Online Degrees In Occupational Therapy

“I have already found the profession of occupational therapy to be fascinating, rewarding, and challenging, and filled with countless opportunities to serve one’s community, one’s country, and one’s world.”

The quote above is from Brandi Buchanan, an occupational therapy student, on The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), on why she chose to enter the profession. 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. While a career helping people with disabilities lead more independent lives can be immensely satisfying, the College Board does caution that being a patient person is a key attribute to have; along with enjoying spending time with people of all ages and capabilities.

Online occupational therapy degree programs can help you enter this noble profession, whether you are a recent high school graduate or a working professional, while still adhering to work, family or other commitments.

Occupational therapists’ duties may include:

  • Going over patients’ medical histories and observing them carrying out various tasks
  • Evaluating patients’ conditions and needs and developing treatment plans
  • Identifying specific activities that can help patients work toward their goals
  • Educating parents, family members and employers about how to accommodate and care for patients
  • Recommending special equipment, as required, and instructing patients on how to use that equipment
  • Assessing and recording patients’ activities and progress, and reporting them to physicians and other healthcare providers.

Occupational therapy focuses on developing and improving strength, coordination and cognitive skills, and occupational therapists (OTs) work with clients on day-to-day skills such as dressing, cooking or performing tasks at work.

Individuals working in the field of occupational therapy may work in public or private health care and social service agencies with a wide variety of patients. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that job opportunities should be good for licensed OTs particularly in acute hospital, rehabilitation, and orthopedic settings where the elderly receive treatment. Additionally, it predicts a continued demand from schools where they may be needed to help children with autism spectrum disorder accomplish daily tasks.

With OTs required in so many different walks of life, the BLS predicts a favorable outlook in terms of jobs. The table below outlines the different occupations associated with this field along with the employment outlook, average wages and number of jobs in the decade leading up to 2028.

Careers
Employment
Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Occupational Therapists133,570$84,95017.9%
Occupational Therapy Aides7,560$29,23018.9%
Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

An associate degree in occupational therapy may allow graduates to work as occupational therapy assistants helping OTs provide treatment to their patients along with helping with clerical tasks. Online occupational therapy bachelor’s degree programs in occupational therapy are virtually nonexistent due to changes made to licensure requirements in 2007. Many universities now offer a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree in occupational therapy. Master’s degrees may allow graduates to apply for licensure as an OT while doctoral degrees may allow individuals to work in the fields of research and academia.

What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

Also known as occupational therapy assistant degree programs, an occupational therapy associate degree programs online can help students develop the skills they need to assist patients with their treatment plans and activities and OTs with administrative tasks in the clinic.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Curricula typically include medical terminology along with basic psychology as well as rehabilitative techniques, apart from general education coursework. Some examples of courses you may take include:

  • Assistive technology
  • Geriatric practice
  • Primary care and OT
  • Psychosocial practice
  • Role of the OTA

While students of online occupational therapy degree programs may be able to take some of their courses online, practical work is often necessary in order to gain the hands-on experience they need.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning an associate degree in occupational therapy?

Earning your occupational therapy associate degree online may qualify you to work as an occupational therapist aide or an occupational therapist assistant. According to O*NET, 82 percent of OT assistants have an associate degree. In fact The Business Insider ranks occupational therapy assistant 18th on the list of the highest-paying careers with an associate degree.

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

There are currently no standalone online occupational therapy bachelor’s degree programs. However, you may be able to earn an online healthcare degree in healthcare sciences which can qualify you to enroll in a master’s degree program in occupational therapy.

Many aspiring occupational therapists opt for an online occupational therapy degree program in a combined format which gives them both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

Online Master’s Degrees in Occupational Therapy

What can I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

Online occupational therapy master’s degree programs typically come in three formats:

  • Post Baccalaureate: For individuals with a bachelor’s degree in health sciences or a related field.
  • Bridge Programs: For occupational therapy assistants with at least one year of work experience.
  • Accelerated Programs: For recent high school graduates aspiring to become occupational therapists.

Students enrolled in online occupational therapy master’s degree programs can learn the skills and knowledge they need to treat injured, ill, or disabled patients. They can learn how create individual evaluations for each patient, customize treatment plans, and communicate their diagnoses to other medical professionals concisely and effectively. They may also study the business aspects of running a practice.

Typical duration: Two to five years of full-time study depending on the program.

General prerequisites: Vary from high school diploma to bachelor’s degree depending on the program

Typical coursework: In addition to general education courses, curricula may include topics like anatomy, psychology, neuroscience and medical terminology. Some examples of core courses are:

  • Rehabilitation science: neurorehabilitation
  • Practice Management
  • Community Practice
  • Clinical Kinesiology
  • Assessment skills

Students may have to attend sessions on-campus to get the hands-on practice they need. Some programs may allow working OTAs to get the clinical practice they need at their workplace.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a master’s in occupational therapy?

A master’s degree can allow graduates to work as occupational therapists after obtaining their licensures. They may work in schools, community centers, hospitals, and nursing facilities depending on their specialization.

According to CNBC, 89 percent of occupational therapists said their work makes the world a better place, making it one of the most meaningful college majors to pursue.

Online graduate certificates in occupational therapy can help licensed occupational therapists concentrate their education and develop their expertise in a particular area of the field. As certificate programs are highly focused in nature, they typically take a shorter time to complete than a master’s degree. Obtaining such certificates may allow OTs to focus their careers in areas of their interest. Online certificate programs are rare but may be found in areas such as hand therapy, school-based practice, and teaching and learning in occupational therapy.

