Occupational therapists are health care professionals who help patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. You might help a patient relearn how to eat or get dressed after an injury. You might work with children with disabilities to participate more fully in school activities or social functions. You may meet with an older couple to identify potential safety concerns that could lead to a fall.
In addition to working in a health care setting, occupational therapists also work in the mental health field. You may address issues such as sensory integration or teach socio-emotional skills. You may work with an infant or toddler on a particular area of child development.
Ultimately, by assisting patients with daily activities, you influence their mental health, physical health, and overall well-being.
Education and Certification Requirements
Most occupational therapists enter the occupation with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. 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.
All states require occupational therapists to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapists (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 certifications for therapists who want to demonstrate their advanced level of knowledge in a specialty area, such as pediatrics, mental health, or low vision.
The median annual wage for occupational therapists was $84,270 in May 2018. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $55,490, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $120,750.
Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 24 percent from 2016 to 2026, much faster than the average for all occupations. Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb.
UI students preparing for health-related careers should consult Health Professions Advising at the Career Center for help in identifying appropriate prerequisite courses, preparing for professional school exams, and learning how to construct an effective professional school application.