Bachelor's degree programs in exercise science allow students to choose specializations, like health and fitness or rehabilitation. In addition to didactic coursework in nutrition and kinesiology, students may participate in clinical experiences.
Prospective cardiac rehab specialists can further their education by enrolling in a master's degree program in physical therapy. Physical therapy master's programs consist of both classroom and clinical components, and they typically prepare graduates for licensure.
Prerequisites for the master's degree program includes a bachelor's degree preferably in a related field, satisfactory GRE scores, 3.0 GPA or higher in prerequisite coursework in psychology, physiology, chemistry and physics and related volunteer or work experience.
Some online courses may be available.
Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science
While exercise science is often associated with athletics and sports management, a degree program in this field is an option for individuals interested in a career in cardiac rehab. Some programs offer tracks, such as health and fitness, early childhood education, rehabilitation, general exercise science, athletic training or pre-health. Students learn to assess a client's or patient's health and fitness level and take courses in fitness training, stress management, conditioning and overall well-being.
When graduates of an exercise science bachelor's degree program enter the cardiac rehab field, they are qualified to interact with related professionals--such as nutritionists and cardiologists--and to understand how exercise and medical prescriptions interact. The clinical portion of the program is supervised, and it allows students to apply their lessons in wellness and rehabilitation centers.
An undergraduate degree program for exercise science covers material ranging from human anatomy and exercise physiology to psychology and weight management. Course titles may include:
- Inorganic chemistry
Master of Science in Physical Therapy
A 2-year master's degree program allows aspiring cardiac rehabilitation specialists to develop the advanced skills needed to obtain licensure as a physical therapist. They also become qualified to interact with injured persons and create therapy programs for patients. Students in the Master of Science in Physical Therapy learn how to assess patient limitations, assign therapy treatments that restore strength (i.e. massage, exercise) and offer guidance. Theories and concepts are discussed in the first year as part of the science courses students focus on. Practical training and supervised clinical experience are introduced in the second year. Future physical therapists are able to choose an area of specialty, such as cardiac rehab, and learn how to interact with other therapists, physicians and counselors to comprehensively treat and care for their patients.
Graduate-level physical therapy courses focus on the role of the physical therapist and techniques needed for patient care. Sample topics include:
- Examination techniques
- Clinical decision-making
- Human anatomy
- Patient care
- Musculoskeletal therapy
Popular Career Options
Exercise science majors may work within a variety of organizations, including medical, athletic, rehabilitation and fitness centers. Career titles may include:
- Cardio rehab wellness specialist
- Cardio rehab specialist
- Exercise physiologist in cardio rehab
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Licensed physical therapists can expect a steady rise of 34% in job opportunities from 2014-2024 due to the growth of the elderly population, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Physical therapists earned an annual median salary of $84,020 as of 2015 (www.bls.gov).
Continuing Education Information
Graduates of a B.S. in Exercise Science may further their education by enrolling in master's or Ph.D. in exercise science. A graduate degree may open greater career and advancement opportunities.
Each state requires prospective physical therapists to obtain licensure. Requirements vary depending on the state. Prospective physical therapists are eligible to take the National Physical Therapist Examination (NPTE) to become licensed (www.fsbpt.org). The exam is given through Prometric Testing Centers. Candidates are tested on the skills and knowledge needed to be a physical therapist. The exam has approximately 250 questions.
Physical therapists who wish to specialize in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation may become a certified cardiovascular and pulmonary specialist by sitting for a certification examination offered by the American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org). Additional requirements, such as a specific number of hours of patient care interaction, may be necessary. Once certification is complete, professional physical therapists often continue their education with seminars and workshops.
Individuals interested in pursuing a career as a cardiac rehabilitation specialist can enroll in a bachelor's or master's degree program in exercise science to learn not only the knowledge and training needed but to gain clinical experience.