Board Certified Physical Rehabilitation with Briana Elson, MS, OTR/L, BCPR, CBIS

Hello! We’re back with our next installment of the OT Specialties and Certifications series, and today we will be learning about the BCPR, or Board Certification in Physical Rehabilitation, with Briana Elson, MS, OTR/L, BCPR, CBIS.

Last week I reached out through the Neuro4OT page on Facebook and had an overwhelming response of OTs wanting to share about their various certifications in the neuro world, and Briana was the first one to offer to help! It just so happens that she also lectured on TBIs and SCIs during my fourth semester of school, so I know first hand how knowledgable she is in the field of neuro rehab!

As usual, I will start out this blog by sharing what exactly the BCPR is and provide any links, and then we will get into the interview with Briana!

According to AOTA:

“Occupational therapists that hold AOTA’s Board Certification in Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR) are formally recognized for engaging in a voluntary process of ongoing professional development and for translating that development into improved outcomes for clients. Occupational therapists with AOTA’s Board Certification in Physical Rehabilitation have met the criteria delineated for an advanced practitioner by successfully completing a peer-reviewed process that includes:

  1. Demonstration of relevant experience
  2. A reflective portfolio
  3. Ongoing professional development”

There are four areas for OTs to become board certified in, including gerontology, mental health, pediatrics and physical rehabilitation. The purpose of these board certifications is to differentiate the practicing OT from others, showing that they demonstrate an advanced skill set in their chosen area, and possess the tools to further their knowledge in practice.

At present, AOTA is in the process of changing the way OTs are credentialed with this certification. In the past, it was a peer-reviewed process as discussed above. In 2022, AOTA will be offering an exam in order for OTs to demonstrate their advanced knowledge in advanced physical rehabilitation.


AOTA’s Advanced Certification Program

Physical Rehabilitation: Board Certified Practitioners

Briana attended Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, PA and has been practicing for 5 years. She currently practices in acute care, inpatient neuro-rehabilitation and is also adjunct faculty at a university. She loves a challenge and considers herself a life-long learner, which is what drew her to specialize in neurological rehabilitation.

Why did you choose OT? 

I thought it was awesome that I could tie in my psychology undergrad background understanding the human mind and emotions and then relate it to science which I ‘ve always loved. I love the empowerment that you can give people from the most simple task to something more complex like driving. The scope of practice is so vast which is another thing I was drawn to.

Why and when did you choose to become board certified in physical rehabilitation?

I became certified this past April after submitting my portfolio for approval. I was able to fast track after completing my Neurological Fellowship (can certify with less years of practice). I think it’s important to show others your commitment to being well-versed in your craft. Doctors and lawyers have specialties and it’s important to acknowledge that we as OTs also have specialities. I wanted to be the best in what I chose to specialize in and I felt as though the BCPR credential allowed me to show that and be proud of the work I put in to be an expert.

Can you briefly describe this certification? 

This is directly from my certification recognition letter: 

“Through its Board and Specialty Certification programs, AOTA provides a framework for professional development that is specifically geared to the discipline of occupational therapy and formal recognition for those who have engaged in a voluntary process of ongoing, focused, and targeted professional development. Although these programs are voluntary, attainment of certification demonstrates a strong level of commitment to the profession, the practice area of Physical Rehabilitation, and consumer care.
Through a rigorous peer-reviewed process, Briana was able to demonstrate the capacity to meet established criteria related to Knowledge, Critical and Ethical Reasoning, and Interpersonal and Performance Skills; as well as communicate meaningful practice changes and client outcomes. Completion of this certification demonstrates scholarly and professional involvement in activities that promote professional growth and contribute to the field of occupational therapy in the area of Physical Rehabilitation.”

What settings have you worked in? Do you have a favorite? Why?

I’ve worked in ICU, acute care, inpatient rehab and skilled nursing. I’ve also done travel therapy in these settings. I love [inpatient] rehab because of the progress you get to see with your patients when they spend a long period of time with you and you see them everyday, they really become family. You become such an integral part of their recovery process, it’s amazing. I do love ICU as well because of the medical complexity and critical thinking skills you need for such a fast-paced setting. That’s why I choose to spend my time working in both, I can’t choose just one!

What does a typical day with clients look like for you?

If I am working in acute care: I get a list of patients, you see them as you are able to. Sometimes people are not medically stable to participate with you based on lab values and other factors. You get to plan your day and prioritize accordingly based on discharges and other things.

If I’m inpatient: I have a schedule of patients back to back through lunch. Usually they are 30 minute to hour long treatment sessions. Mornings a lot of times consist of ADLs including dressing and bathing programs. Sometimes I have lunch with patients if they are working on self-feeding independence.

How do you stay client-centered and occupation-based in your practice?

I use PSFS and COPM to help with maintaining client-centered care as well as just building good rapport and always asking your client what’s important to THEM. Things change constantly so frequent re-assessment of this is vital to their participation and motivation. I am a huge proponent of occupation-based intervention. Luckily, my rehab has so many things that we can use to keep things occupation-based, but even when I’m in the acute setting I try to simulate as close to home setup as possible. I’ll use the whiteboard in the room for writing or use the closets for home management and functional reaching. You can literally use anything! Just have to get creative.

What are the steps to acquiring the credentials? Is there a renewal process?

It was previously portfolio based answering questions based on your experiences with clients in addition to my successful completion of a fellowship. However, it’s now changed to exam based which won’t be available again until 2022. There is a 5-year renewal cycle.

Do you get paid more for having this certification?

I did get an increase in my hourly rate when I applied for a new job since I had the certification in hand.

Can you name the various settings that a BCPR can practice?

All settings that serve adults – mostly medical models, so hospital, rehab, skilled nursing, etc.

Do you believe acquiring the credentials is worth it? How has it impacted your practice?

Personally, for me, yes!

I definitely learned new skills from acquiring this certification. I learned the impact of and got the opportunity to implement evidence based practice everyday at all times. I also learned how to utilize evidence based assessment in order to facilitate a more well thought out treatment plan and intervention plan of care based on what is proven to work with high level evidence. I also feel as though my overall knowledge, and in turn my confidence, increased making it easier to verbalize my rationale to colleagues, family members and patients.

The portfolio that is required for application to the board certification is very reflective. It asks specific questions about how you have implemented certain concepts into your practice. I feel as though going through the certification process allows you to reflect on the type of practitioner you are and want to continue to be. It also shows expertise in your craft and the highest level of practice as an occupational therapist. Is definitely something to be proud of!

Do you have any other OT interests that you would like to pursue, or do you have any other certifications?

I also have a CBIS certification and very interested in the IADL of driving so looking to pursue DRS credentials or something related to low vision such as CLVT.

Do you have any words of advice for someone wanting to pursue the BCPR credential?

Keep an eye on the new process for exam-based certification; the changes are still being made and the exam is being created, so the next set of applicants won’t be able to pursue until 2022. Definitely look into AOTA fellowship programs which can fast track you onto a path towards board certification like it did for me.

Briana has made herself available for questions via her email:


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