Occupational therapists are projected to see a sharp rise in career openings in coming years, and the growth is expected to be driven primarily by the aging American population. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 24 percent increase in jobs for occupational therapists, and a 28 percent increase in openings for assistants during the 2016-26 decade.
Although elderly patients may be a growing segment of individuals needing occupational therapy, occupational therapists help patients of all ages recover from accidents or injuries or learn to cope with disabilities. Occupational therapy focuses on developing and improving strength, coordination and cognitive skills, and occupational therapists work with clients on day-to-day skills such as dressing, cooking or performing tasks at work.
Occupational therapists and their assistants work in public or private health care and social service agencies. Their clients may suffer from mental, physical, emotional and developmental issues that interfere with their living and working lives.
Educational requirements for occupational therapists and assistants
According to The American Occupational Therapy Association, all states have regulatory oversight for licensing practitioners. Occupational therapists must complete a master's degree program at an online or campus program approved by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). Upon graduation from their advanced degree program, students must pass state licensing examinations and may sit for the voluntary National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification examination.
Undergraduate online healthcare degree students who plan on working as occupational therapists or going on to graduate school typically major in fields including anatomy, anthropology, biology, kinesiology, liberal arts, psychology and sociology. Graduate level students take courses such as the following:
- Clinical practice skills
- Education and theory
- Research skills
- Program and policy development
PhD and other post-professional degree programs are available for working occupational therapists who wish to pursue teaching or research in the field.
Master's degree students must complete at least 24 weeks of supervised clinical fieldwork in order to graduate. Students earning online degrees in occupational therapy can take academic classes online and perform their fieldwork at a nearby participating institution.
Occupational therapy assistants typically need an associate degree, and 40 states require assistants to be licensed or certified.
Occupational therapist employment and earnings
Of the just over 130,000 occupational therapists employed in the U.S. in 2017, nearly one-quarter worked in healthcare offices and another quarter worked in general medical and surgical hospitals, the BLS reports. Management, scientific, and technical consulting services, nursing care facilities, schools, companies and enterprises, as well as home health care services rounded out the top five employers. Top wages in 2017 were paid by management, scientific, and technical consulting services ($95,280) and schools ($94,970).
According to the BLS, occupational therapists earned a mean annual wage of $84,640 in 2017, with top salaries of over $100,000. Mean wages that same year for occupational therapy assistants were $59,470, with a top salary of over $80,000.
At a glance:
- Growth: Jobs for occupational therapists are predicted to grow by 24 percent, 2016-2026, adding 31,000 new positions(BLS).
- Licensure: Occupational therapists are required to be licensed in all 50 states and can earn voluntary certification from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.
- Top-paying states in 2017: Nevada, Texas, New Jersey, District of Columbia and Connecticut (BLS).
- State OT Statutes and Regulations, The American Occupational Therapy Association, https://www.aota.org/Advocacy-Policy/State-Policy/Licensure/StateRegs.aspx, accessed November 2018
- Occupational Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm, accessed November 2018
- Occupational Therapists, Occupational Employment Statistics, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291122.htm#st, accessed November 2018
- Occupational Therapy Assistants, Occupational Employment Statistics, The Bureau of Labor Statistics, United States Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes312011.htm#st, accessed November 2018