Studying Rehabilitation Therapy: Degrees at a Glance
Graduate programs might address therapies for visual, speech, hearing, occupational or physical rehabilitation that return clients to the workplace or improve their quality of life. You may be trained to assist patients affected by accidental or athletic injuries, stroke, cancer, aging or other conditions impairing independence. Licensing could be required by your state. Professional associations in various fields covering rehabilitation therapy may confer specialty certifications.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected 14% growth in jobs overall from 2010-2020. Employment for speech-language pathologists, audiologists and recreational, occupational and physical therapists was expected to grow 23%, 37%, 17%, 33% and 39%, respectively. You might qualify for a professional career in recreational or occupational therapy, audiology or speech-language pathology with a master's degree. Master's and postbaccalaureate Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) or Doctor of Audiology (AuD) degrees may support practitioner careers in these fields. Ph.D. programs for future academics and researchers are available in most rehabilitation therapy fields.
|Who is this degree for?||Individuals interested in practicing rehabilitative therapies||Individuals targeting advanced practice opportunities or teaching|
|Common Career Paths and Salary|| - Recreation therapist - ($46,000 - with certification)*|
- Audiologist - ($69,000 - with master's degree, fellowship and 0-2 years of experience)*
- Speech-language pathologist ($69,000 - with certificate of clinical competence)*
- Occupational therapist ($75,000 - with certification)*
- Physical therapist ($75,000 - master's degree plus certification)*
| - Physical therapy professor - ($85,000)*|
- Audiologist - ($90,000 - in colleges and universities with Ph.D.)**
- Speech-language pathology director ($94,000 - may require professional certification and advanced experience)*
- Rehabilitation therapy entrepreneur, various disciplines (salary unavailable)
|Time to Completion||1-2 years, full-time; may also require internships|| 3-4 years, full-time; may also require additional time for fellowships, practicums or internships |
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - Typically 30-40 credits, including major area subjects |
- Thesis may be required
- Clinical practicums
| - Approximately 70-90 post-baccalaureate credit hours, depending on discipline |
- Clinical requirements
- Dissertation or publishable papers
|Prerequisites|| Bachelor's degree |
- May require previous anatomy, statistics or medical terminology coursework
- May require GRE, TOEFL or other tests
| - Bachelor's or master's degree or enrolled in concurrent degree program |
- May require GRE, TOEFL or other tests
|Online Availability||Online degrees are rare but available||Rare to non-existent|
Sources: *Salary.com (2012 median salary), **ASHA 2010 Audiology Survey - Annual Salary Report (2010 median salary).
Master's Degree Covering Rehabilitation Therapy
Master's curricula could vary depending on your prospective discipline. A professional organization may publish information on accredited schools and career opportunities. Academic departments, hospitals or schools of medicine might host certificate or degree programs. Most fields require core courses in anatomy and physiology. Specific requirements could depend on your undergraduate preparation. Part-time programs may be available.
You could learn therapies for pediatric, adult or geriatric patients. These might address specific concerns such as sight, hearing, neuromuscular, musculoskeletal or hand and upper body functioning. Programs may require volunteer, laboratory or clinical practicum experience in a variety of settings. Some schools offer a combined DPT and Ph.D. option.
Pros and Cons of a Master's Degree in Rehabilitation Therapy
- Faster or much faster than average growth in jobs was projected for most rehabilitation therapy disciplines.
- Students with science aptitude, compassion and commitment to helping people may find rehabilitation therapy careers to be rewarding.
- Rehabilitation therapy careers may have entrepreneurial options.
- Intensive programs may not permit outside work while studying.
- Students who are less interested in working with older adults, a growing segment of clients due to the aging of the population, may find the market more competitive.
Courses and Requirements
Programs might vary depending on discipline, and your choice of a practitioner or academic and research career. They could include core courses in anatomy, physiology, sociology, psychology and statistics, followed by electives. Your studies may involve lab or research work and clinical practicums.
A master's in occupational or speech-language therapy or visual rehabilitation might take up to two years. A doctor of physical therapy or audiology degree could require 3-4 years of full-time study.
Courses such as these might be included in a program covering rehabilitation therapy disciplines:
- Human development across the lifespan
- Assistive technology
- Physiological assessment
- Research strategies
- Biomechanical theory and practice
- Patient management
The hands-on nature of these degrees might make fully online programs less common than on-campus programs, but some may be available, particularly for professionals already working in the field. You might make sure that online courses are equal to those on campus so they meet professional licensing or certification standards.
You'll probably need to complete one or more clinically supervised practicums to satisfy licensing requirements of your state and to make progress toward certification by your professional association. Working professionals may be able to meet continuing education requirements online with courses offered by their professional associations or by colleges.
Standing Out with a Master's Degree Program
You may want a school accredited by your discipline's professional association that offers a curriculum meeting state licensing requirements. These graduates may fulfill some or all of the criteria for professional certifications. Students may be able to network through local chapters of the National Council for Therapeutic Recreation Certification, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation and Education Professionals, The American Occupational Therapy Association or the American Physical Therapy Association.
Some schools may be identified as centers of excellence for research and training by government agencies. Graduates of these schools could attract favorable attention. You might pursue a subspecialty at a school with special resources in that field.
Ph.D. Programs Covering Rehabilitation Therapy
Doctoral programs are available in most rehabilitation therapy disciplines. You could be trained as a rehabilitation scientist with skills that facilitate independent investigation. Research areas could range from pathophysiology of injury or disease to associated disabilities and therapies that improve impaired function.
The doctoral degree may be appropriate if you want a career in postsecondary teaching, or a senior management or planning position requiring qualitative and quantitative research skills. Programs generally require core and elective coursework, comprehensive and oral examinations and a dissertation. You might have teaching or research assistant responsibilities. Clinical requirements could vary.
Pros and Cons of a Ph.D. Covering Rehabilitation Therapy
- A Ph.D. may be required to teach at a postsecondary school.
- This degree could provide high-level credibility for a candidate interested in a career that includes both teaching and practitioner duties.
- Doctoral candidates may achieve advanced expertise in one or more rehabilitation science areas, and competency in others.
- Ph.D. programs may require full-time commitments that limit concurrent income opportunities.
- A practitioner degree may be more suitable than a Ph.D. for students who prefer to deliver direct patient services.
Courses and Requirements
Course requirements could vary depending on discipline. Ph.D. programs might involve prescribed first-year courses in core topics. Quantitative and research competency will be required. Second and third-year coursework will likely involve electives supporting your dissertation topic.
You might take courses such as these in a Ph.D. program covering rehabilitation therapy:
- Human gross anatomy
- Issues in pharmacotherapy
- Functional modality
- Motor learning
- Teaching occupation and rehab science
- Grant writing for human services
Online Class Options
It could be difficult to find a Ph.D. program that is entirely online, but if you need to take some courses remotely, you may be able to attend a school that offers master's-level courses or degree programs online. Your program might accept some credits that are taken virtually from another school if you obtain permission. Any clinical requirements will need to be met at an approved site.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
Rehabilitation Ph.D. programs might be offered by schools with funding by federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health and other organizations. They may have affiliated research centers and special facilities that support advanced work in your field. Some programs might permit leading-edge research through their affiliations with teaching hospitals.
Students bound for academic careers will be expected to produce publishable research. A strong publication, conference presentation and research participation record may be viewed favorably by prospective employers.