Learn The 5 Steps To Become A Certified Hand Therapist
As an occupational therapist, you know how wide of a variety of jobs and settings we have to choose from. From inpatient rehab, acute care, pediatrics, home health, neuro outpatient, and of course, outpatient hand therapy.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in hand therapy, you will likely want to consider becoming a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) once you have met the necessary requirements.
The path to become a Certified Hand Therapist is rigorous and requires additional steps above and beyond just going to OT school and getting a job working as a hand therapist. Becoming a Certified Hand Therapist will not only provide you with more specialized and potentially higher paying hand therapy career opportunities, but it will also provide you with a deep understanding of hand and upper extremity anatomy, biomechanics, and the complex rehabilitation needs of hand injuries or conditions.
While there are jobs in hand therapy all over the world, I want to note that the requirements in this article are for the United States. Your country may have different standards of becoming certified, so be sure to check with your regulatory boards if you are not based in the US.
That said, here are the 5 steps you’ll need to become a Certified Hand Therapist:
1. Obtain your Master’s or Doctoral Degree in Occupational Therapy
At this time, you cannot be a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) and become a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) unless you have completed a Master’s or Doctorate OT bridge program.
You can, however, have your Master’s or Doctorate in Physical Therapy and become a CHT, although the majority of CHTs (around 85% as of 2023) are occupational therapists.
2. Have a Current OT State License
The CHT certification requires you to have an active occupational therapy license in the state you are or will be practicing in. You’ll very likely already have this as you start to build experience working in hand therapy, so this one is easy.
3. Take Continuing Education Courses Related to Hand Therapy
Self-studying is important in this expertise. Before you start applying for hand therapy jobs, you’ll want to make sure you’re well-versed on the anatomy and conditions of the hand and upper extremity.
OT school gives you a brief overview of working with hands but does not prepare you enough to go straight to a hand clinic without any relevant fieldwork experience.
Because of this, it will help immensely to have several continuing education hands courses under your belt before getting your first hand therapy clinic job.
You can find in-person weekend courses near you throughout the year by doing a quick Google search. I also recommend taking online continuing education courses related to hands through platforms like MedBridge.
4. Get a Job in an Outpatient Hand Clinic
According to the Hand Therapy Certification Commission, the certification requires a minimum of three years of clinical experience, including 4,000 hours or more in direct practice working with the upper extremity.
The 4,000 hours of direct practice experience must all be related to the upper extremity. Because of this, it is important to find a job setting that provides hand therapy services to build up those hours of experience. Outpatient therapy settings are your best bets for this.
Many clinics will hire and train you to work as a hand therapist before you have your CHT certification. Just be sure you have taken continuing ed courses related to the hand therapy before moving down this path so you can be prepared.
5. Pass the Hand Therapy Certification Examination
Once you meet the above requirements, you’ll then be eligible to sit for the Hand Therapy Certification Examination (HTCE). I do want to note that this exam is only offered in the spring and the fall, each over a three-week window.
The Hand Therapy Certification Exam is an intense four-hour computer-based test consisting of 200 multiple-choice items. At the time of publishing this article, the exam cost is $500. Please see the HTCE exam cost page for the most up to date information.
The exam covers quite a bit from anatomy and physiology of the hand and upper limb, treatment techniques and tools, to evaluation and therapeutic interventions, among other components.
For a complete list of what the exam covers, be sure to check out this comprehensive exam blueprint from the Hand Therapy Certification Commission for U.S. exam takers.
The CHT exam is not an easy exam, and as such you’ll want to make sure you give yourself plenty of time to study. To put things into perspective, the pass rate in 2022 for first-time test takers averaged 58%, with an average pass rate of 59% over the last 10 years.
Even though you’ll have over three years of experience and 4,000+ hours of hand therapy experience prior to being eligible to test, you’ll still really need to prepare for this exam.
Once you hit these 5 steps, you’re officially a Certified Hand Therapist!
Following the passing of the CHT exam, you’re officially a Certified Hand Therapist. Hooray!
As you can see by the requirements, becoming a CHT is not an easy road.
But, if you’re truly passionate about hand therapy as your career choice, the certification is worth pursuing to learn as much as you can and to differentiate yourself as an expert in hands.
In addition, you will open yourself up to more hand therapy positions that only hire therapists that have the CHT certification.
Do you have any other tips or insight for occupational therapists interested in becoming a Certified Hand Therapist?
What questions do you have about becoming a CHT? Please feel free to share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!
Additional Hand Therapy Resources
The OT’s Guide to Hand Therapy Interventions (My OT Spot)
A Day in the Life of an Outpatient Hand Therapist (My OT Spot)
This post was originally published on December 20, 2016 and last updated on June 27, 2023.