What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

Students of online doctoral degree programs in occupational therapy can learn to identify shortcomings in current interventions and practices in the field. They may learn to use research, and analytical skills to find solutions to these issues.

Typical duration: Five to seven years of full-time study depending on the program.

General prerequisites: NBCOT certification (OT licensure)

Coursework: Coursework can vary depending on the student’s research focus. However, most doctoral programs also include coursework on research methods. Some examples of courses include:

  • Evaluating clinical theory and research
  • Health promotion and wellness
  • Individual client monitoring
  • Program evaluation
  • Social policy and disability

Dissertation: The dissertation phase of the doctoral degree program is typically the longest. Students explore issues in occupational therapy and propose solutions that are backed up by evidence-based research. Dissertations then have to be successfully defending before an expert panel.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a doctorate in occupational therapy?

Graduates of doctoral degree program in occupational therapy program may go on to open their own practices, enter independent research or work in academia teaching aspiring occupational therapists.

Specializations

Specializations can help occupational therapists focus their careers in areas of their interest. Students enrolled in online occupational therapy degree programs may be able to choose specializations while earning their degrees or through graduate certificates. Some examples of specializations are:

  • Children and youth
  • Cognitive disabilities
  • Health and wellness
  • Mental health
  • Pediatrics
  • Productive aging

Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary process schools undergo to demonstrate their educational offerings meet the necessary standards required of the profession today. It can be wise for prospective students of online occupational degree programs to check the accreditation status before enrolling. Accreditation can be an important prerequisite for receiving federal financial aid, scholarships and for the transfer of educational credits. Additionally, the BLS reports that one of the criteria for being eligible for licensure as an occupational therapist is graduating from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, part of AOTA.

Licensures and Certifications in Occupational Therapy

The BLS reports that all states require occupational therapists to be licensed. While the specific requirements can vary from state to state, all states require candidates to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT), after which they may use the “Occupational Therapist, Registered” (OTR) title.

Professional certifications may help OTs demonstrate their specialized knowledge or expertise in a particular aspect of the field. AOTA offers a number of different board and specialty certifications, some of which include:

  • Pediatrics
  • Physical rehabilitation
  • Mental health
  • Gerontology

Licensures and certifications typically need to be renewed periodically via continuing education.

Employment Statistics

Environmental Engineering Technicians

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Offices of Other Health Practitioners
  • Specialty (except Psychiatric and Substance Abuse) Hospitals
  • Home Health Care Services
  • Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities)
  • General medical and Surgical Hospitals
States with the highest level of employment
  • New York
  • California
  • Texas
  • Pennsylvania
  • Florida
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV
  • Vallejo-Fairfield, CA
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
  • Hattiesburg, MS
  • Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA

Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

You may find there are quite a few scholarships available for eligible students of online occupational therapy programs right from the associate degree level. They may be offered by professional organizations, educational foundations or even schools themselves. It can be a good idea to check with your school’s financial aid office to see if you qualify for any of their offerings. We’ve listed a few resources below to help you get started in your search:

Other resources for aspiring occupational therapists

Sources

  • “Why I Chose Occupational Therapy”, The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), https://www.aota.org/Education-Careers/Considering-OT-Career/Resources/why-i-chose-ot.aspx, accessed November 2019
  • 31-2012.00 – Occupational Therapy Aides, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, www.onetonline.org/link/summary/31-2012.00, accessed November 2019
  • 6 occupational therapy specialties that can empower patients & strengthen communities, The College of St. Scholastica, 2016, http://www.css.edu/the-sentinel-blog/occupational-therapy-specialties-that-can-empower-patients/
  • Career: Occupational Therapist Assistants, Big Future, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/careers/health-care-support-occupational-therapist-assistants, accessed November 2019
  • Career: Occupational Therapists, Big Future, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/careers/health-diagnosis-treatment-occupational-therapists, accessed November 2019
  • Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Occupational Therapy, Quinnipiac University, https://quonline.quinnipiac.edu/online-programs/online-certificate-programs/occupational-therapy-graduate-certificate/, accessed November 2019
  • Major: Occupational Therapy Assistance, Big Future, The College Board,, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-allied-health-medical-assisting-services-occupational-therapy-assistance, accessed November 2019
  • Major: Occupational Therapy, Big Future, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/health-professions-related-clinical-sciences-rehabilitation-therapy-occupational-therapy, accessed November 2019
  • Master of Occupational Therapy, Concordia University Wisconsin, https://www.cuw.edu/academics/programs/occupational-therapy-masters/index/#overview, accessed November 2019
  • Occupational Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm, accessed November 2019
  • Occupational Therapy Assistant, Western Technical College, https://www.westerntc.edu/occupational-therapy-assistant, accessed November 2019
  • Occupational Therapy Assistants and Aides, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapy-assistants-and-aides.htm, accessed November 2019
  • Occupational Therapy, Doctorate, Boston University, https://www.bu.edu/online/programs/graduate-programs/occupational-therapy/#curriculum, accessed November 2019
  • Online OTA Program Overview, St. Catherine University, https://otaonline.stkate.edu/occupational-therapy-assistant-program/, accessed November 2019
  • The 11 most meaningful college majors and how much they pay, CNBC, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/08/23/payscale-the-11-most-meaningful-college-majors-and-how-much-they-pay/, accessed November 2019
  • The 30 highest-paying jobs you can get with an associate’s degree, Business Insider, updated 2019, https://www.businessinsider.in/careers/the-30-highest-paying-jobs-you-can-get-with-an-associates-degree/articleshow/49584793.cms
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