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What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy is the area of study and practice that educates individuals in the methods, theories and techniques required to successfully aid individuals of all ages in developing or relearning motor and cognitive functions. Individuals in this field will work within hospitals, clinics, private offices, or through other medical facilities in order to assist individuals in their rehabilitation. Occupational therapy is a valued area of practice, though it requires extensive study and experience prior to regular employment.
How Do I Become an Occupational Therapist?
To become an occupational therapist in your state of residence, you will first need to locate an accredited college or university offering an occupational therapy degree program. Classroom-based programs and online occupational therapy programs can be found below or by searching with our propriety matching tool here.
Schools must be accredited by the ACOTE or Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education which is recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Earning a master’s degree in occupational therapy will take 2-3 years after meeting the prerequisite requirements depending on course curriculum and number of classes taken at a given time. Prerequisites for admission may include the following set of criteria: bachelor’s degree, minimum GPA threshold, neuroanatomy, kinesiology, statistics, anatomy & physiology, anthropology, and general education courses such as math, philosophy, and English. Specific requirements for each school can be obtained through their admissions office by requesting information below.
By graduating from an ACOTE accredited college or university with a master’s degree in occupational therapy or doctorate degree in occupational therapy, you will be eligible to site for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination. The typical pass rate for the NBCOT exam is between 80-95% so make sure to ask colleges their average pass rate over the past three years.
Individuals wishing to become practicing occupational therapists must pursue at least a master's degree in occupational therapy and complete a prerequisite number of clinical hours and a licensing examination as determined by a given state. A program in occupational therapy will expose students to a variety of sciences relating to the human body, particularly those regarding function and movement. Students will obtain an in depth knowledge of the human structure, how various joints, limbs, muscles, nerves, and vascular systems work together to allow the body movement, how such elements and systems may be damaged, and what steps may be taken to rehabilitate and restore function to damaged portions of the body. Students will also partake in clinical courses supervised by professionals in order to see and experience first hand the various methods treatments, and practices employed to correct the various ailments covered by occupational therapy.
What Classes are Part of an Occupational Therapist Degree?
Curriculum for each accredited occupational therapist degree program will vary from school to school along with prerequisite requirements. For information about a specific school, visit the schools page below to learn more. A typical set of classes you will find in an occupational therapy program include:
- Occupational Therapy Practice
- Mind Body Systems
- Human Movement
- Assistive Technology
- Research Methods in OT
- OT Fieldwork
- OT Management & Administration
- Psychosocial Evaluation
- OT Intervention for Adults & Children
- Leadership in OT Systems
- OT Research
Occupational Therapy Degrees
Degrees in occupational therapy include online programs, bridge programs, master’s, and doctorate programs from ACOTE accredited colleges and universities. An outline of each program is listed below to help extend your OT research and school match.
Online Occupational Therapy Degrees
The distance learning or online learning modality is the fastest growing segment within post-secondary institutions. Online learning can have a number of benefits to students and universities such as convenience, autonomy, and scale while providing a quality educational alternative to classroom-based degree programs. Online college degree programs have frequently been cited as a more affordable solution to on-site programs but make sure to compare apples to apples when looking at distance learning programs. Our online college matching portal is an easy way to quickly find college programs by state, degree type, and degree level sorted by school enrollment.
Bridge Programs in Occupational Therapy
A bridge program is a degree program specifically designed to help students upskill from a current degree to a new degree area. Although not as numerous as nursing bridge programs, the OT bridge programs can be a viable path for students across the country. Examples of bridge programs to research further include:
- Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) to Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT)
- Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) to Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT)
- Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) to Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT)
- Associate Degree to Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Health Studies to Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT)
- Dual Degree: Bachelor of Science (BS) in Occupational Therapy and Master of Science (MS) in Occupational Therapy
Master Degrees in Occupational Therapy
The MOT or Master Degree in Occupational Therapy is the most popular college degree of OT’s across the country. In fact, of the nearly 120,000 licensed occupational therapists, over 71% hold a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. MOT programs will typically include science rich classes through an occupational therapy lens like: kinesiology, gross anatomy, neuroscience, applied research, behavioral health, and rehabilitation. MOT programs are about 2-years in duration depending on prerequisites and course load.
