Hand Therapist Training Programs and Requirements

Hand therapists typically start out as occupational or physical therapists and receive advanced, specialized training to become hand therapists. A bachelor's degree in occupational or physical therapy is required to begin a career as a hand therapist, but a master's degree is preferred.

Essential Information

A master's degree in occupational therapy is generally the minimum requirement for hand therapy professionals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Most employers also seek job candidates with at least one year of experience, a valid driver's license and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. Candidates with hand, splinting and wound care experience are preferred. Hand therapists should be energetic and well-organized and have good interpersonal skills.

  • Program Levels in Hand Therapy: Bachelor's degrees, master's programs
  • Prerequisites: 3.0 GPA
  • Online Availability: Online programs are available
  • Other Requirements: Well organized and have interpersonal skills

Bachelor's Degree in Occupational Therapy

Bachelor's degree curricula for occupational therapy majors combine general education classes with core occupational therapy courses and fieldwork. They also gain knowledge of the upper extremities, medical equipment, treatment options and therapeutic exercises. Students explore social and behavioral science topics, such as:

  • Psychology
  • Anatomy
  • Sociology
  • Neurology
  • Physiology

Master's Degree in Occupational Therapy

In a master's degree program, students focus on research and advanced occupational therapy theories and practice. The first year of study is usually dedicated to coursework, while the second is focused on clinical training. Students typically complete six months of supervised fieldwork, reviewing case studies and exploring various research methods. Graduates of a master's degree program should be able to assess patients, provide appropriate therapy and manage the progress and effectiveness of treatment over time. Some common course topics might include:

  • Intro to OT practice
  • Medical conditions
  • Occupational performance in adults and adolescents
  • Human structure and function
  • Leadership and management in occupational therapy

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS states that physical therapists as of May 2014 make a mean annual wage of $83,940. The employment for these therapists from 2012-2022 is expected to grow 36%. This is much faster than average.

Continuing Education

Occupational and physical therapists, including hand therapists, must earn state licensure. Requirements vary but generally include graduation from an accredited occupational therapy program and passage of a national exam. Voluntary certification as a hand therapist is offered through the Hand Therapy Certification Commission (www.htcc.org). A current physical or occupational therapy license is required to apply for certification, in addition to a minimum of 4,000 hours of direct practice experience in hand therapy and five years as a physical or occupational therapist. Certification is valid for five years and requires continuing education courses to recertify.

The American Society of Hand Therapists (www.asht.org) hosts an annual meeting that includes instructional seminars on the latest findings in rehabilitation and discussions on topics like orthotics, billing and nerve transmission. Some medical facilities offer introductory, 1- to 2-day workshops for individuals who already work in the medical field and are interested in hand therapy.To remain competitive in their field, hand therapists might consider specializing in pediatrics, mental health or gerontology. In the case of pediatrics, the Newborn Individualized Developmental Care and Assessment Program Federation International (www.nidcap.org) offers a training program for hand therapists interested in treating newborns.

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