Career Information for a Degree in Rehabilitation Therapy

Sep 30, 2019

Rehabilitation therapy is generally a program that teaches students how to help ill or injured patients regain independence and mobility. Continue reading for an overview of the training, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

Rehabilitation therapy professionals include occupational therapists, physical therapists and physical therapy assistants. A degree in the field of rehabilitation therapy will fulfill the educational requirements to begin a career as a physical therapy assistant, and it can provide the educational foundation for occupational and physical therapists, who must also complete a master's or doctoral degree.

Essential Information

Degree programs related to rehabilitation therapy teach individuals how to assist patients with regaining strength, stamina, and flexibility, especially during the post-surgery or post-illness recovery process. Most programs include coursework in therapeutic activities, patient assessment, medical terminology, illnesses, anatomy, disabilities, and complementary therapies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the majority of degree programs in this field require individuals to complete internship programs. Rehabilitation therapy graduates may consider such career options as occupational therapy or physical therapy. There are different licensure and certification requirements for healthcare practitioners in these fields, and requirements vary by state.

Career Titles Occupational Therapist Physical Therapist Assistant Physical Therapist
Education Requirements Master's degree Associate's degree Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree
Licensure Required Required in nearly all states Required
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 18% 26% 22%
Average Salary (2018)* $85,350 $57,750 $88,880

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Options

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists use various treatments to help ill and disabled patients gain or regain the ability to perform everyday tasks or vocational duties. They often work with permanently disabled patients as well. Occupational therapists assess every aspect of the patient's life and make recommendations on dietary habits, exercise, vocational goals and assistive equipment.

The majority of occupational therapist positions demand that applicants hold the minimum of master's degrees, per the BLS. Graduate degree programs in occupational therapy also have a mandatory 24-week fieldwork element. According to the BLS, every state has licensure requirements for these professionals, which includes passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapists (NBCOT) examination. Those who pass the exam are recognized as occupational therapist registered (OTRs), and individuals must participate in continuing education coursework to maintain the designation.

Physical Therapist Assistant

These workers operate under the supervision of physical therapists, and they provide therapeutic care to clients and patients. They may apply cold and hot packs, provide massage therapy, demonstrate exercises, and record progress for patients suffering from accidents, surgery, disease or developmental disorders.

The majority of employers require physical therapist assistants to hold the minimum of associate's degrees in their field. Information from the BLS shows that licensure is also required for this profession in nearly all states. To become licensed, individuals must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE), which is offered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Individuals must register for the exam, provide a fee and proof of education, as well as schedule an exam date. Depending on state guidelines, applicants may be required to pass additional licensing exams.

Physical Therapist

Also referred to as PTs, physical therapists help patients by providing rehabilitation therapy. Usually, PTs work with patients who have recently been injured or who have suffered the debilitating effects of a disease or illness, such as stroke patients losing mobility in parts of their body. PTs assess patients and provide treatment regimens to help patients regain mobility and strength.

To become a PT, individuals must earn Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degrees, and to get into a DPT program requires already holding a bachelor's degree and meeting other coursework prerequisites. DPT programs take about three years to complete, and during that time students participate in classes and clinical internship experiences. Licensure is mandatory for this career, and individuals must pass the National Physical Therapy Examination to obtain licensing. Every state has different licensure requirements, and some states may require that applicants pass additional exams and submit to background checks. Licensed PTs with enough experience can pursue board certification within any of the eight PT fields of specialty.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to BLS records, there will be significant growth in these three job fields during the decade between 2018 and 2028. Occupational therapists can expect to see a 18% increase, physical therapist assistants are predicted to experience an impressive 26% increase, and PTs should experience a 22% increase, per BLS projections. Salary statistics gathered by the BLS during 2018 showed that occupational therapists earned average annual salaries of $85,350. Information from that same year showed that the average annual salary of physical therapist assistants was $57,750, and PTs earned $88,880.

Occupational therapists, physical therapy assistants and physical therapists all work with individuals who have been affected by illness, injury or a disability that affects their ability to perform functions involving mobility and motor skills. Job growth in all these fields is projected to be much greater than average through 2028.

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