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Does a Rehab Specialist Need a Bachelor's Degree?

There are several different specialties in the rehabilitation field. Job requirements usually depend on a combination of education and work experience. Learn the specifics for vocational, mental health and cardiac rehabilitation specialties.

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In general, a bachelor's degree can help rehab specialists get a job, but the educational requirements for vocational rehab specialists, mental health rehab specialists and cardiac rehab specialists vary.

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Education Requirements for Rehab Specialists

Most entry-level positions for rehab specialists require a bachelor's degree, but the exact educational requirements depend on the specialty. In general, aspiring rehab specialists study topics related to physical and/or mental health, depending on which area of the field they hope to work in. For instance, aspiring mental health rehab specialists may take relevant undergraduate coursework in psychology, while aspiring cardiac rehab specialists will spend more time learning about human anatomy and physiology.

Vocational Rehab Specialists

An entry-level position as a vocational rehab specialist requires a bachelor's degree, although some employers may require a master's degree to work in the field. Program majors that could prepare students for this occupation include the following:

  • Vocational rehabilitation
  • Behavioral science
  • Social work
  • Vocational counseling
  • Rehabilitation therapy

To land a position, candidates typically need 1-3 years of experience in vocational rehab or behavioral health. Once hired, vocational rehabilitation specialists help people with physical disabilities find jobs. They may find job placements to fit their clients' abilities, train clients to perform job tasks or conduct assessments to ensure they can adequately perform required job functions. They may work with a clinical team including doctors, occupational therapists and physical therapists.

Mental Health Rehab Specialists

Education and experience requirements for mental health rehab specialists vary depending on the job. These positions may require a bachelor's degree, but in some cases specialists with associate's degrees in behavioral science or a related field can find employment. Examples of required education and experience combinations include:

  • A bachelor's degree and 4+ years of experience in mental health
  • 2 years of full-time postsecondary education and 6-8 years experience in mental health work
  • A registered nursing license
  • 3 years of experience as a primary caregiver for an adult with mental illness

Mental health rehabilitation specialists help people who have developmental disabilities, learning disabilities or mental illnesses find jobs or demonstrate appropriate social behaviors. These rehab specialists often work as consultants for non-profit mental health organizations, private behavioral health agencies and hospitals.

Cardiac Rehab Specialists

To qualify for a job as a cardiac rehab specialist you must have:

  • At least a bachelor's degree in one of these fields:
    • Kinesiology
    • Exercise science
    • Nursing
    • Other related health field
  • Current licensure
  • 1-2 years experience

It's important to note that a master's degree in exercise science or a related health field is often preferred. A medical career website, Gap Medics, indicates that a cardiac rehab specialist generally trains as a physical therapist, nurse, exercise physiologist or respiratory therapist before becoming a cardiac specialist.

Cardiac rehabilitation specialists work with patients who have had a cardiac event and need to be trained for physical activity and nutrition while in the hospital and upon returning home. These specialists are often nurses who assess any special needs a patient may have and work with cardiologists and physical therapists to determine the appropriate rehabilitation plan.

Depending on their field of interest, aspiring rehab specialists need to meet specific educational and experiential requirements. A bachelor's degree in a relevant field is often among these requirements, but previous professional experience and possibly graduate education are also factors in hiring decisions.

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