There are a lot of great opportunities if you are interested in working in an allied health profession – including physical, occupational, and speech therapy. All three careers offer the chance to help people improve their functioning and quality of life. If you are trying to decide what type of therapy career suits you best, learning about each is a good first step.
Physical therapists treat people who have medical conditions or injuries that limit their ability to move. They work with people of all ages in settings, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, sports medicine facilities, and nursing homes.
After completing an assessment and exam, physical therapists may perform certain tests to identify problems. Therapists also develop treatment plans, which may focus on increasing mobility, using adaptive equipment, or reducing pain.
In order to become licensed as a physical therapist, you are required to have a doctorate of physical therapy degree. There are over 200 physical therapy programs located throughout the United States.
Salaries for physical therapists vary by experience. But according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for physical therapists in 2012 was about $80,000 a year.
Although the roles of occupational therapy and physical therapy can overlap, they are two different professions. Occupational therapists also work with people of all ages who have conditions that decrease functioning. But occupational therapists focus more on helping people improve their ability to perform daily tasks, including anything involving the hands. For example, an occupational therapist may help a person recovering from a stroke learn how to use adaptive equipment.
Similar to physical therapists, occupational therapists also work in settings, such as nursing homes, rehab centers, clinics, and schools. Although doctoral programs are available, occupational therapists can enter the field with a master’s degree. Salaries for occupational therapists depend on what type of facility they work in. According to the BLS, the average salary for occupational therapists in 2012 was about $75,000 a year.
Speech therapists, also known as speech-language pathologists (SLPs), work with people who have swallowing or communication disorders. Disorders may include trouble speaking or understanding language and processing information. There are many different types of communication disorders. Some are genetic, and others develop due to injuries to the part of the brain that controls language.
Therapists diagnose and develop treatment plans for patients of all ages. They may teach patients how to use alternate methods of communication. Additionally, they work with patients to improve reading, writing, or speaking.
Speech therapists work in many of the same settings as both occupational and physical therapists, including nursing homes and hospitals. The also commonly work with students in schools and in patients’ homes.
If you are interested in becoming a speech therapist, you need a master’s degree to get started. Most states also require speech therapists to be licensed. Salaries for speech therapists are slightly lower than that of occupational and physical therapists. The average salary for speech therapists in 2012 was just over $69,000 a year.