Occupational Therapist
How to Become an

Occupational Therapist

The complete career guide to be an Occupational Therapist: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $81,690
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 26.6%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Good Entry Level Salary
    Career Attribute

Occupational therapists are specialized physicians that work with patients who’ve suffered from motor or cognitive disabilities as the result of illness or injury. They help patients recover lost motor function, teach them to use assistance equipment, and help them perform day-to-day tasks with ease.

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What is an Occupational Therapist?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in occupational therapist roles:

  • Review patient medical information in order to develop a plan for treatment
  • Encourage patients to perform movements and exercises that may help them recover from lost motor function
  • Teach patients how to use equipment that’s designed to help them fulfill day-to-day tasks
  • Teach caregivers how to set up patient homes in a way that enables them to function normally
  • Document patient progress and discuss outcomes and results with a patient’s other providers

A Day in the Life

When individuals suffer from cognitive or motor loss due to an accident, injury, illness, disease, or stroke, they are often sent to an occupational therapist. The occupational therapist—depending on the patient’s condition—performs a variety of tasks designed to help the patient overcome the loss of function. The occupational therapist reviews the patient’s medical history and discusses concerns with the patient in order to develop a treatment plan or other means of returning to a normal life.

In some cases, the loss of motor function may be able to be resolved. When this happens, the occupational therapist works with the patient several times a week to exercise the injured area in a way that may promote healing. They also teach patients how to perform exercises on their own time to expedite recovery. Often, the exercises are very difficult for the patient to perform, and they may be depressed because of the injury. The occupational therapist encourages the patient and provides him/her with advice and guidance to overcome feelings of depression and inadequacy.

When loss of function is not able to be healed, the occupational therapist may recommend equipment and devices designed to assist with tasks. For example, he/she may teach a patient who has lost the ability to speak to use a speaking device, may teach a stroke victim how to dress, or may teach disabled patients to operate a wheelchair, use the restroom, and transfer themselves from a wheelchair to bed. These devices all help the patient live a life as close to normal as possible after loss of normal function.

Typical Work Schedule

Occupational therapists often have a full-time working schedule that follow standard business hours of about 40-50 hours per week. However, they may occasionally need to work on different hours to meet the needs of their clients and workplace. Accordingly, they may need to work on evenings and weekends but this is rarely the case. Many therapists work in multiple facilities and have to travel between them which may add longer hours to the working schedule. You should also dedicate sometime of your schedule to learn about the recent advances and updates related to the field.

Projected Job Growth

Occupational therapy has gained much attention in the recent decades with more than 104,000 working as occupational therapists in the country. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase by 16 % from 2019 to 2029. This is much higher than the growth expected for other jobs. Recently, occupational therapy has become an integral part of the treatment plan for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb. The demand will only increase as the population ages as therapists can help elderly maintain a proper lifestyle that helps them with their daily activities. This is particularly important for patients seeking noninvasive outpatient treatment for long-term disabilities. The job has also gained more recognition in education to help children with special needs to achieve satisfactory quality of education.

Typical Employers

Therapists also work for public or private hospitals. They can also work for educational institutions like schools or universities. In addition, offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists are also a viable option for employment. Some prefer to provide home healthcare services and others can be employed to work with different nursing care facilities.

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How To Become an Occupational Therapist

The first step in becoming an occupational therapist is earning a bachelor’s degree. Typically, aspiring occupational therapists pursue degrees in occupational therapy, though related degrees in nursing, biology, or physiology may be sufficient as well. Because the bulk of the education needed to work as an occupational therapist is learned in a graduate degree program, the bachelor’s degree you pursue is somewhat flexible. However, an occupational therapy bachelor’s degree is preferred when available.

After completing a bachelor’s degree, you’ll need to then earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy. To gain admittance to a master’s degree program, you’ll first need to have a bachelor’s degree, and you may also need professional experience in the field. Professional experience can be earned as part of your bachelor’s degree program if you study occupational therapy, but individuals who pursue other majors can earn professional experience as well in an internship or aide position.

Master’s degree programs typically require 2-3 years of study. Once you’ve completed the program, you can pursue licensing in your state. All states required occupational therapists to be licensed in order to practice in the state. Licensing is provided through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy and requires meeting certain prerequisites and passing an exam. Additionally, occupational therapists also commonly need to complete continuing education requirements to maintain licensure.

Occupational Therapist Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

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High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Occupational Therapist salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Occupational Therapist's can make an average annual salary of $81,690, or $39 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $66,040 or $32 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #133 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming an Occupational Therapist. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among Occupational Therapists

  • 4.6%   Doctorate
  • 41.7%   Masters
  • 43.5%   Bachelors
  • 8%   Associates
  • 1.4%   College
  • 0.4%   High School
  • 0.3%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Occupational Therapist job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 30,500 jobs for a total of 145,100 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 26.6% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #21 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally

What Companies Employ The Most Occupational Therapists

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 27,600 13,800 14%
General medical and surgical hospitals; private 21,500 1,500 2%
Elementary and secondary schools; local 12,300 2,000 2%

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