3 Steps to Becoming a Hand Therapist
Written by Matthew Alpert, OTR/L, Published on June 5, 2017
You might have a strong interest in becoming a hand therapist except you're unsure how to become one, or what the right path to take is.
Prior to becoming a hand therapist, you have to consider the multiple paths and the several factors that exist before considering this small niche of rehabilitation.
Hand therapy is a highly specialized area of rehabilitation that both occupational and physical therapist can pursue. There are several practice requirements needed for certification to be a certified hand therapist (CHT), which will be discussed at a later point in this article.
What exactly is hand therapy?
Hand therapy is a rather small population of therapists (either occupational or physical therapist) who make enormous impacts on their patient's lives. By observing a certified hand therapist, you will see what exactly hand therapy is.
More specifically, CHTs will treat acute and chronic injury from the shoulder to the hand. This includes lacerations, fractures, burns, neurological, pre/post-operative, and non-operative injuries.
Protip: Often time working in hands involves blood. If you are squeamish, consider this before becoming a hand therapist!
Is hand therapy for me?
You may be asking yourself, "How do I know hand therapy is the right path for me?"
This is a very hard question to answer because you're are the only one who can answer it. Most new grads will have an idea of the area of practice they want to focus on before graduating OT school.
Hand therapy is a different animal when it comes to treatment as a whole. It's a fast-paced, intensive and high analytical. If you like puzzles, well then than hand therapy might be for you.
What does it take to be a hand therapist?
To start off, according to the Hand Therapy Certification Commission, once must meet the following requirements:
- Be an occupational or physical therapist with current professional credentials
- As of May 2017, CHT candidates must have a minimum credentialing for 3 years
- Having 4,000 hours of direct practice experience
It can be difficult to understand and wrap your head around what is "direct practice experience".
According to the Hand Therapy Certification Commission, direct practice experience is when a therapist is providing treatment from shoulder to hand. However, it does not have to pertain to strictly to a hand therapy setting. As occupational therapists, a majority of our practice is involving the upper extremity, and it can be useful to be practicing in an upper extremity/orthopedics setting.
HTCC's definition of Direct Practice Experience "is the direct provision of patient care through assessment and implementation of an individualized treatment plan including but not limited to orthotics/splinting, modalities and/or exercise to prevent dysfunction, maximize functional recovery or influence the effect of pathology in the upper quarter. It does not include time spent in administration, research, teaching or consultation."
What is not considered direct practice experience?
- Cognitive therapy
- Community integration
- Vision rehabilitation
For some becoming a CHT is a no-brainer or others they just fell into that area of practice and continued on with it. At NGOT, we want to know what your thoughts on hand therapy and what it takes become a CHT.