How Can I Become a Hand Therapist?

Explore the career requirements for hand therapists. Get the facts about education requirements, job duties, licensure, and certification to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Holistic Health Practitioner degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Hand Therapist?

Hand therapists are occupational or physical therapists who help patients improve the use of their hands following an injury. This field combines different techniques from physical and occupational therapy to provide care for issues related to the hands, fingers, wrists, shoulders, and elbows. They might also help individuals coping with diseases that restrict movement or coordination. Hand therapists should be friendly, caring individuals with a passion for helping others.

The table below explains additional requirements for a career in hand therapy.

Degree Required Master's degree in occupational therapy or Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT); a post-graduate training program in hand therapy is advised
Key Responsibilities Assessment of severity of patients' injuries, creation of rehabilitation programs, implementation of treatment options
Licensure or Certification State licensure is required for both occupational and physical therapists; certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2018-2028)* 18% (for all occupational therapists); 22% (for all physical therapists)
Median Salary (2018)* $84,270 (for all occupational therapists); $87,930 (for all physical therapists)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does It Mean if I'm a Hand Therapist?

According to the Hand Therapy Certification Commission, 'hand therapy' actually focuses on rehabilitation of the hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder. As a hand therapist, you create treatment programs that allow an individual to participate more fully in situations requiring use of the upper limb area. To do so, you apply both occupational and physical therapy principles to assess and treat problems and dysfunction.

What Will My Job Duties Be?

As an occupational or physical therapist specializing in hand therapy, you could design and implement rehabilitation treatment plans for a wide range of upper-quarter issues, including amputations, arthritis, cysts, tumors, crush injuries, dislocations, edema, fractures, and infections, among others. Techniques vary, but may include compression therapy, biofeedback, desensitization, exercise, functional activity, manual therapy, and wound care. You could also specialize in postoperative rehabilitation or injury rehabilitation.

What Education Do I Need?

You must be a licensed occupational or physical therapist in order to pursue advanced training in hand therapy. Occupational therapists are required to have a master's degree and passing scores on the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy's licensure exam. Physical therapists need a doctorate in the field. They must also pass the National Physical Therapy Examination and meet other state licensure requirements before being eligible to practice.

If you would like to pursue a career as a hand therapist, it is advisable to complete a post-graduate fellowship or certification program to receive focused training in the field for six months to one year. To qualify for a fellowship program, you must have graduated from an accredited program and completed a year of professional practice. Such programs are often available through teaching hospitals.

How Do I Become Certified?

In order to become a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT), you must have at least five years of professional experience, with at least 4,000 hours in direct practice in hand therapy. Additionally, successful completion of an examination is required. The exam is offered twice per year and covers scientific knowledge, clinical judgment, technical skills, interpersonal skills, professionalism, and resource management. You are required to recertify every five years.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Speed-language pathologists diagnose and treat patients with communication and swallowing disorders brought on by a number of factors, including strokes, injuries, disorders, and other causes. They typically hold master's degrees. Audiologists assess and treat hearing and ear problems, as well as those affecting balance with regards to its relation to the inner ear. Chiropractors are specialized physicians by using spinal adjustments to relieve pain and correct issues pertaining to the neuromusculoskeletal system. These two careers typically require doctorate degrees.

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