Therapeutic Health Technician Careers: Salary & Job Description

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Therapeutic health technicians help occupational and physical therapists and chiropractors perform treatments improving the physical well-being, mobility and health of patients. Depending on the specialty, therapeutic health technicians can earn a mean annual salary ranging from $26,660 to $57,260. See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a therapeutic health technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Therapeutic Health Technician

Therapeutic health technicians work under the supervision of physical or occupational therapists or chiropractors to help patients undergoing rehabilitation therapy. Workers are known either as assistants (who hold an associate's degree and sometimes a license as well) or aides (who need no special training). Below are some pros and cons of a career as a therapeutic health technician.

Pros of a Career as a Therapeutic Health Technician
High job growth field (depending on specialty, 36% to 43% growth between 2012-2022)*
Relatively competitive salary (mean annual salary for assistants ranged from around $54,000 to $57,000 as of May 2014)*
Few educational requirements for aide positions*
Can be emotionally rewarding*

Cons of a Career as a Therapeutic Health Technician
May be necessary to work evenings and weekends*
May spend considerable time on your feet*
Requires close physical contact and exertion in positioning patients, kneeling and lifting*
May be frustrating or emotionally draining due to poor patient progress or response to treatment*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As an occupational therapy assistant, you assist an occupational therapist in developing a treatment plan that is unique to each patient. You may help patients perform therapeutic exercises or assist developmentally-challenged children to foster physical coordination. You may be detailed to teach patients how to use specific equipment that can aid in performing everyday tasks. You may also be responsible for keeping records of the progress of patients and reporting the findings to therapists, in order to make adjustments to the treatments.

As a physical therapist assistant, you work under the direct supervision of a physical therapist. Your duties involve observing and reporting patient response, performance and condition before and during therapy sessions. You may administer manipulation therapies, such as massage or stretching. You may be responsible for helping patients perform exercises and learning to use devices, such as walkers or crutches. You may also explain to patients and their families what they can look forward to and what steps they can take after treatment.

Career Prospects and Salaries

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) mentioned that employment opportunities for occupational therapy assistants and aides were expected to increase 43% and 36%, respectively from 2012-2022. Opportunities for physical therapist assistants and aides were expected to increase 41% and 40%, respectively, over the same time period. All figures are faster than the national average for all occupations. This phenomenon may be due in part to a growing senior population and the resultant needs for therapeutic healthcare.

As of May 2014, the BLS determined the mean annual salary for occupational therapy assistants and physical therapy assistants to be $57,260 and $54,330, respectively. In comparison, mean anuual salaries for occupational therapy aides and physical therapist aides came in at $29,040 and $26,660, respectively.

Education Requirements

The BLS states that in order to qualify to become either and occupational therapy assistant or a physical therapist assistant, you must earn an associate's degree from an accredited program. In addition to subject-specific courses, degree programs always contain a number of general education courses.

Physical therapy associates degree programs are accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE). Programs consist of a considerable amount of clinical work at treatment facilities, including first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification. Occupational therapist associate's degree programs are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). There is also a large amount of fieldwork in occupational therapy assistant programs. Both ACOTE and CAPTE maintain online directories of schools that offer accredited programs.

Licensure Requirements

Neither occupational therapy nor physical therapist aides are required to be licensed. However, according to the BLS most states require occupational therapy assistants and physical therapist assistants to be licensed. In order to qualify for licensure, you must successfully complete an accredited program.

Candidates to become physical therapist assistants must also sit for the National Physical Therapy Examination, administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy. Some states may require additional examinations and the completion of continuing education courses.

Candidates to become occupational therapy assistance must also sit for a state-administered examination. States may also require the completion of continuing education credits.

What Do Employers Look For?

