health benefits, especially for children with tight muscles or those with Torticollis,” said Vickers.

Vickers has been a therapist at Comprehensive Rehab for the past two years. “We have really good physical therapists and PTAs (physical therapy assistants) here who enjoy working with the kids and are passionate about their work.”

Comprehensive Rehab is a leader in providing physical therapy services for children. Comprehensive Rehab has Iowa clinic locations in Clinton, Muscatine, and Maquoketa