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Working as a Home Health Therapist: What new grads need to know

bigstock-Physical-therapist-helping-a-d-11987291-1.jpgIf you’re a new graduate looking to build a career in therapy, consider working in the home health field. This fulfilling professional role enables you to have a direct impact on people’s quality of life, helping them strengthen their skills and abilities or recover from health conditions in the comfort and familiarity of their own homes. 

Read on to learn more about the job duties of a home health therapist, changes in the field you should be aware of and tips for working in home health. 

What does a home health therapist do?

Home health therapists work with individuals who are unable to leave their homes to receive care. They may have mobility issues, chronic conditions, disabilities, disorders or injuries that prevent them from traveling to visit therapists. A home health therapist often sees patients on a regular schedule, becoming a trusted and dependable individual in their lives. 

Home health care includes both occupational and physical therapists. These roles are further explained below. 

  • Home health occupational therapist: Home health occupational therapists work in home settings with individuals who have conditions that prevent them from performing everyday activities. Through cognitive- and motor-based exercises and therapeutic treatment strategies, home health occupational therapists help patients perform basic functions and build skills for success in relationships, work, school and other areas. According to PayScale, occupational therapists with home health skills have a total pay range of $58,628 to $104,224. 
  • Home health physical therapists: Home health physical therapists work in home settings with individuals who have experienced surgeries, injuries, illnesses, age-related issues or other conditions that require rehabilitation. These professionals may treat patients on their own, or they may coordinate with the patients’ caregivers, doctors or other specialists. They help patients better manage or improve health issues to through a customized plan of care. According to PayScale, physical therapists with home health skills have a total pay range of $65,302 to $115,439. 

The two roles have many skills in common. Home health therapists should have “hard skills” such as extensive technical knowledge of treatment methods and care protocols, as well as “soft skills” such as patience, empathy and strong communication.

Tips for working in home health therapy 

If you’re interested in a career in home health therapy, here are some tips for success working in the industry:

1. Learn all you can 

It is a common misconception in home health that clinical expertise is not as necessary, as the author of a Senior Rehab Project article noted. However prevalent the belief, it is not the case. Home health patients depend on the detailed, technical knowledge of their therapists, and these professionals are important partners in patients’ care journeys. Although the technical duties may not be the same as those in other therapy settings, expansive knowledge is still important to making informed decisions and establishing plans of care. 

“Granted, I no longer perform detailed orthopedic assessments like I did in an outpatient ortho setting,” the SRP article explained. “However, my assessments ARE detailed in other ways. I have to take a step back and have a bigger perspective on the patient’s medical issues, functional deficits and social/environmental factors.”

“Clinical knowledge is not the entire answer in home health therapy – superior communication skills are also essential.”

2. Hone your communication skills

However, clinical knowledge is not the entire answer in home health therapy – superior communication skills are also essential. Therapists need to be able to effectively convey why certain treatments or exercises are important for patients to do, as well as have empathy, understanding and patience. They should recognize that communication is not a one-way street, and as such should be good listeners. When therapists arrive at a patient’s home for an appointment, they’re not just administering care and then leaving – they have the chance to also be a bright spot in that person’s day, a friendly face who will chat and listen. 

3. Stay organized 

Since home health therapists are not based at a single practice or treatment center and are instead visiting patients at their homes, staying organized and on schedule is especially important. Home health therapists may be in a situation where all of their patients do not live in the same town or very near each other, so strategically mapping out driving routes and having a manageable agenda is very helpful. 

4. Consider travel therapy

If you are interested in working in home health therapy but enjoy experiencing new parts of the country, consider being a travel therapist. Not only will you gain the experience you need and help patients achieve a good quality of life, but you’ll satisfy your love of travel and adventure. By working with a reputable staffing company, you can enjoy the stability of a “permanent” position but with the freedom to explore new places as you please. 

Home health therapy can be an incredibly rewarding career path that makes a real difference in people’s lives. New grads interested in the field should stay abreast of changes in the home health industry as well as developing their skills and abilities.