One of the most important qualities employers look for in potential therapeutic health technicians is compassion. You should enjoy helping people and exhibit considerable empathy, as you minister to anyone from children to the elderly, who are in need of therapeutic health care. As a therapeutic health technician, you should have good interpersonal skills. You should be friendly, pleasant and helpful as you deal with people who may be in considerable pain and prone to frustration. You should be detail-oriented and have the dexterity and strength required to complete duties that can be quite challenging physically. In addition, you may be required to be certified. Below are some examples of job postings open during April 2012:

  • A Michigan healthcare company is looking to hire a full-time physical therapy technician to work Monday-Friday in administrative support of physical therapists. Applicants must be at least 18 years of age, hold a high school diploma or its equivalent and have at least six months of work experience in a physical therapy department.
  • A medical company working in support of the Department of Defense was looking for candidates to fill a position as a physical therapy assistant at one of a number of locations in the continental U.S. Applicants should have graduated from an accredited physical therapy assistant program and held a valid state, district or territorial license to practice. Duties included providing direct therapeutic care to patients who have suffered multiple traumatic injuries.
  • A home health and hospice care company headquartered in Georgia sought applicants for a position as an occupational therapy assistant. According to the advertisement, applicants must be certified by the American Occupational Therapy Association, hold a current, unencumbered license specific to the state where the company assigns the employee to work. Applicants must also hold a current CPR certification. The company offered an extensive benefit package.
  • A long-term, assisted care and rehabilitation company headquartered in Ohio, but with locations nationwide, looked for occupational therapy assistant candidates. Applicants must have held at least an associate's degree from an accredited program and appropriate licensure and/or certification. In addition to clinical duties, the job entailed participation in in-service training programs, assisting in marketing and traveling to remote facilities to provide services.

How to Stand out in the Field

The BLS advised that experience as a volunteer at a physical therapy or occupational therapy setting, such as a hospital or nursing care facility, may enhance your chances of being accepted into a program at a community college or technical school. While in high school, you may want to be certain to pursue courses such as biology or health.

If you secure a position as an aide, pursuing courses leading to an associate's degree can indicate your dedication and desire to excel and become a licensed therapeutic technician. If your field is occupational therapy, once you've become licensed as an assistant, you may want to become certified. While certification is voluntary, it can serve as a testament to your training and professionalism. Some employers require you to be certified. The certification examination is administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

Alternative Career Paths

Medical Assistant

One convenient aspect of choosing this career path is that you may be able to secure a position as an administrative medical assistant with only a high school diploma. However, you may find that you stand a better chance of being hired if you complete a 1-2-year formal, postsecondary program leading to a certificate, diploma or associate's degree in medical assisting. In order for you to perform clinical duties, such as taking x-rays or administering injections, some states may require you to complete a program that has been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs or the Accrediting Bureau of Health Education Schools and pass a qualifying examination.

Employers may require you to become certified. With on-the-job training, you may be qualified to sit for a certification examination resulting in being designated a registered medical assistant, national certified medical assistant or certified clinical medical assistant. With the completion of a formal postsecondary program, you may be eligible to sit for the certified medical assistant examination.

As of May 2012, the BLS determined the mean annual salary for medical assistants to be about $29,370. Employment opportunities were expected to increase 31% from 2010-2020.

Pharmacy Technician

While you may qualify to become a pharmacy technician with a high school diploma or its equivalent, some states require you to sit for an exam and/or complete a formal training program. While on-the-job training is common in the field, community colleges and technical schools offer formal postsecondary training programs that can take a year or less to complete. Many training programs include internships. You'll learn to take health information from patients, prepare medications, accept payments and process insurance claims. Working in hospitals or retail establishments, you may act as the liaison between the pharmacist and the patient.

States generally regulate pharmacy technicians. Your state's pharmacy board can provide you with specific rules and requirements, which may include a criminal background check and continuing education credits. Certification is only required by some states and employers, although it might enhance your possibilities of securing a position even when it's not required. Certification examinations are administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board and the National Healthcareer Association.

In May 2014, the BLS determined the mean annual salary for pharmacy technicians to be $31,090. Those employed at hospitals earned the most, at $34,000, while those employed at general merchandise stores came in at about $28,000. Employment opportunities for pharmacy technicians were expected to increase 32% from 2010-2020.

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