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How Can I Become an Exercise Physiologist?

I am entering my senior year of college and I am studying exercise science. I am looking to learn more about exercise physiology. How do I get this job?

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Danielle’s Answer

Hi Renee!

I'm a clinical exercise physiologist in Connecticut, and there are a couple of different things that I did to get where I am today.

1. Just like Kairah said, after I finished my undergraduate studies, I went on to get my masters degree. While I was in undergrad, I had a semester internship in a cardiac rehab facility. I also made sure to make good connections with people, because networking is everything. I became a student member of ACSM (American College of Sports Medicine) and the New England Chapter of the ACSM, and I attended the NEACSM conferences as well. In my graduate studies, I also was awarded a graduate assistantship and worked in the Human Performance Lab at my school, allowing me to get a lot of experience doing a multitude of anthropomorphic tests on people.

2. I was lucky and was offered a job at the cardiac rehab facility that I had my undergraduate internship with, and I worked in cardiac rehab for two years and got a lot of experience that way. That allowed me to learn and study for the ACSM Certified Clinical Exercise Physiologist (ACSM-CEP) exam. Getting your ACSM-CEP or ACSM-EP (Certified Exercise Physiologist) is extremely important, because in the next coming years (possibly by 2027?) you will have had to graduate from an accredited program to get these certifications, which are essentially the gold standard of the exercise physiology field. So you might as well get the certification now! You also need a certain number of clinical hours with certain clinical populations, and working in cardiac rehab gave me all of those hours and then some. You can also get this experience by having internships in different clinical settings as well, such as pulmonary rehabilitation or just physical therapy. I took and passed that exam about one year after I finished my masters degree. I studied using Rapid Interpretation of EKG's by Dale Dubin as well as being guided by the nurses I worked with in cardiac rehab, and also by reading and taking meticulous notes of the most recent version of the ACSM Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (GETP). Those two books are super important in my opinion.

3. For the ACSM-CEP certification, you will also need to be certified in ACLS (advanced cardiac life support). For an entry level job as an exercise physiologist, you are not expected to already have the ACSM-CEP certification or ACLS. Typically, you will be expected to at least have your bachelor's degree and either CPR/AED/First Aid certification, or even more important, BLS (basic life support) certification. Some hospitals will take the time/resources to put you through an ACLS or BLS course, but you can do this on your own as well. I personally like to go through CodeOne to be trained in American Heart Association's ACLS course. They have online courses and you can easily find a location to be evaluated for the skills session wherever you're located.

4. You also don't need to work in cardiac rehab or stress testing or telemetry to be an exercise physiologist! My current job is at a facility that works solely with people over the age of 50. Members come in either through doctor referral, post-physical therapy, post-cardiac or pulmonary rehab, or just because their friends are members and they want to get/stay moving again. We give each person a completely individualized exercise program that is specific to their needs, and they essentially get personal training at a fraction of the cost. We are constantly there to supervise and coach members, and they do their personal exercise program in a small group setting.

I know that was a lot, but I hope that answers your question! Please don't hesitate to reach out if you have any questions at all.

Danielle recommends the following next steps:

Become a student member of the ACSM & your regional chapter, attend conferences
Start studying for the ACSM-EP or ACSM-CEP exams (get the ACSM GETP book and the Dubin EKG book if you're going for CEP)
Network! Reach out to facilities that do what you're interested in pursuing and see if you can have an internship or just observe their facility
Apply to graduate programs
Get CPR/AED/First Aid certified or BLS certified through the American Heart Association!
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Kairah’s Answer

Hi Renee! Senior clinical exercise physiologist here. After I completed my undergrad in exercise science, I went and got my masters in exercise physiology. Typically those are one year programs which includes an internship in cardiac rehab/stress testing. If you aren’t looking to get your masters, you can always complete the internship in cardiac rehab/stress testing then either work as a casual staff or in telemetry. Let me know if you have any more questions!
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