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Working as an Occupational Therapist

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do

Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.

Duties

Occupational therapists typically do the following:

  • Review patients’ medical history, ask the patients questions, and observe them doing tasks
  • Evaluate a patient’s condition and needs
  • Develop a treatment plan for patients, identifying specific goals and the types of activities that will be used to help the patient work toward those goals
  • Help people with various disabilities with different tasks, such as teaching a stroke victim how to get dressed
  • Demonstrate exercises—for example, stretching the joints for arthritis relief—that can help relieve pain in people with chronic conditions
  • Evaluate a patient’s home or workplace and, on the basis of the patient’s health needs, identify potential improvements, such as labeling kitchen cabinets for an older person with poor memory
  • Educate a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient
  • Recommend special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids, and instruct patients on how to use that equipment
  • Assess and record patients’ activities and progress for patient evaluations, for billing, and for reporting to physicians and other healthcare providers

Patients with permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, often need help performing daily tasks. Therapists show patients how to use appropriate adaptive equipment, such as leg braces, wheelchairs, and eating aids. These devices help patients perform a number of daily tasks, allowing them to function more independently.

Some occupational therapists work with children in educational settings. They evaluate disabled children’s abilities, modify classroom equipment to accommodate children with certain disabilities, and help children participate in school activities. Therapists also may provide early intervention therapy to infants and toddlers who have, or are at risk of having, developmental delays.

Therapists who work with the elderly help their patients lead more independent and active lives. They assess patients’ abilities and environment and make recommendations to improve the patients’ everyday lives. For example, therapists may identify potential fall hazards in a patient’s home and recommend their removal.

In some cases, occupational therapists help patients create functional work environments. They evaluate the workspace, recommend modifications, and meet with the patient’s employer to collaborate on changes to the patient’s work environment or schedule.

Occupational therapists also may work in mental health settings, where they help patients who suffer from developmental disabilities, mental illness, or emotional problems. Therapists teach these patients skills such as managing time, budgeting, using public transportation, and doing household chores in order to help them cope with, and engage in, daily life activities. In addition, therapists may work with individuals who have problems with drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, or other disorders. They may also work with people who have been through a traumatic event, such as a car accident.

Some occupational therapists, such as those employed in hospitals, work as part of a healthcare team along with doctors, registered nurses, and other types of therapists. They may work with patients who have chronic conditions, such as diabetes, or help rehabilitate a patient recovering from hip replacement surgery. Occupational therapists also oversee the work of occupational therapy assistants and aides.

How To Become an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists need at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy; some therapists have a doctoral degree. Occupational therapists also must be licensed.

Education

Most occupational therapists enter the occupation with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. In 2014, there were nearly 200 occupational therapy programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Admission to graduate programs in occupational therapy generally requires a bachelor’s degree and specific coursework, including biology and physiology. Many programs also require applicants to have volunteered or worked in an occupational therapy setting.

Master’s programs usually take 2 to 3 years to complete; doctoral programs take about 3 years. Some schools offer a dual-degree program in which the student earns a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in 5 years. Part-time programs that offer courses on nights and weekends are also available.

Both master’s and doctoral programs require at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork, in which prospective occupational therapists gain clinical work experience.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

All states require occupational therapists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all require candidates to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). To sit for the NBCOT exam, candidates must have earned a degree from an accredited educational program and completed all fieldwork requirements.

Therapists must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title “Occupational Therapist, Registered” (OTR). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain certification.

The American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of board and specialty certifications for therapists who want to demonstrate their advanced or specialized knowledge in areas of practice, such as pediatrics, mental health, or low vision.

Important Qualities

Communication skills. Occupational therapists must be able to listen attentively to what patients tell them and must be able to explain what they want their patients to do.

Compassion. Occupational therapists are usually drawn to the profession by a desire to help people and improve their daily lives. Therapists must be sensitive to a patients’ needs and concerns, especially when assisting the patient with his or her personal activities.

