Becoming an Occupational Therapist: Salary Info and Job Description

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An occupational therapist' annual median salary is about $78,000. Is it worth the educational and licensing requirements? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists plan therapy programs and evaluate patients with injuries, illnesses or disabilities. Evaluate the pros and cons of occupational therapy careers to decide if it's the right choice for you.

Pros of an Occupational Therapy Career
High salary ($78,000 annual median salary as of 2014)*
High growth in the field (29% between 2012 and 2022)*
Careers available in several facilities and offices (hospitals, physician's offices, nursing homes and family services)*
Opportunity to improve the life of others*

Cons of an Occupational Therapy Career
Master's degree typically required for employment*
Extended work hours (nights and weekends)*
Travel to multiple job sites may be required*
Physically demanding (lifting patients and standing on feet for excessive periods)*
State licensure requirements*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Occupational therapists improve the daily lives of individuals by creating treatment plans and recommending specialized equipment for ill or disabled patients. They evaluate the patient's condition and establish a treatment plan that includes goals, therapies and activities. Occupational therapists work with a variety of clientele including children, elderly and mentally challenged patients, and they may work in hospitals, clinics or in the client's home.

Therapists teach clients and families how to use equipment, such as wheelchairs, that will improve the patient's ability to live independently. In a work environment, therapists teach employers how to adapt a work process to accommodate the client's disability or limitations. Additionally, they teach life skills to clients with developmental disabilities, such as time management, budgeting, housekeeping and travel.

Job Prospects and Salary

As an occupational therapist, you can expect ample growth in the field with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projecting a much faster than average growth of 29%. The BLS attributes some of the increase in job opportunities to an aging population. Job prospects are good in all settings; however, you'll find the highest concentration of jobs in physician's offices, hospitals and schools. Most occupational therapists can expect to earn between $52,000 and $112,000 with the median wage reported to be $78,810 in 2014.

What Are the Requirements?

To work as an occupational therapist, you typically must complete a graduate degree. Admission to a graduate degree program in occupational therapy may require students to complete prior coursework in psychology, biology, physiology, medical terminology and anatomy. Additionally, you may be required to complete fieldwork under an occupational therapist in your undergraduate program prior to gaining acceptance into a master's degree. The program includes master's coursework and a practical field experience.

Licensure

Occupational therapists must obtain a license to practice in all states. To qualify, you must complete an accredited degree program that meets the state's requirements and pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification examination.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers of occupational therapists may require job applicants to obtain a state license prior to applying. In addition to education and licensure, employers may also ask for experience or additional certification. The following are some examples of job postings for occupational therapists available in March 2012:

  • An employer in California is seeking an occupational therapist to develop and implement treatment plans for clients in a team environment. The candidate must hold a current California license to practice occupational therapy in the state.
  • An Alabama employer is looking for an occupational therapist to assess patient living and working skills, along with develop a treatment plan with goals within their inpatient rehab facility. Candidates must have a degree from an accredited university or college, current occupational therapist license, CPR certification and experience in an inpatient rehab.
  • A Michigan healthcare facility is looking for an occupational therapist to work with clients on an inpatient and outpatient basis. The candidate must have completed a training program that is approved by the American Occupational Therapy Association and certification by the NBCOT along with Michigan registration.

How Do I Stand Out in the Field?

States require occupational therapists to be licensed; however, you may seek voluntary certification from NBCOT to gain an edge in the field. Therapists who meet the organization's requirements for certification may gain the Occupational Therapist Registered credential.

Additionally, you can pursue additional graduate education to stand out as an occupational therapy leader. According to the BLS, a small number of doctorate degree programs in occupational therapy are available. Doctorate programs can provide advanced fieldwork for career advancement, or may qualify you for academia or research positions within postsecondary educational institutions.

Alternative Careers to Consider

Occupational Therapy Assistant

If a career helping patients is appealing, but the education requirements for an occupational therapist are a deterrent, a career as an occupational therapy assistant may be a better fit. Occupational therapy assistants work under the direction of an occupational therapist and help in treatment development and direct patient care. An associate's degree from an accredited program is required to earn a state license to work as an assistant. Some occupational therapy assistants work in the position while obtaining the additional education for an occupational therapist career. The annual median income for an occupational therapy assistant was $52,000 as of May 2011, according to the BLS, and employment is expected to rise by 41% between 2010 and 2020.

Physical Therapist

Physical therapists help patients improve their physical movement and manage pain caused by an illness, injury or disability. The education requirement for a physical therapist is more advanced than an occupational therapist, but the annual median salary and employment outlook is higher. Physical therapists usually complete a doctoral degree program in physical therapy and a residency program to qualify for a position in the field. The annual median salary for physical therapists was $78,000 as of May 2011 and employment for professionals in the field is expected to rise by 39% between 2010 and 2020, according to the BLS.

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