Physical and occupational therapists have an important role: they’re responsible for helping patients recover from injury, heal their minds and bodies, and improve their quality of life. It takes a special kind of person to become a PT or OT. But if you’re able to make it through one these demanding college programs you’ll have no trouble finding a job in almost any part of the country. Therapists are also relatively highly paid (compared to the national average), and enjoy starting salaries over $70,000/year in most metro areas.
Why is demand so high for this position?
There’s really a combination of factors that drove up demand for rehab professionals:
1. The population is aging. This is arguably the primary reason there’s a shortage of qualified OTs and PTs in the field right now. The baby boomers are retiring, and the elderly population is growing quickly. This group utilizes therapists at the highest rate.
2. The benefit of PT/OT is being realized. Increasingly, physicians and patients are seeing the benefit that therapy can have in improving outcomes. Patients who experience trauma that enroll quickly in a rehab program are much more likely to make a full recovery than those who don’t.
3. There’s a lack of students following this path. Finally, there’s simply not enough students obtaining degrees in this field. Physical therapists are now required to obtain a doctoral degree and occupational therapists are required to obtain a Master’s. The program requires a significant amount of anatomy and physiology along with demanding labs. They’re not easy programs.
What this means as a student
Students who are interested in entering a clinical field should consider a career as an OT or PT. Most large universities around the country offer these programs, and they’re typically very good. You’ll have to take some time to discover which role is right for you: occupational therapists are more involved with helping patients recover and develop their fine motor skills and mental skills, whereas physical therapists have a more hands-on role treating physical ailments.
Many students obtain an Associate’s degree first as a physical/occupation therapist assistant. This position allows students to determine if they’re interested in investing more time obtaining a more advanced degree and has the benefit of paying quite well.
Advantages of becoming a rehab therapist
There are several advantages to entering the rehab field. Just to name a few:
· The hours are good. OTs and PTs both typically don’t work overnight or weekends. In a clinical setting, this is very rare.
· The atmosphere is more casual. Therapists typically work in a small office setting and see patients as they can. Though busy therapists will see many patients in one day, they typically have more time to spend than other clinicians – family doctors often see up to 30 different patients per day!
· The benefits rock. Due to the high demand in this field, many companies offer tuition reimbursement, high starting salaries, and flexibility for therapists.
· You’ll be fighting the good fight. Healing people is awesome, and helping sick people get better feels great. Physical therapists report high job satisfaction ratings and it’s easy to see why.
Lisa Fox is a writer and researcher for Degrees That Pay. She recently helped research a piece about jobs that are in high demand for 2013.