National Council for Therapeutic Recreation is the organization in charge of administering the NCTRC examination. It was created in 1981 as a non-profit group dedicated to assist Recreation Specialists. There are currently over 12,000 NCTRC specialists in the country. Not every state in the country requires Recreation Specialists to have licenses. The states that do have requirements are Utah, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and Oklahoma.
Recreation Specialists are healthcare professionals that use recreation as a therapeutic tool for people with disabilities. It is a type of therapy often used with children as well, since children communicate better in play. In order to get a job like this, a certification is usually necessary. You must complete a few steps before getting a job as an RS. The first step is to get a college degree in recreation therapy. A few schools have a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree program in this field. The second step is to get work experience as an RS under the supervision of a certified RS. The last step is certification, which you can earn through taking the NCTRC.
Internships and job placements are usually found through schools, but you can also find some advertised online. There are several formal internships programs for aspiring recreational therapists, but most internships are specialized. You can find jobs as a volunteer at a nursing facility, a group home, or a rehab center. As a student, you won’t get paid, but you will earn valuable college credits.
The NCTRC exam sounds quite convoluted, but it can be broken down into simpler terms. The first portion of the exam consists of 90 questions that you must answer in 86 minutes. Once you finish it, you cannot go back and review it or change any answers. When you are done with the first portion, you will immediately get a graded score that lets you know if you passed and can move forward, or if you failed.
Next, you will work on “testlets,” which contain 15 questions that must be answered in 14 minutes or less. You must finish 12 testlets, for a total of 180 questions. You have three hours to finish all the testlets, and you get your scores right after you submit them. It is a fast-paced exam that is not for the faint of heart. You had better be fast at clicking if you want to succeed on this test.
Therapeutic recreation is the biggest topic on the exam. It comprises up to 47 percent of the test. The subtopics include documentation, assessment, implementation, and strategies. If you have been studying on a regular basis, you should have no problem excelling on this portion.
The next biggest portion of the test is foundational knowledge of your subject matter. This includes theories, background, and diagnostics. You need to know all about human development, behavior, and diversity concerns. You also should study leadership, group interaction, and safety. The next portion of the NCTRC is the “organization of therapeutic recreation,” which includes service design and administrative tasks.
Becoming a Recreational Specialist
Therapeutic Recreational Specialists, or CTRS’s, work with people who have disabilities. They come up with fun and interesting ways to incorporate therapy into sports and games. An RS can work with people who have become injured or who suffer from a genetic disability. Recreational Therapists are experts at getting patients to increase their range of motion and coordination. The test is called the NCTRC Exam.
Someone who would make a good CTRS is patient, enjoys assisting others, and can get along with all types of people. As a medical professional, your patients will look up to you to provide them with greater mobility or coordination. You must be the one to initiate all therapy procedures. It takes a lot of creativity and patience to come up with new routines for different injuries. Many therapists find this career to be physically demanding, so you also need to be in excellent shape or risk the chance of burnout or injury.
How does one become a Certified Recreation Therapeutic Specialist? There are actually degree programs devoted to this career field. Physical therapy is a related field if you cannot find an RS program in your area. Therapeutic recreation is actually a combination of physical therapy and mental health counseling. Some CRTS’s have actually designed their own degree using a combination of anatomy and physiology courses and psychology.
The next step is to take the NCTRC exam, which is a nationally recognized designation. You can work in hospitals, rehab centers, clinics, and group homes with this certification. Although the exam itself may seem daunting, it is broken down into small sections so that it won’t seem as long as it is. You must answer multiple “testlets” in less than 60 seconds. It will keep you on your toes, but it’s not impossible.
You can get internships through your school or through online job ads. Most jobs are posted online these days, so that would be a good place to look. Since internships are competitive, it is imperative that you start looking for a job a few months in advance. Therapeutic Recreation jobs are not as plentiful as nursing jobs, for example. You may have to create a position by sending out resumes and explaining your skills.
An entry-level CTRS job might consist of shadowing a seasoned RS and assisting him or her. Your tasks may seem mundane at first, but you have to get used to the schedule and physical demands. Learn where tools and therapeutic items are stored, get to know the patients, and listen to your colleagues. If you want to get into supervisory positions, you will most likely need the NCTRC certification. It is a foundational requirement for many of these administrative jobs.
The job outlook for Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists is fair. It seems that many hospitals are actually cutting back on staff members that are not completely essential. You may find better prospects in nursing facilities and outpatient centers, which often rely on the expertise of an RS. The average CTRS makes around $35,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Internships and Jobs for Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists
Internships are an invaluable piece of the CTRS career field. In order to get work experience, you need education. You can enroll in an accredited degree program that offers the RS specialization. Your school may or may not help you obtain internships, but they are a necessary component of your education. Keep reading to find out about the different companies that offer RS students the chance to gain work experience. The test is called the NCTRC Exam.
Getting an internship or job is a required step in your quest to being certified. Most internships are several weeks long, and you are expected to live in or around the facility. Some hospitals and nursing homes offer low-cost housing units for interns. It is a good idea to start applying to internships at the start of the semester to beat out the competition. Once you have accrued the appropriate number of hours, you can apply to take the CTRS exam. Taking the exam is the last step toward becoming a CTRS. With this designation, your resume goes to the top of the pile.
- Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
This is a three-unit residential facility that works with children as young as 10 and as old as 18. Their diseases range from PTSD, Bipolar, Depression, and ADHD. Interns can get low-cost housing for the duration of their internship. If you get this internship, you will work under the authority of a licensed CTRS and will assist him or her with daily tasks.
- Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Lexington, Kentucky
Shriner’s Hospital is globally recognized. Interns work a 12-week program under the direct supervision of a CTRS. You can work with babies, children, and teens in this program. Your tasks include coordinating outings and daily documentation tasks. You may be asked to perform additional duties as needed.
- The Atrium Medical Center in Middleton, Ohio
There are 20 patients at any given time at the Atrium. They require physical rehabilitation with the help of a CTRS. The Atrium offers a 15-week internship that lets you work different rotations. Tasks include planning education, leisure skill development, and implementing treatment sessions. Only one intern per semester is hired by this facility.
- The Children’s Memorial Hospital in Chicago
This 16-week internship provides five-hour workdays. Interns work seven days a week. Interns work with patients on socialization skills, community reintegration, and other recreational activities for children. This hospital provides activities such as arts and crafts, yoga, animal assisted therapy, and group therapy sessions.
Remember that most internships are unpaid. Rather than money, you receive college credits and references. It is extremely important to get good references from your supervisors for future job references. The last thing you want to do is burn your bridges, especially in a career like RS where the competition is fierce.
At the end of your internship, ask your supervisors to write letters of recommendation for future use. Employers like to see that your work has already been evaluated by colleagues.
Job Outlook for Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists
Physical therapy jobs are all over the Internet these days. Occupational therapy jobs are also plentiful. It is rare, however, that you see a job ad for a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS). There are only about 23,000 CTRS professionals in the nation. They mainly work in hospitals, for the government, and in nursing homes. About a quarter of all CTRS’s work with geriatric patients. The test is called the NCTRC Exam.
The job outlook for CTRS professionals may grow in a positive direction in the near future. The growth is expected to come from nursing homes, mainly. Baby Boomers are growing older and starting to require physical therapy. Older people usually require assistance with mobility and coordination, and a CTRS is poised to step into that position. If you are just getting started in your CTRS career, you may soon face greater competition than you currently do. Nursing homes will remain the biggest employer of CTRS’s in the next 10 years.
Disabled children also require the services of a CTRS, who knows how to incorporate play into therapy. Physical therapy can be grueling and painful, but if the therapist invents a game out of it, the child may want to do the required exercises. The federal government is also starting to fund these types of programs for children more often, which will boost job growth. Public schools sometimes employ CTRS’s part-time to work with disabled students during the school day.
Hospitals will probably start to slow down on hiring CTRS professionals. The main reason is that fewer people stay in hospitals for long periods of time. Even fewer choose to convalesce in a hospital. It is more cost effective to place the patient in an outpatient setting with a CTRS. Overall, hospitals are cutting staff members that are not deemed essential, so do not be surprised if you don’t see any good job openings.
The average CTRS makes about $35,000 a year, and this may drop in the future due to fierce competition. Most CTRS’s make between $29,000 and $49,000 a year. Hospitals pay the biggest salaries, followed by state government agencies. The lowest salaries are found in community care facilities for geriatric patients. It is cheaper for businesses to hire Recreation Assistants rather than CTRS’s. If you want to stay competitive in this career field, you are going to need that certification more than ever before.
The best job prospects are found in nursing homes in major metro areas. Rural areas rarely have job openings for CTRS’s since there are so few hospitals and nursing care facilities. You might be able to create your own job if you demonstrate to employers that you can provide a great service for them. If you do not mind moving around to find a good job, you should be able to land a decent salary with good working conditions. The key to being successful in a CTRS career is to stay on top of your continuing education credits, stay active and healthy, and to stay positive.
Requirements for the Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist
The NCTRC is the non-profit organization that controls the certification process for Recreation Specialists. The NCTRC was established many years ago as a way of protecting the public from unscrupulous medical workers. It set a standard for future CTRS’s and a code of ethics.
It is a long road to earning that RS certification. You have to spend years in school getting a bachelor’s degree and put in hours of work experience. The exam itself is long, but broken down into easily digestible components. Once you earn that coveted certificate, you must hold onto it by renewing it every five years and taking the required continuing education classes. You can also further your career by taking extra classes in a specialization topic such as pediatrics or geriatrics.
If you have graduated from an accredited college or university with a degree in therapeutic recreation, you are probably eligible to take the national exam. You need to have a bachelor’s degree or higher with good grades. Your coursework should include anatomy and physiology, human development, psychology, and abnormal psychology.
Along with your degree, you also have to qualify for the exam with your work experience. At least 480 supervised work hours are required by the board. If you do not have a bachelor’s degree in RS, you can still become a CTRS, but it may take a little longer. You can enroll in a community college and earn 18 semester hours of approved RS classes, plus work for one year as a recreational therapist. The alternative is to take 18 semester hours of RS classes and five years of work experience as an RS along with courses in psychology, special education, and adaptive physical education. If you complete these tasks, you can apply for the exam.
The exam contains 180 questions, all broken down into sections. You have about three hours to complete the entire test. The best way to prepare for this rigorous test is to use flashcards for vocabulary preparation and to peruse study guides. The NCTRC offers a few sample questions that you can examine for study purposes.
Once you pass the test, you must keep it active. Fulfill the required 50 hours of continuing education classes plus your 480 work experience hours. There is another fee involved with recertification, but you only have to pay it once every five years. If you do not fulfill these requirements, you will have to take the CTRS exam over again.
Continuing education classes consist of seminars, online classes, clinics, audio seminars, webinars, and home study courses. You can take your pick of classes, but just be sure to get the required credit hours completed.
You can also specialize in certain CTRS areas. Geriatrics is obviously the biggest specialty, but there are also developmental disabilities, community services, and physical medicine. You need to have at least five years of general work experience as a CTRS before you can apply for specialization programs. In addition, you need an additional 75 hours of continuing education credits.