Although bachelor's degree programs are available, a master's degree in occupational therapy is generally the minimum requirement for hand therapy professionals to practice, 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. A minimum 3.0 GPA is often required. Candidates with hand, splinting and wound care experience are preferred. Hand therapists should be energetic and well-organized and have good interpersonal skills. Programs may be available online.
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:
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 2015 make a mean annual wage of $85,790. The employment for these therapists from 2014-2024 is expected to grow 34%. This is much faster than average.
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.
Hand therapists provide physical therapy to the hands and extremities of patients for a variety of reasons. These programs teach you the skills to thrive in your chosen field, as well as prepare you to become licensed and certified while staying up to date as time goes by.