How to Become a Lymphedema Therapist

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The lymphatic system drains excess fluids from body tissues and returns them to major veins to maintain fluid balance in the body. When the lymphatic system is damaged by trauma, infection, surgery or radiation therapy, it’s no longer effective in draining fluids. Protein-rich fluids build up in a particular part of the body, typically an arm or leg, to cause a condition known as lymphedema. A lymphedema therapist provides interventions known as complete decongestive therapy (CDT) to improve lymphatic flow and reduce the fluid build-up. The Lymphology Association of North America (LANA) provides certification for lymphedema therapists who follow designated steps.

  • Earn a professional degree. LANA certification is available to qualified registered nurses (RNs), occupational therapists (OTs), certified occupational therapy assistants (COTAs), physical therapists (PTs), physical therapy assistants (PTAs), physicians (MDs), doctors of osteopathy (DOs), doctors of chiropractic (DC’s), massage therapists (MTs) and certified athletic trainers (ATCs). Each candidate must complete an educational program appropriate to his field. For example, a registered nurse must complete either a two-year associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a four-year bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) program.

  • Earn current licensure or registration. Each candidate for lymphedema therapy certification must possess the appropriate license or registration for his professional category. A nurse, for example, must pass the national exam known as the NCLEX-RN and obtain state-specific licensure as an RN.

  • Complete coursework. LANA requires 135 hours of coursework in complete decongestive therapy (CDT). The coursework must be one-third theoretical instruction and two-thirds hands-on practice in a laboratory setting. LANA says candidates can take no more than four consecutive or cumulative courses from any given training program.

  • Obtain CDT experience. LANA requires one year of CDT hands-on experience after the therapist has completed her CDT coursework. The therapist needs to document this experience in a written resume that summarizes her professional education and work experience.

  • Complete science requirement. LANA stipulates the candidate must have at least 12 credit hours of college-level education in anatomy, physiology and/or pathology from an accredited college or university. However, LANA notes, this requirement is automatically met by candidates who have an unrestricted license or registration as an RN, OT, COTA, PT, PTA, MD, DO or DC.

  • Pass the exam. LANA provides detailed information about applying for the exam, an outline of exam content and resources for preparing for test-taking on its website.

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