Here’s How You Can Become an Occupational Therapist

5 minute read

If you’re adaptable, patient, compassionate, creative, and a great communicator, a job in occupational therapy might just be your ideal career path. Read on to learn about the field and how you can become an occupational therapist.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy Job Responsibilities

Occupational Therapy Salary

4 Steps to Becoming an Occupational Therapist

Is a Career in Occupational Therapy Worth It?

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapists work with patients who are recovering from trauma or living with a disability or disease. Since occupational therapy is a broad field, patients can range from young children to the elderly.

The foundation of occupational therapy is the belief that participation in daily activities important to the individual are crucial to the healing and recovery process. Through this belief, occupational therapists focus on helping patients regain their autonomy and self-confidence by teaching them the basic skills that are necessary for returning to work, school, and daily routines.

Occupational Therapy Job Responsibilities

As an occupational therapist, you can expect to perform the following:

  • Create treatment plans for patients that align with the patient’s goals.
  • Demonstrate and assist patients through tailored cognitive and physical activitiesto improve independence with daily routines.
  • Evaluate patient homes and/or workplaces to identify areas for improvement.
  • Educate the patient’s family and employer on their needs.
  • Help the patient’s family and employer better accommodate them.

One of the most appealing aspects of occupational therapy is that you can choose a specialty. Some of these options include:

  • Gerontology: Working with elderly people in their homes, community or workplace.
  • Mental health: Helping those with certain conditions that affect occupational performance.
  • School systems: Assisting students with day-to-day situations in a school setting.
  • Pediatrics: Working with children who have mental or physical disabilities.

With these options, occupational therapists can work in places like:

  • Hospitals
  • Private practices
  • Private homes
  • Schools
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Clinics

Occupational Therapist Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for an occupational therapist in 2018 was $84,270.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist in 4 Steps

The road to becoming an occupational therapist has four milestones:

  1. Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree
  2. Get Your Master’s or Doctorate Degree
  3. Take the NBCOT Exam
  4. Get Licensed

Step One: Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

If you’re currently working as an occupational therapy assistant or are just beginning your education, your first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree.

Four-year undergraduate programs are designed to help students understand the foundational aspects of occupational therapy. Programs also dive into topics like:

  • Anatomy
  • Pharmacology
  • Nutrition
  • Psychology
  • Biomechanics

While you’re earning your bachelor’s degree, you should be thinking about and exploring your options for earning your master’s or doctorate degree. Graduate schools have varying admission requirements for their occupational therapy programs, so you’ll need to review the prerequisites for each one you’re interested in applying to.

Step Two: Get Your Master’s Degree

All occupational therapists must be licensed, and to get licensed you need at least a master’s degree from a school that has been approved by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). For more information visit AOTA.org

During graduate school, you’ll dive deeper into occupational therapy and process and gain clinical work experience under the supervision of a practicing occupational therapist.

Step Three: Take (and Pass!) the Exam

After earning your master’s degree, you’ll need to take and pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam.

First, you’ll need to go online to apply for the exam, which involves:

  • Creating a MyNBCOT account
  • Completing the online application
  • Sending your final transcripts
  • Paying a fee

You can choose to mail a paper application, but this will increase processing times and the fee. As soon as your application is approved, you’ll be able to schedule a time to take your exam.

Step Four: Get Licensed

Every state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico require occupational therapists to be licensed, but getting there will vary by your location. To find the specific requirements, the AOTA suggests contacting the occupational therapy regulatory authority for your state.

In general, most states will require your NBCOT exam test results, school transcripts and a background check. Most also require a commitment to ongoing education to maintain your license. NBCOT certification is granted in three-year periods.

Is Becoming an Occupational Therapist Worth It?

There are three reasons why occupational therapy is a worthwhile career option:

  1. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the career outlook for occupational therapists is growing at a much faster rate than other jobs, with a 24% increase in demand expected from now through 2026. The average growth rate for all jobs is only 7%!
  2. Occupational therapy is considered one of the best healthcare jobs, ranking #11 on U.S. News & World Reports’ Best Jobs of 2019 list.
  3. Occupational therapy is a purposeful career path! Helping people in need is rewarding, and you’ll be making a positive impact on your patients’ lives.

If you are in the beginning stages of your education, learn more about the University of Cincinnati’s, on-campus, 4 year bachelor degree program.

If  you are currently working as an occupational therapy assistant the University of Cincinnati’s Bachelor of Health Sciences: Behavior and Occupation Studies program is designed to empower you with the education you need to achieve your goals.

Available completely online, our program is a flexible option for part-time or full-time students, so you can earn your bachelor degree on your own time. To take the next step toward your career as an occupational therapist, take a deeper look at our associate to bachelor’s degree program here.

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