Become a Certified Hand Therapist: Certification and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a certified hand therapist. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in hand therapy.

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Do I Want to Be a Certified Hand Therapist?

Certified hand therapists are either occupational therapists (OTs) or physical therapists (PTs) who have additional training in rehabilitation therapies for the hand, wrist and upper arm. They treat conditions that include fractures in the arm or hand, burns, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendinitis. Certified hand therapists work with the goal to help in the healing process, which includes helping clients resume activities in their daily lives. Travel may be required between work facilities.

Job Requirements

A master's degree in occupational therapy or a doctoral degree in physical therapy is required, along with licensure, to become a certified hand therapist. Certifications in specialty areas are optional.

The following table outlines the core requirements to work in hand therapy:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Master's degree for occupational therapists; doctoral degree for physical therapists*
Degree Field Occupational or physical therapy*
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required; voluntary certification is available*
Experience Experience primarily gained through supervised fieldwork or a residency*; at least 4,000 hours of professional hand therapy experience required for certification**
Key Skills Communication, listening, interpersonal and writing skills, as well as compassion, patience and dexterity*
Computer Skills Varies; ability to navigate related medical software is common**
Technical Skills Ability to use field-specific tools, such as therapeutic balls and dexterity testing products**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Hand Therapy Certification Commission, ***O*Net Online

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

In order to become a certified hand therapist, students need to complete a bachelor's degree that will prepare them for a graduate program in occupational or physical therapy. Undergraduate degree programs in anatomy, biology or psychology with coursework related to physical or occupational therapy may be helpful.

Success Tip:

  • Begin gaining relevant experience. Completing an internship or a volunteer opportunity in a healthcare environment can help students learn more about the field while completing their undergraduate studies.

Step 2: Complete a Graduate Degree Program

Graduate programs accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of Physical Therapy Education are designed to prepare students for work as certified physical therapists. These programs require a full-time 2-3 year commitment, involving classroom, clinical and laboratory education. The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education accredits occupational therapy degree programs, which combine coursework and field experiences. Programs, such as the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy and Doctor of Physical Therapy, can provide the necessary clinical, research and theoretical training needed to pursue licensure.

Step 3: Get Licensed as an OT or PT

A license is required to work as a physical or occupational therapist in the United States. To qualify for state licensure, aspiring hand therapists should have graduated from an accredited OT or PT program. To become a licensed OT, students must pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy certification exam. Passing the National Physical Therapy exam, administered by the Federation of State Boards of Physical Therapy, is required for PTs. Exact licensure requirements vary by state and may consist of continuing education coursework.

Step 4: Gain the Necessary Work Experience

Before considering certification in hand therapy, an OT or PT must have five years of work experience, with 4000 hours of hand therapy work, according to the Hand Therapy Certification Commission (HTCC.) Individuals who work in occupational therapy may look for available positions at hospitals, health practitioners, schools or other healthcare environments. Physical therapists can seek out employment in similar settings, as well as home health care businesses or assisted living facilities.

Step 5: Get Certified as a Hand Therapist

Once an OT or PT has met the education and eligibility requirements, they may take the Hand Therapy Certification Examination, administered by the Hand Therapy Certification Commission. This exam is a rigorous 4-hour multiple-choice test covering related field topics, such as patient evaluation and therapeutic treatments. Recertification is required every five years.

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