Flexibility. Occupational therapists must be flexible when treating patients. Because not every type of therapy will work for each patient, therapists may need to be creative when determining the treatment plans and adaptive devices that best suit each patient’s needs.

Interpersonal skills. Because occupational therapists spend their time teaching and explaining therapies to patients, they should be able to earn the trust and respect of those patients and their families.

Patience. Dealing with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities is frustrating for many people. Occupational therapists should be patient in order to provide quality care to the people they serve.

Writing skills. When communicating in writing with other members of the patient’s medical team, occupational therapists must be able to explain clearly the treatment plan for the patient and any progress made by the patient.

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Average Salary$72,106
Job Growth Rate18%

Occupational Therapist Jobs

Occupational Therapist Career Paths

Top Careers Before Occupational Therapist

Top Careers After Occupational Therapist

PRN
8.5%

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Tell us your goals and we'll match you with the rights job to get there.

Average Salary for an Occupational Therapist

Occupational Therapists in America make an average salary of $72,106 per year or $35 per hour. The top 10 percent makes over $90,000 per year, while the bottom 10 percent under $57,000 per year.
Average Salary
$72,106

Best Paying Cities

Average Salary
Salary Range74k - 127k$97k$97,249
Salary Range64k - 106k$83k$82,535
Salary Range64k - 95k$79k$78,740
Salary Range63k - 96k$79k$78,563
Salary Range65k - 92k$78k$77,769
Salary Range62k - 94k$77k$77,295
$40k
$127k

Recently Added Salaries

Job TitleCompanyCompanyStart DateSalary
Occupationaltherapist-OT-School
Occupationaltherapist-OT-School
Careerstaff Unlimited
Careerstaff Unlimited
10/31/2020
10/31/2020
$73,04510/31/2020
$73,045
Occupational Therapist-Per Diem
Occupational Therapist-Per Diem
Select Medical
Select Medical
10/30/2020
10/30/2020
$104,35010/30/2020
$104,350
Occupational Therapist PRN
Occupational Therapist PRN
Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources
10/30/2020
10/30/2020
$71,68810/30/2020
$71,688
Hsot-Occupational Therapist
Hsot-Occupational Therapist
State of Wyoming
State of Wyoming
10/30/2020
10/30/2020
$58,07810/30/2020
$58,078
Occupational Therapist-Itinerant
Occupational Therapist-Itinerant
Harford County Public Schools-Md
Harford County Public Schools-Md
10/30/2020
10/30/2020
$59,83510/30/2020
$59,835
See More Recent Salaries

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Occupational Therapist Demographics

Gender

female

77.5%

male

19.0%

unknown

3.5%

Ethnicity

White

78.3%

Asian

8.9%

Hispanic or Latino

6.1%

Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

56.0%

French

5.6%

Russian

5.3%
See More Demographics

Occupational Therapist Education

Degrees

Masters

58.4%

Bachelors

32.7%

Doctorate

3.1%

Top Colleges for Occupational Therapists

1. Duke University

Durham, NC

Tuition and fees
$55,695
Enrollment
6,596

2. Georgia Institute of Technology

Atlanta, GA

Tuition and fees
$12,424
Enrollment
15,201

3. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Chapel Hill, NC

Tuition and fees
$8,987
Enrollment
18,946

4. Northwestern University

Evanston, IL

Tuition and fees
$54,568
Enrollment
8,451

5. Columbia University in the City of New York

New York, NY

Tuition and fees
$59,430
Enrollment
8,216

6. Tufts University

Medford, MA

Tuition and fees
$56,382
Enrollment
5,597

7. University of Florida

Gainesville, FL

Tuition and fees
$6,381
Enrollment
34,564

8. Washington University in St Louis

Saint Louis, MO

Tuition and fees
$53,399
Enrollment
7,356

9. University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA

Tuition and fees
$56,225
Enrollment
19,548

10. California State University - Long Beach

Long Beach, CA

Tuition and fees
$6,798
Enrollment
31,503
See More Education Info

Entry Level Jobs For Becoming An Occupational Therapist

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Full Time
Part Time
Internship
Temporary

Top Skills For an Occupational Therapist

The skills section on your resume can be almost as important as the experience section, so you want it to be an accurate portrayal of what you can do. Luckily, we've found all of the skills you'll need so even if you don't have these skills yet, you know what you need to work on. Out of all the resumes we looked through, 14.3% of occupational therapists listed treatment plans on their resume, but soft skills such as dexterity and physical stamina are important as well.

