Certification: Excellence in Hand Therapy

By Mary Kasch, OTR, CHT -- 2002

ASHT was incorporated in 1977 to advance the specialty of hand therapy through communication, education, research and the establishment of clinical standards. At that time, membership in ASHT was restricted. Therapists needed to complete an extensive application and submit clinical hours, a patient log and case studies to be considered for membership. ASHT membership became a de facto form of certification, because of the stringent application process required. ASHT members were recognized in the field as being experts.

Governmental Influences

In the mid-1980s, antitrust laws against organizations with strict membership qualifications were being enforced. It was felt that restricting membership was a form of discrimination and that membership in an organization should be open to a broad range of individuals in a professional field.

Since the late-1970s, the federal government had also been encouraging the formation of voluntary certification programs that would not be federally regulated. These two trends led ASHT to establish a certification committee in 1984 to study other organizations and present options to its members. The committee discovered that the National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) in Washington, DC, had established guidelines for organizations that offer professional certification. Those guidelines were used to form the framework for hand therapy certification.

First Practice Analysis

The first step in the process was a role delineation study (now commonly known as a practice analysis) of hand therapy. A survey was written with consultation from a professional testing company and sent to ASHT members and non-members who practiced hand rehabilitation. The results of the survey formed the basis of the Scope of Practice and were used to write the original test blueprint. The results of the survey were published in the Journal of Hand Therapy in 1987. Based on the report of the certification committee, ASHT members voted to proceed with hand therapy certification at the 1987 Annual Meeting.

HTCC Separates from ASHT

To legally ensure an unbiased certification program, the Hand Therapy Certification Commission incorporated as a separate entity from ASHT in 1989, prior to the administration of the first Hand Therapy Certification examination in 1991. Since then, ASHT and HTCC have maintained a close relationship to promote the missions of both organizations; however, they are administratively independent and do not have influence over the policies, procedures or activities of the other organization. The leadership of both organizations maintains close communication throughout the year.