How to Begin a Career in Cardiac Rehabilitation

Jan 23, 2022

Should I Become a Cardiac Rehabilitative Therapist?

A cardiac rehabilitative therapist helps patients improve their health after suffering a heart attack, undergoing a medical procedure or being diagnosed with heart disease. Therapists develop routines and set goals to help patients get back to a healthy cardiac state.

Rehabilitative therapists can work in an office or hospital environment, both of which are usually clean and climate-controlled. Although some may work evening or weekend hours, usually their work schedules conform to regular business hours. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median annual salary for all physical therapists was nearly $91,010 in May 2020, as well as that they could expect to see a healthy increase in job opportunities - 21% - between 2020 and 2030. However, these professionals are often on their feet and must do a lot of physical lifting while helping their patients perform prescribed rehabilitative exercises, which can put them at risk for back injuries.

Career Requirements

Becoming a cardiac rehabilitative therapist requires an associate's degree and state licensure. The following table outlines the requirements to become a cardiac rehabilitative therapist, via the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Degree Level Associate's degree
Degree Field Occupational therapy assistant
Licensure Required; information can be found via each state's licensing/regulatory affairs department
Experience Gained during externships
Key Skills Attention to detail, physical stamina, good interpersonal skills
Technical Skills Ability to use medical equipment to measure patients' vital signs
Median Salary (2020) $91,010 (for physical therapists)*
$37,530 (for rehabilitation counselors)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Complete Program Requirements

Working as a cardiac rehabilitative therapist requires students to complete a degree program in rehabilitative science, such as an Associate of Applied Science in Occupational Therapy, Rehabilitation Science or Physical Therapy. Prospective therapists can also choose to complete a 4-year program or earn a post-baccalaureate degree.

While aspiring cardiac rehabilitative therapists can take different career paths, certain core courses are standard for any degree program that students choose. These include an introduction to rehabilitative sciences, physical science, principles of rehabilitation science and human anatomy.

Step 2: Gain Hands-On Experience

Completing a degree program usually requires students to complete an internship through which they gain hands-on experience working with patients in medical facilities. Students take the knowledge they gained through the education process and apply it to real-life situations under the supervision of experienced professionals.

Step 3: Earn a License

Entering the field of cardiac rehabilitation can't be done without becoming licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but generally require the completion of an accredited degree program, passing a written licensing examination such as the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam and taking continuing education courses to maintain the license.

Step 4: Consider Taking Continuing Education Courses

Maintaining a license to practice cardiac rehabilitation therapy may require professionals to take continuing education courses. Although not all states require professionals to continue the education process, taking further classes is recommended. As technology advances and new techniques and methods take the place of previous practices, professionals need to stay up to date with current industry standards.

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