Doctorate Degrees in Occupational Therapy
A Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD) may be required by certain employers from private organizations to state agencies. The typical program spans 3 years of school work including 8-10 weeks of fieldwork after obtaining a master’s degree in occupational therapy. The OTD is a full-time, more intensive program than the MOT program requiring students to focus more on research application and a set of clinical rotations.
Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?
Occupational therapists can work in myriad different work settings across the country. Examples of work settings and industries where you may find occupational therapists include: outpatient clinics, research facilities, schools, hospitals, intervention agencies, pediatric clinics, community mental health care facilities, home care, rehabilitation centers, and geriatric care centers.
Common Job Titles for an Occupational Therapist
Depending on the scope of the job and the employer’s needs within their organization, an occupational therapist may be called by differing titles. The job titles you may see associated with an occupational therapist may include:
- Pediatric Occupational Therapist
- Staff Therapist
- Registered Occupational Therapist
- Occupational Therapy Co-Director
- Staff Occupational Therapist
- Rehabilitation Supervisor
- Assistive Technology Trainer
- Early Intervention Occupational Therapist
- Industrial Rehabilitation Consultant
- Occupational Therapist (OT)
Top Job Duties of an Occupational Therapist
In a recent survey completed by the U.S. Department of Labor, occupational therapist around the country provided insight into common job responsibilities associated with being an OT. The most common 5 job responsibilities of the survey respondents included:
- Assess, organize, plan, and manage occupational therapy programs in hospital, institutional, or community health care organizations to help rehabilitate patients due to injury, illness, developmental, and/or psychological issues
- Accurately document and maintain necessary medical records
- Evaluate the mental & physical abilities of each patient coupled with medical data analysis
- Provide education and training to OTA’s and live-in caregivers to help meet a patient’s needs
- Closely monitor progress, document changes, gather data, complete reports, and communicate to appropriate stakeholders
Schools Other Students Requested Information From:
Occupational therapists often work with patients who are suffering from a mental or physical disability or recovering from an accident. Individuals in this field will work with patients to perform various activities, relearn certain functions, and develop motor skills that have been degenerated or lost due to outlying factors. Additionally, occupational therapists are responsible for educating families of patients in order to assist them with how to deal with issues and complications that may arise, and they may provide aid in the recovery and development of the patient. Over the course of treatment therapists will revise plans and therapies to facilitate the rate of recovery as the process will be different for each individual patient.
Occupational therapists can work at:
- Health Care Facilities
- Private Practices
States with the Highest Employment of Occupational Therapists
- California 10,390
- Texas 9,160
- New York 8,130
- Pennsylvania 6,450
- Florida 6,140
Top Paying States for an Occupational Therapist
- Nevada $101,870
- Texas $96,800
- New Jersey $91,660
- Virginia $91,450
- Connecticut $89,340
Top Employers of Occupational Therapists
- Health Practitioners Offices 31,303
- Medical & Surgical Hospitals 25,930
- Primary & Secondary Schools 13,420
- Nursing Care Facilities 12,230
- Home Health Care 10,760
Job Growth, Salary and Related Fields
Job growth is expected to increase rapidly over the next decade seeing a 27% acceleration as the services provided by occupational therapists becomes more widespread and accepted and access to healthcare becomes more commonplace, The average salary of an occupational therapist is $81,910 per year. Salaries for occupational therapists will be higher in higher populated areas, with experience and education also playing a part in overall salary.
The American Occupational Therapy Organization (AOTA) is an organization established in 1917 to promote the interests and develop the services provided by occupational therapy. The organization has over 43,000 members, which includes occupational therapists, occupational therapy assistants and students studying the field. The organization also provides accreditation of programs and examinations for the purposes certification and licensure.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook for Occupational Therapy is an excellent resource for individuals interested in becoming occupational therapists. The handbook includes a variety of useful information regarding career development, including education, work environment and job outlook.