Best States For an Occupational Therapist

Some places are better than others when it comes to starting a career as an occupational therapist. The best states for people in this position are California, Utah, Alaska, and Nevada. Occupational therapists make the most in California with an average salary of $93,846. Whereas in Utah and Alaska, they would average $86,611 and $84,688, respectively. While occupational therapists would only make an average of $81,556 in Nevada, you would still make more there than in the rest of the country. We determined these as the best states based on job availability and pay. By finding the median salary, cost of living, and using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Location Quotient, we narrowed down our list of states to these four.

1. Alaska

Total Occupational Therapist Jobs:
76
Highest 10% Earn:
$105,000
Location Quotient:
2.32
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

2. California

Total Occupational Therapist Jobs:
2,136
Highest 10% Earn:
$155,000
Location Quotient:
0.92
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here

3. Mississippi

Total Occupational Therapist Jobs:
206
Highest 10% Earn:
$115,000
Location Quotient:
2.13
Location Quotient is a measure used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to determine how concentrated a certain industry is in a single state compared to the nation as a whole. You can read more about how BLS calculates location quotients here
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Occupational Therapist Resumes

Designing and figuring out what to include on your resume can be tough, not to mention time-consuming. That's why we put together a guide that is designed to help you craft the perfect resume for becoming an occupational therapist. If you're needing extra inspiration, take a look through our selection of templates that are specific to your job.

At Zippia, we went through countless occupational therapist resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

Learn How To Write an Occupational Therapist Resume

At Zippia, we went through countless occupational therapist resumes and compiled some information about how best to optimize them. Here are some suggestions based on what we found, divided by the individual sections of the resume itself.

View Detailed Information

How Do Occupational Therapist Rate Their Jobs?

Zippia Official Logo

4.0

OTR/LOctober 2019

4.0

Zippia Official LogoOTR/LOctober 2019

What do you like the most about working as Occupational Therapist?

Geriatric population and working towards functional goal. Show More

What do you NOT like?

Clients don’t think they need to participate to get better. Show More

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Top Occupational Therapist Employers

We've made finding a great employer to work for easy by doing the hard work for you. We looked into employers that employ occupational therapists and discovered their number of occupational therapist opportunities and average salary. Through our research, we concluded that Aegis Corporation was the best, especially with an average salary of $52,263. Tender Touch Rehab Services follows up with an average salary of $68,437, and then comes RCM Technologies, Inc. with an average of $69,688. In addition, we know most people would rather work from home. So instead of having to change careers, we identified the best employers for remote work as an occupational therapist. The employers include Veterans Affairs, Bilinguals, and Aveanna Healthcare

1. Aegis
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$52,263
Occupational Therapists Hired: 
586+
2. Tender Touch Rehab Services
4.0
Avg. Salary: 
$68,437
Occupational Therapists Hired: 
498+
3. RCM Technologies
4.2
Avg. Salary: 
$69,688
Occupational Therapists Hired: 
335+
4. Avant Healthcare Professionals
3.9
Avg. Salary: 
$67,739
Occupational Therapists Hired: 
280+
5. Management Health Systems
3.8
Avg. Salary: 
$68,560
Occupational Therapists Hired: 
215+
6. Interface
4.5
Avg. Salary: 
$64,755
Occupational Therapists Hired: 
206+

Occupational Therapist Videos

Recently Added Occupational Therapist Jobs

Updated October 2, 2020