After a serious illness or injury, a person might need rehabilitation in order to recover the ability to move and perform daily tasks, such as walking or grasping objects. Modern physical rehabilitation is divided into the areas of physical therapy and occupational therapy. While there is significant crossover between the two professions and both are often provided to the patient in order to achieve the highest level of recovery, there are some differences between the two. In addition to occupational and physical therapists, which deal with physical recovery, rehabilitation counselors also work in the field of rehabilitation to help individuals cope with the emotional side of their disability. Read about rehabilitation schools to discover, which of these healthcare professions is right for you.
Selecting Your Rehabilitation Program
Rehabilitation science, occupational therapy, and physical therapy programs are offered at every level from vocational programs through doctoral degrees. Some rehabilitation professionals choose to begin their careers with a vocational certificate or associate’s degree, working as an aide, technician or assistant, and then increase their level of education as they obtain real world experience in the field. Occupational therapists and rehabilitation counselors are usually required to earn a master’s degree, while physical therapists are typically required to earn a doctoral degree.
Joining an undergraduate rehabilitation program generally requires candidates to have a high school diploma or GED and submit standardized test scores, such as SAT or ACT. In order to gain acceptance to a graduate program, you will need to have already completed your bachelor’s degree. Some programs offer a combination program that allows undergraduate students to complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree in only five years. The number of doctoral level programs in physical and occupational therapy is growing. These programs usually take five to seven years to complete and require a research dissertation.
Programs at all levels often include a practicum component where you will have the opportunity to apply your skills with actual patients to gain experience. Your curriculum will vary by specialty and degree level, but during your rehabilitation courses you may discuss topics such as:
- Rehabilitation science
- Exercise physiology
- Medical terminology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Physical therapy prevention and intervention
- Occupational therapy theory and practice
- Foundations of patient care
Although requirements can vary by state, rehabilitation positions typically require licensure in order to qualify for employment. Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants must pass the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists (NBCOT) exam, while physical therapists and physical therapy assistants must take the National Physical Therapy Examination (NPTE). Voluntary certification is also offered through taking these exams and may enhance employment prospects. Some states might require state-issued exams rather than the national examination. Rehabilitation counselors must earn 2,000-3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience in addition to passing a sate exam. The Commission on Rehabilitation Counselor Certification also offers voluntary certification.
Rehabilitation Employment Options
Physical therapists assist patients in regaining movement, such as the ability to walk, push/pull a door open or regain spinal flexibility. Occupational therapists assist patients in using assistive equipment and modifying their environment in order to improve their quality of life and have the ability to complete daily tasks. They will typically demonstrate correct use of assistive equipment and guide the patient as the patient masters use of the equipment in their daily lives. Rehabilitation counselors help people facing physical or emotional disabilities to live independently.
Most rehabilitation professionals work in office environments during normal office hours. Some rehabilitation offices are open on evenings and Saturdays, and the therapist might need to meet with clients during these hours. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for both physical and occupational therapy positions should be must faster than average in the coming decade, while positions for rehabilitation counselors should increase at a faster than average rate. The growth can be attributed to the aging baby boomer generation requiring increased healthcare, as well as medical improvements allowing for enhanced rehabilitative care. The salaries for rehabilitation professionals are as follows:
- Physical therapy aides– $23,880
- Occupational therapy aides– $26,850
- Rehabilitation counselors– $33,880
- Physical therapy assistants– $52,160
- Occupational therapy assistants– $53,240
- Occupation therapists– $75,400
- Physical therapists– $79,860
Because people are living longer lives, this increases the likelihood that they will become injured at some point and also means that the skills of rehabilitation professionals will be in high demand across all regions. However, rural areas might have particularly favorable opportunities as rural clinics typically report difficulties in finding qualified therapists. Viewing rehabilitation schools might help you join the ranks of these healthcare professionals.
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