There are many career opportunities under the rehabilitation science umbrella. These professions are about helping others become more self-sufficient. A master's or doctoral degree is required for nearly every position as well as on-the-job training and professional certification.
Rehabilitation science careers include a variety of interdisciplinary fields focused on improving the lives of people living with disabilities. People who work in rehabilitation sciences, such as occupational therapy and physical therapy, help individuals become more mobile and self-sufficient. Many professionals also work as researchers, developing rehabilitative treatments and technology. A graduate degree from an accredited institution as well as certification and licensing is required for a career in rehabilitation science.
|Required Education||Master's or doctoral degree|
|Other Requirements||Certification and state license|
|Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)||18% (occupational therapists)*|
|Average Salary (2018)||$84,270 (occupational therapists)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
Occupational Therapy Career Information
Like most careers related to rehabilitation science, the focus of occupational therapy (OT) is on helping individuals dealing with physical, mental and developmental disabilities that affect their ability to work, learn or be self-sufficient. OTs engage clients in activities designed to improve coordination and problem-solving skills, enhance memory and reasoning and develop life and vocational skills.
They may teach clients how to shop and cook for themselves or help them find work, often acting as a liaison with an employer and monitoring the client's job performance. They may also help people learn to use assistive technology, such as adaptive computers, voice recognition devices and alternative communication systems. Occupational therapists often work in rehabilitation centers, mental health facilities, private homes, schools, hospitals and nursing homes.
Career Projections and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected job opportunities to increase much faster than the average for occupational therapists during the 2018-2028 period, as the elderly population continues to increase at a steady rate (www.bls.gov). Occupational therapists earned a mean annual salary of $85,350 in 2018.
Bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree programs in occupational therapy are often offered through the rehabilitation science departments of universities. Many occupational therapists earn a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation science or occupational therapy before pursuing a master's degree in occupational therapy.
Master's degree coursework often includes anatomy, kinesiology, neuroscience, occupational therapy analysis and research methods. Students also learn about physical disabilities and rehabilitative modalities, in addition to completing a 6-month supervised internship. Areas of concentration often include gerontology, pediatrics, mental health and physical dysfunction. The BLS reported that there were 145 master's degree and four doctoral degree programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) in 2013.
Certification and Licensing Requirements
According to the BLS, occupational therapists must be licensed in all states. Licensure requires earning a master's degree through an accredited educational program and passing a certification exam. In some states, aspiring OTs may also have to take a state licensing exam. Licensed OTs may use the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) designation. Certification is offered through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (www.nbcot.org).
Physical Therapy Career Information
Physical therapists (PTs) apply rehabilitative science when working with people who have mobility problems, often caused by accidents and illness. They develop and monitor programs in strength training, teach clients how to use assistive equipment and apply manual therapy to relieve pain and promote healing. They often work with other rehabilitation science professionals in creating a treatment plan for patients, including speech-language pathologists, nurses and occupational therapists.
Salary Information and Career Outlook
As with occupational therapy careers, job growth is expected to be very strong through 2028 as demand for PT services increases, partially due to an aging population, but also because of changes in many insurance plans that will make PT services available to a wider group of people. In May 2018, the BLS reported that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $120,750 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $55,490 or less per year.
Physical therapy degrees are offered at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral level; however, according to the BLS, only graduate-level degree programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE), which is affiliated with the American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org). The BLS reported that more than 200 degree programs for physical therapists were accredited by the CAPTE as of 2015. Many students pursuing graduate degrees in physical therapy have obtained a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation science.
Graduate degree programs in physical therapy include courses in physiology and anatomy, pharmacology, radiology, diagnostic methods, as well as therapy and treatment delivery practices. Graduate programs also include an internship. Master's degree programs in physical therapy qualify students for entry-level professional practice and often take two years to complete, while doctoral degree programs take three.
Certification and Licensure Requirements
Every state requires physical therapists to be licensed, which generally requires a minimum of a master's degree from an accredited physical therapy program and a passing grade on the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE) administered by The Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy (www.fsbpt.org). Voluntary specialist certification is also offered through the American Board of Physical Therapy Specialties, a branch of the American Physical Therapy Association.
Rehabilitation Science Research Career Information
Many people who obtain doctoral degrees in rehabilitation science are interested in pursuing careers in education and research. Rehabilitation science researchers conduct studies intended to evaluate, treat and prevent physical, mental and developmental disabilities. Some also teach at the university level. They typically work for academic institutions, healthcare facilities, research organizations and government agencies.
According to the BLS, approximately 130,700 medical scientists were employed in 2018 and earned a mean annual salary of $84,810. The BLS has predicted job growth of 8% for medical scientists during the 2018-2028 decade, which is average for all occupations.
Completing a doctoral degree in rehabilitation science often takes three years. In addition to completing a rehabilitation science research project, students also take core courses in statistical research methods and scientific writing. Specialty coursework might include physiology, principles of human motor control, ergonomics or neurobiology.
So if you like helping others get back on their feet, sometimes literally, have a passion for rehabilitation sciences and are comfortable working with people who have significant healthcare problems then this could be the career for you.