Occupational therapists are practitioners who work with patients to help develop or restore their ability to perform tasks necessary for everyday living and working such as eating, drinking, participating in hobbies, interacting with colleagues, or using a computer.
Often, occupational therapists will assist patients who have suffered from physical disabilities, mental disabilities, or emotional disorders. An occupational therapist strives to help the patient achieve independence and increased quality of life.
Occupational Therapist Schools By State
Educational Requirements for Occupational Therapists
In order to become an occupational therapist, you must earn at least a master’s degree or higher in occupational therapy from an accredited university and then pass a certification or licensure exam. There are over 150 accredited master’s or doctorate programs in occupational therapy in the United States, and these programs can be highly competitive. Some schools also offer combined bachelor’s/master’s programs that result in a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) degree. To take the national certification exam, the completed program must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). Passing the national certification exam earns the therapist the title of “Occupational Therapist Registered,” or OTR. Some States have their own licensure requirements in addition to taking the national certification exam, so it is essential to review the requirements for the State in which you will practice before entering a training program.
After attaining licensure, continuing education is available for further professional development in the form of courses, seminars, and additional training programs.
Occupational Therapy Training Programs
To prepare for admission to an occupational therapist training program, take appropriate pre-requisite undergraduate coursework, including general biology, chemistry, physics, human anatomy and physiology, and psychology and sociology courses. Consider taking public speaking or interpersonal communication courses as well to become more comfortable with talking to people. It is important to maintain a high grade point average, since most schools require a cumulative G.P.A. of at least 3.0 to be eligible for admission. Also, spend time volunteering as an occupational therapy aide to show your commitment to the profession and to gain hands on experience. Often, occupational therapist training programs will require a certain number of volunteer hours. Both your undergraduate coursework and your volunteer experience will be very valuable for your admittance into an occupational therapy training program and for your successful career.
Master’s programs in occupational therapy usually take two or three years to complete. A typical training program will include coursework in the biological and behavioral sciences, specialty courses in occupational therapy skills and practice, and practical experience working under the supervision of a licensed occupational therapist. The practical experience is important in order for students to gain hands on knowledge of working with patients. ACOTE certification requires a minimum of 24 weeks of fieldwork, and some States have additional requirements for licensure. Be sure to review the details of the training program and compare them with the State requirements for licensure when choosing a program.
Additional advanced degree options exist for licensed and practicing occupational therapists who only hold a bachelor’s degree. These include the Translational Master of Occupational Therapy and the Translational Doctor of Occupational Therapy degrees.
Working Environment, Tasks, and Job Outlook for Occupational Therapists
There is a high demand for licensed occupational therapists, and, like most health professions, this demand is expected to increase in the next decade. Thus, occupational therapists can expect to find good job opportunities, especially in the fields of elderly and nursing home care.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/
Typically, occupational therapists work in hospitals, schools, private health practitioner offices, and nursing homes. Sometimes, occupational therapists will work on their own, or provide contract services with multiple different health providers.
An occupational therapist may specialize in caring for a certain age group or population, or may assist a wide variety of patients. Occupational therapists may work with the elderly, demonstrating how to use a wheelchair, assessing the patient’s ability to drive safely, or checking the patient’s home for hazards that may cause a fall. In this role, the occupational therapist is essential for promoting the safety and independence of older adults. They may work with young children, promoting an easier adaptation to the school environment or determining the child’s talents and capabilities in order to assist with learning. In hospitals, occupational therapists work with patients suffering from physically or mentally disabling injuries. They help to reeducate patients in how to cope with these new disabilities in everyday tasks. Alternatively, they may work directly in patients’ homes, providing activities or exercises which help this rehabilitation process.
Typical Salary for Occupational Therapists
Salary expectations vary depending on location, job specifications, and experience. In 2009, occupational therapists earned around $69,000 on average. Usually, occupational therapists working in the field of home health care have the highest earnings, while those working in elementary or secondary schools make the least.*
*According to the BLS, http://www.bls.gov/oco/