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Be a Rehabilitation Assistant: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a rehabilitation assistant. Research the job description and the education and certification requirements, and find out how to start a career in physical or occupational therapy. View article »

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  • 0:03 Becoming a…
  • 1:29 Complete a Training Program
  • 2:55 Get Licensed
  • 3:33 Maintain Licensure

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Video Transcript

Become a Rehabilitation Assistant

Rehabilitation assistants work with occupational or physical therapists to provide patient care and management. Physical therapists provide treatment to help patients improve their quality of life after injuries, illnesses, or surgeries. Occupational therapists provide similar treatment; however, occupational therapy is based on helping injured or disabled patients manage everyday tasks associated with personal life or work. This occupation can be physically demanding. Rehabilitation assistants sometimes need to lift or move patients, and they often stand for long periods of time.

Rehabilitation assistants must have a compassionate nature and high attention to detail. They must be able to use accounting, medical, and spreadsheet software as well as work with:

  • Prostheses
  • Walkers
  • Patient beds
  • Lifts
  • Therapeutic accessories
  • Braces
  • Slings
  • Gait belts
  • Pointers
  • Mouth-sticks
  • Writing aids

As of May 2015, physical therapist assistants earned a mean annual wage of $55,250, and occupational therapist assistants earned a mean annual wage of $58,340, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Let's trace the steps to become a rehabilitation assistant.

Degree Level Associate degree
Degree Field Physical therapy assistant or occupational therapy assistant
Licensure Most states require license
Experience Entry-level; some employers may require 2-3 years of field experience
Key Skills Compassionate nature, physical stamina, relational skills, high attention to detail; knowledge of accounting software, medical software, and spreadsheet software; ability to work with prostheses, walkers, patient beds, lifts, therapeutic accessories, braces, slings, gait belts, pointers, mouth-sticks, and writing aids
Salary (2015) $55,250 per year (mean salary for physical therapist assistants); $58,340 (mean salary for occupational therapists)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*Net OnLine, Employer job postings (November 2012)

Step 1: Complete an Accredited Training Program

Physical and occupational therapy assistant programs both take around 2 years to complete and typically result in an Associate of Applied Science. Admission requirements generally include placement tests, prerequisite courses, and observation hours. Programs include traditional classroom learning with a strong emphasis on clinical field experiences. Before starting clinical sessions, students might need to complete a physical exam, get various vaccinations, and earn CPR certification.

PTA programs teach students various physical therapy techniques used in rehabilitation, including ultraviolet and electric treatments, exercise, and massage. OTA programs focus on the development and application of treatment programs designed to improve patients' standard of living. The clinical portion of a student's education takes place at healthcare facilities under the direction of a practicing physical or occupational therapist.

Here's a success tip:

  • Keep good records. PTA and OTA programs often have selective admission requirements that can include medical records, certifications, clinical hours, and/or academic records. Making sure records are current and organized can make subsequent processes like licensure, license renewal, and employment easier.

Step 2: Get Licensed

All states require licensure for physical therapist assistants, and most require licensure or registration for occupational therapy assistants. In addition to meeting education requirements, many states require that aspiring PTAs sit for the National Physical Therapy Exam, while prospective OTAs are often required to pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy's Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam. Some states mandate additional state exams as well.

Step 3: Maintain Licensure

Depending on the state where an individual works, he or she might need to complete continuing education requirements for licensure renewals. Rehabilitation assistants might have to take state-approved courses or seminars designed to help them keep current with industry developments. Individuals can check with their state boards for license renewal requirements and approved courses for continuing education.

Remember, to become a rehabilitation assistant, you'll need to complete an associate's degree program in physical therapy or occupational therapy. Additionally, you might need to attain and maintain state licensure.

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