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Cardiac Rehab Degree Programs with Course Information

Learn about undergraduate and graduate degree programs related to cardiopulmonary rehabilitation. Get details on admission requirements and common courses at each degree level, and discover popular career options and employment data for graduates.

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Essential Information

Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation, also known as cardiac rehab, is a type of physical therapy for individuals who have heart disease. Though a degree program that focuses solely on cardiac rehabilitation is not available, undergraduate students can pursue a bachelor's degree in exercise science. Some of these programs allow students to choose specializations, like health and fitness or rehabilitation. In addition to didactic coursework in nutrition and kinesiology, students may participate in clinical experiences.

Prospective cardiac rehab specialists can further their education by enrolling in a master's degree program in physical therapy. Admission requirements for these programs usually include a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, like exercise science, and prerequisite courses in health and science-related subjects. Physical therapy master's programs consist of both classroom and clinical components, and they typically prepare graduates for licensure.


Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science

While exercise science is often associated with athletics and sports management, a degree program in this field is an option for individuals interested in a career in cardiac rehab. Some programs offer tracks, such as health and fitness, early childhood education, rehabilitation, general exercise science, athletic training or pre-health. Students learn to assess a client's or patient's health and fitness level, as taking courses in fitness training, stress management, conditioning and overall well-being.

When graduates of an exercise science bachelor's degree program enter the cardiac rehab field, they are qualified to interact with related professionals--such as nutritionists and cardiologists--and to understand how exercise and medical prescriptions interact. The clinical portion of the program is supervised, and it allows students to apply their lessons in wellness and rehabilitation centers. Enrollment in a Bachelor of Science in Exercise Science program generally does not have any special requirements outside of the admissions prerequisites to the college or university.

Program Coursework

An undergraduate degree program for exercise science covers material ranging from human anatomy and exercise physiology to psychology and weight management. Course titles may include:

  • Biomechanics
  • Nutrition
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Kinesiology
  • Inorganic chemistry
  • Clinical exercise science
  • Stress management
  • Methods of training
  • Development and exercise

Popular Career Options

Exercise science majors may work within a variety of organizations, including medical, athletic, rehabilitation and fitness centers. Career titles may include:

  • Cardio rehab wellness specialist
  • Cardio rehab specialist
  • Exercise physiologist in cardio rehab

Continuing Education

Graduates of a B.S. in Exercise Science may further their education by enrolling in master's or Ph.D. in exercise science. A graduate degree may open greater career and advancement opportunities.

Master of Science in Physical Therapy

A 2-year master's degree program allows aspiring cardiac rehabilitation specialists to develop the advanced skills needed to obtain licensure as a physical therapist. They also become qualified to interact with injured persons and create therapy programs for patients. Students in the Master of Science in Physical Therapy learn how to assess patient limitations, assign therapy treatments that restore strength (i.e. massage, exercise) and to offer guidance. Theories and concepts are discussed in the first year, as students undertake primarily science courses. Practical training and supervised clinical experience falls into the second year. Future physical therapists are able to choose an area of specialty, such as cardiac rehab, and learn how to interact with other therapists, physicians and counselors to comprehensively treat and care for their patients.

Education Prerequisites

Admission requires a bachelor's degree; although it isn't always required, most institutions prefer if the candidate has a degree in nursing, physical therapy or exercise science. Applicants also need to submit GRE scores and have at least a 3.0 GPA in all prerequisite classes, such as psychology, physiology, chemistry and physics. Some programs require rehab or healthcare volunteer experience.

Program Coursework

Graduate-level physical therapy courses focus on the role of the physical therapist and techniques needed for patient care. Sample topics include:

  • Examination techniques
  • Clinical decision-making
  • Human anatomy
  • Patient care
  • Neuroscience
  • Pathology
  • Musculoskeletal therapy

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Licensed physical therapists can expect a steady rise in job opportunities from 2010-2020 due to the growth of the elderly population, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Physical therapists earn an annual median salary of $79,860 as of May 2012 (www.bls.gov).

Continuing Education Information

Each state requires prospective physical therapists to obtain licensure. Requirements vary depending on the state. Prospective physical therapists are eligible to take the National Physical Therapist Examination (NPTE) to become licensed (www.fsbpt.org). The exam is given through Prometric Testing Centers. Candidates are tested on the skills and knowledge needed to be a physical therapist. The exam has approximately 250 questions.

Physical therapists who wish to specialize in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation may become a certified cardiovascular and pulmonary specialist by sitting for a certification examination offered by the American Physical Therapy Association (www.apta.org). Additional requirements, such as a specific number of hours of patient care interaction, may be necessary. Once certification is complete, professional physical therapists often continue their education with seminars and workshops.

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