Study Connects Expanded Credentials With Certification Success

NEW ORLEANS – Practitioners who are expanding their credentials have higher success rates on the prosthetic certification exam, according to M. Jason Highsmith, PhD, PT, DPT, CP, FAAOP. Highsmith presented study findings on behalf of Rebecca Miro, PhD, MBA, BSPO, former graduate student at the University of South Florida, at the American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists Annual Meeting, here.

The purpose of the study was to determine predictors of exam success based on gender, Carnegie ranking of the institution where the candidate received their degree and whether the candidate was furthering their credentials.

“This is a first of its kind in O&P,” Highsmith said. “It provides that initial step to build a knowledge base…a benchmark of comparison to look at what our colleagues in other professions are doing, and then also to look internally.”

The study

Following a retrospective research design, the study included 158 participants who completed residency between 2011 and 2012 at a National Commission on Orthotic and Prosthetic Education (NCOPE) or American Board for Certification in Orthotics, Prosthetics & Pedorthics (ABC)-accredited program.

Researchers examined variables including age, race, residency type and possession of other academic or O&P degrees. They also explored exam scores and time between residency and examination.

“We did not pull [the included variables] out of thin air…they were pulled from an extensive literature search to see if there were any correlations with success,” Highsmith said.

Key takeaways

M. Jason Highsmith

Findings showed no significant difference in success rate based on the selected variables; however, practitioners seeking to further their credentials performed at higher levels on the exams, according to the study.

“If they were certified orthotists going for their prosthetic credential – about 73 of 158 of those folks passed,” Highsmith said. “Gender was not significant, the Carnegie classification was not significant, but credential extension was.

“This was the most important finding because…it shows us that regardless of the school classification, experience with the certification process was the most important factor in success on a future exam.”

Certification and the future of O&P

Certification is an important step in O&P, Highsmith added, and in many cases, it is a required to obtain licensure.

“A certified individual or company has certain standards in place that set them apart from others and offer some assurance of safety.

“Also, there are third-party reimbursement issues where payers may say, ‘We are not going to pay for services unless they are provided by a certified individual.’ So, certification is crucial step in keeping our industry in good standing.”

Further research could help, Highsmith said. The University of South Florida team is considering repeating this study with a larger sample size and again after the transition to the master’s requirement for O&P certification has stabilized.

“If you look back around 2005 or 2006…the certificate in O&P was the predominant highest entry level of education into the profession. But as a part of long-term survivorship came the talk about transitioning from the certificate to the master’s [degree],” Highsmith said.

“As that levels out, we should consider evaluating the difference in learners [who] took an hours-based, procedural-based residency versus those [who] completed a competency-based residency. There might also be some value in looking at exams question by question to see the significance of certain content.”

With organizations such as the Orthotics & Prosthetics Centralized Application Service, data are becoming more widely available, Highsmith added.

“We can look at prerequisite courses to see the value of each particular one rather than just arbitrarily choosing them. We can look at something now and say, ‘This has value to the future of our profession.’” – by Shawn M. Carter


Highsmith M.J. Paper F37. Presented at: American Academy of Orthotists and Prosthetists Annual Meeting and Scientific Symposium; Feb. 18-21, 2015; New Orleans.

Disclosure: Highsmith and Miro report no relevant financial disclosures.

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