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How to Become an OT/PT Professor

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Many rehab professionals realize at some point that they’d like to teach. It’s the natural progression for quite a few treating clinicians—but it can also be a great non-clinical career path for those who aren’t loving direct patient care. For those who do enjoy patient care, education can make a great hybrid career, enabling you to spend some time in the clinical setting to keep your skills fresh (and, in some states, complete clinical hours to renew your PT/OT license). If you’d like to become an OT/PT professor—or simply try your hand at education—this article is for you!

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How to break into education as an OT or PT

This article will discuss how to become a PT/OT professor, but we’re going to start small and work our way up by beginning with other forms of entering the education space.

There are all sorts of ways to teach, and not all of them require tons of education or experience.

We’ll start with the easiest types of teaching to the most involved, and you can see which fits your own needs.

How to Become a PT or OT Professor

1. Start by teaching continuing education courses

One of the easiest ways to break into the education space is to teach a continuing education course. You can do this in person or online.

In-person courses often require a good amount of travel, but they tend to pay better than online courses. However, you also need to have the flexibility in your schedule to allow the travel.

There are also a variety of companies, such as MedBridge, OccupationalTherapy.com, and PhysicalTherapy.com, which provide online clinical and non-clinical CEUs to rehab professionals. These companies also need instructors, and the nice thing is you only teach the course once, online. This, of course, means the overall pay is much lower than it would be if you were teaching in person, but it’s a much more passive method for earning income as a physical or occupational therapist.

Many people teach online OT courses in part for the pay, but largely for the exposure. It can be prestigious and help your brand when you teach a con-ed course on a specialized topic.

Not only is teaching clinical topics on these sites a great option, but you can also teach non-clinical CEU courses. If you know a lot about billing, reimbursement, compliance, or other similar subjects, you can get exposure for your knowledge on these topics, which looks good on your resume—and you’re getting paid for it!

Online education can be further broken down into:

  • Live webinars
  • Self-paced courses

You’ll often be paid differently, so definitely check with the companies to learn more!

One of the reasons why we recommend starting out in con-ed is that it’s a great “trial run.”

Although we spend a huge amount of time providing education to our patients in the clinical setting, that one-on-one experience is a bit different than that of teaching a large group of people within an institution.

We recommend starting small and trying online or in-person con-ed instructing before diving in any further. This is a great way to test the waters to see whether you really enjoy being in the classroom setting as an educator.

Here’s a whole article about becoming a PT continuing education instructor! (And thank you to the author, Nicole Tombers, as I pulled lots of great info from that article when writing this one!)

2. Consider teaching at community and technical colleges

Another option for getting started in education lies at the community (or technical) college level.

There are many different options at this level, from adjunct (sort of like PRN in the teaching world) to full-time faculty. The educational backgrounds and clinical experience of therapy practitioners make us well suited for teaching courses in a variety of topics at the community college.

The cool thing about community colleges is that they focus on teaching excellence, not research. That means that you can teach for the pleasure of teaching, rather than feeling pressured to “publish or perish,” as is sometimes seen at higher institutions.

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Another thing is, community and tech colleges will have PT or OT faculty with a variety of degree levels, from associate’s degrees to doctoral degrees. This will depend on the type of courses you teach, so let’s go over those:

Teaching at OTA/PTA Programs

The most obvious pick for us will be teaching at OTA (or PTA, if you’re a PT) programs. The requirements below are based on the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) and Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education (CAPTE) accreditation standards, and might vary state-by-state. Positions within OTA or PTA programs may include full-time or adjunct faculty.

Full-time positions include:

  • Program Director (PD) – usually requires a minimum of a master’s degree
  • Academic Fieldwork Coordinator (AFWC)/Academic Coordinator of Clinical Education (ACCE) – both usually require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree

Adjunct faculty positions include:

  • Lab instructors – generally require an associate’s degree or higher
  • Lab assistants – generally require an associate’s degree or higher
  • General course instructors – most often require at least a bachelor’s degree; however, some OTA/PTA programs utilize individuals at the associate’s degree level

Some programs may even pay for clinical supervision of students, especially in nontraditional settings!

Teaching health science or general courses

We’ve covered OTA (and PTA) programs, but what if you just want to teach general courses at the community college level? Some of us probably want to shake things up and move outside of the world of rehab!

You can also find general health science roles at the community college level.

Consider courses like:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • General biology
  • Kinesiology
  • Medical terminology
  • Healthcare communication
  • Healthcare administration/management

Here’s an article about breaking into teaching at PTA schools.

Instructional video, resumes, cover letters, CVs, interview prep, and more!

3. Become a professor and teach at OT and PT programs

If your goal is to be a professor in a university program, meaning in an OT or PT program, the requirements are typically more substantive.

Some institutions have both a “clinical track” and a “tenure track,” and they’ll hire faculty for each track depending on the individual’s qualifications and the school’s current needs. If both clinical and tenure track positions are available, applicants with clinical doctorates will most likely be considered for clinical-track positions, while those with PhDs or other non-clinical doctorates will be considered for tenure-track positions.

