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Rehabilitation Science Career Information and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to start a career in rehabilitation science. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certifications to find out if this is the career for you.

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.

Essential Information

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 (2014-2024) 27% (occupational therapists)*
Average Salary (2015) $81,690 (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 growth of 27% for occupational therapists during the 2012-2022 period, as the elderly population continues to increase at a steady rate (www.bls.gov). Occupational therapists earned a mean annual salary of $81,690 in 2015.

Educational Requirements

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 2024 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. The BLS has predicted 34% job growth in this field during the 2014-2024 period. In 2015, the mean annual salary for a physical therapist was $85,790.

Educational Information

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 104,440 medical scientists were employed in 2015 and earned a mean annual salary of $93,730. The BLS has predicted job growth of 8% for medical scientists during the 2014-2024 decade, which is average for all occupations.

Educational Requirements

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.


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