Nurse practitioners and physician assistants are advanced healthcare practitioners with similar responsibilities, such as diagnosing illnesses and prescribing medications. However, their training and paths toward certification differ in significant ways. This blog post unpacks the key differences between NPs and PAs to help you determine which career path best aligns with your goals. What Is a Nurse Practitioner? A nurse practitioner (NP) is a licensed clinician who provides comprehensive healthcare to patients of all ages. An NP can work in virtually any healthcare setting, diagnosing patient conditions and prescribing medications. As of October 2022, nurse practitioners have full practice authority in 27 states, meaning that they can practice Read more
Rehabilitation science is an interdisciplinary area of study that investigates human disability and function and helps people achieve optimal health. It brings together aspects of engineering, social sciences, and health sciences to create strategies that restore an individual’s functional capacity and improve their interaction with the environment around them. Rehabilitation science is a broad term for the field that includes the separate sciences of occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language pathology, and more.
Types of Rehabilitation Science Degrees Offered
To become a practitioner within a rehabilitation field—such as a physical therapist or occupational therapist—you need to earn your graduate degree in that field. Universities offer degree programs at both the master’s and doctoral levels. Having a bachelor’s degree is required; some doctoral programs, but not all, will also require a master’s degree for admission.
Master’s Degrees in the Rehabilitation Sciences
After earning a bachelor’s degree, ideally in a field related to health sciences, you can apply to a master’s program in one of the rehabilitation sciences. Master’s programs typically last two to five years and immerse you in hands-on practice in labs and in clinical internships with patients.
Some popular master’s degree programs in the rehab sciences are Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) and Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT). Curricula will cover a variety of theories and practices, depending on the degree, including:
- Assistive technology
- Theories of rehabilitation
- Patient/client care management
- Occupational performance
- Rehabilitation science theory
- Biomechanics of rehabilitation
- Qualitative research methods
- Adult neurogenic disorders
- Autism and social communication disorders
- Clinical applications in geriatrics
Depending on the program, you can focus on assistive technology development, children’s rehabilitation, sports injury, running rehabilitation, occupational performance, and much more.
Doctorate Degrees in the Rehabilitation Sciences
Ambitious students looking to further their education can opt to earn their doctorate in a rehabilitation science field. Most doctoral programs last three to seven years, depending on the area of concentration. They require an undergraduate degree and sometimes a graduate degree in a related field.
Some popular doctoral programs in the rehabilitation sciences are Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) and Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). Courses in doctoral programs will cover patient interventions, as well as a variety of research methods and practices, including:
- Applied anatomy
- Evidence-informed practice
- Differential diagnosis
- Patient care management
- Scholarly design
- Scholarly implementation and dissemination
With the additional education and credential of the doctoral degree, graduates are prepared to become researchers, educators, policy advocates, and leaders in rehab science. They’re also prepared for clinical practice.
Popular Career Paths
Depending on the degree, graduates have the opportunity to pursue a variety of clinical, research, and leadership positions, including:
- Occupational therapist
- Physical therapy program director
- Speech-language pathologist
- Healthcare policy advocate
- Educator in a college or clinical setting
- Medical health services manager
- Rehabilitation science researcher
- Rehabilitation counselor
- Designer of assistive products
- Clinic owner
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, popular jobs within the rehabilitation science field will be booming over the next several years. In fact, physical therapists can expect to experience a 22% increase in job growth between 2018 and 2028, while occupational therapists will see an 18% increase, followed by rehabilitation counselors with a 10% increase.
A graduate degree in a rehabilitation science will prepare you to help injured and ill patients develop or regain mobility, motor, and language functions. Such degrees are your gateway to a rewarding career helping people. When choosing a grad school, be sure to find a program that offers the courses and training you need to achieve your career goals.
At the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, we offer entry-level graduate degree programs in physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech-language pathology through our College of Rehabilitative Sciences. If you’re interested in earning your graduate degree in a rehabilitation science field, contact us to meet your enrollment advisor and begin your educational journey.
EN Brandt Jr. and AM Pope, editors, “Education and Training in Rehabilitation Science and Engineering,” in Enabling America: Assessing the Role of Rehabilitation Science and Engineering. Washington (DC): National Academies Press, 1997: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK233572/
Study.com, “Rehab Science Degrees by Degree Program Level”: study.com/rehab_science_degrees.html
Study.com, “Masters Degree in Rehabilitation Science: Program Overview,”
Oct. 13, 2019: study.com/articles/Masters_Degree_in_Rehabilitation_Science_Program_Overview.html
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Therapists,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, last modified Sept. 4, 2019: www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Physical Therapists,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, last modified Sept. 4, 2019: www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physical-therapists.htm
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Rehabilitation Counselors,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, last modified Sept. 4, 2019: www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/rehabilitation-counselors.htm