A primary difference in tenure track vs. clinical track positions is that tenure track positions may offer a greater level of job security once tenure is actually obtained (however, the process may take five years or more!).

Teaching at this more advanced level also comes with more stringent rules. There are also accreditation standards, or requirements, for faculty members that must be adhered to. CAPTE standards currently state that “each core faculty member…has doctoral preparation, contemporary expertise in assigned teaching areas, and demonstrated effectiveness in teaching and student evaluation.”

ACOTE standards technically vary depending on whether the program is at the master’s or doctorate level. However, the majority of OT programs now prefer, if not require, doctoral preparation. Demonstrating expertise in specific teaching areas could potentially be met through a doctoral degree, clinical experience, clinical education of students, plus a certificate of clinical specialization (such as OCS, GCS, etc. for PTs, or CHT, ATP, CDRS, etc. for OTs).

What is a terminal degree?

If you’ve looked at OT or PT education jobs, you’ve probably seen the phrase “terminal degree” pop up a few times.

A terminal degree is the highest degree awarded in a given field. So, if your sights are set on a career in academic education, you may need to pursue a terminal degree.

There are several terminal degree options for occupational and physical therapists. While an entry-level OTD or DPT is considered a terminal degree in the fields, they are known as “professional,” “clinical,” or “practice” doctorates (similar to the MD for medicine and the JD for law).

Unfortunately, some positions, depending on institutional rules and regulations, may require an academic terminal degree (such as PhD or EdD). It can be difficult to analyze the differences between various programs and which one may be right for you. The following are some of the most common options, keeping in mind that the degrees have many similarities.

Any of them may prepare you for a career in higher level education, depending on what your ultimate goals are:

  • OTD and DPT (Doctor of Occupational Therapy/Doctor of Physical Therapy): These degrees may be entry-level or post-professional, and appropriate for clinical-track or tenure-track faculty positions, depending on institutional rules and regulations.
  • PhD (Doctor of Philosophy): This is the most widely available and commonly held terminal degree, and it’s focused on conducting and analyzing research. There are some programs that offer a PhD in either occupational or physical therapy; however, they are not widely available.
  • EdD (Doctor of Education): This degree focuses on preparing for teaching in various educational settings, as well as taking on administrative roles within the field of education, and understanding teaching theory.
  • DSc or ScD (Doctor of Science): This degree is equivalent to a PhD, but is more clinically focused than the research-heavy PhD—although some schools that offer both degrees have very similar requirements.
  • DHSc (Doctor of Health Science): This degree offers preparation for scholarly work in healthcare, such as high-level administration, teaching, applied research, or clinical practice.
  • DScPT (Doctor of Science in Physical Therapy): This degree is essentially a clinical-specialty degree, often in manual therapy, which trains you to be a master clinician, teacher, and researcher.

Keep in mind that some of these programs have a broader focus, and are not necessarily geared towards rehabilitation professionals or clinicians (although some programs certainly are). Similarly, there are subcategories within these degrees that denote a specific focus area. For example, you may get a doctorate degree in Rehabilitation Sciences, Movement Sciences, Kinesiology, Health Education, Public Health, etc.

Even after choosing which terminal degree to pursue, there are still more things to contemplate. The length, focus, requirements, and costs of the degree vary from program to program, so you will need to research specific programs to find the best fit for you.

Applying and getting hired for OT/PT professor roles:

So, you’ve done your research, gotten the right experience and education, and reached the point of applying for academic positions—congratulations! The hiring process in the world of education can be quite different than what you are accustomed to in a clinical setting, so here’s what we recommend.

Applying for positions

A key difference in applying to academic positions is that they usually require a curriculum vitae (also known as a CV or vita), rather than a resume. A CV is much longer than a resume and should contain everything you’ve done in your career. Your cover letter should highlight your passion for education and why you’re such a great fit specifically for this particular academic institution.

You can find more advice on where to find jobs and how to create a great CV and cover letter—as well as comprehensive example templates you can edit— in Non-Clinical 101!

Interviewing and negotiating

Once you’ve applied to jobs, you may begin receiving requests to schedule interviews. The interview process in academia can be fairly extensive. It may include an initial screening interview by someone in HR (or an internal recruiter), then may progress to telephone/Skype interviews by one or more members of the search committee, and finally to an on-campus interview.

An on-campus interview will often be followed by a request for you to put together a teaching demonstration.

Once you are offered the role, you’ll want to ask some more questions and possibly negotiate your pay before you accept the role. Be sure you understand the scope of the position and what types of additional expectations will be required of you.

As the fields of occupational and physical therapy continue to grow, quality educators are needed to prepare the next generation of clinicians. If you have a desire to move into a non-clinical role that still uses the valuable knowledge and experience that you have worked and paid for, becoming an educator may be a great option for you.

Don’t let the idea that you are not qualified or don’t have the right experience hold you back! With a little work, this is a completely achievable goal. Start small by building your network, exploring teaching positions that you are already qualified for, and finding joy in your work again.

Instructional video, resumes, cover letters, CVs, interview/teaching demo prep, and more!

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