Study Occupational Therapy: Masters Degree, Doctorate & Online Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's or doctoral degree in occupational therapy? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and occupational therapy degrees.
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Occupational Therapy Master's and Doctorate: Degrees at a Glance

Occupational therapy is the practice of incorporating daily activities into therapeutic settings in order to help establish and increase independence in people with various disabilities. If you have a passion for helping others, a master's or doctoral degree in occupational therapy might be an emotionally rewarding option to consider. However, a degree alone won't qualify you to work as an occupational therapist; you'll also need to earn state licensure.

According the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the overall job outlook for occupational therapists was predicted to rise at a faster-than-average rate of 33% from 2010-2020. During this time, roughly 36,000 new jobs in the field were expected to be created. In 2011, the BLS reported that the mean annual salary for occupational therapists was approximately $75,000. Occupational therapists working in home healthcare had the highest salary in the field that year, with a mean annual income of around $86,000.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in working as occupational therapists or teaching at the junior college level People who want to work in academia as professors or researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Occupational therapist ($75,000)*
- Postsecondary health specialty teacher at a junior college ($65,000)*
- Occupational therapist ($75,000)*
- University health specialty professor ($107,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 3 years after a bachelor's program or 1-2 years after the master's for Doctor of Occupational Therapy programs, 4-5 years for Ph.D. programs
Common Graduation Requirements - Graduate Capstone project
-Master's exams
-Fieldwork
- Doctoral Capstone project
- Residency/internship
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Criminal background check
- Healthcare or volunteer experience required by some schools
- Master's degree in occupational therapy or bachelor's degree plus prerequisite courses
-Criminal background check
- Current licensing in occupational therapy required by some schools
Online Availability Some Coursework is available online Very rarely, some coursework is available online

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Occupational Therapy

Master's programs in occupational therapy are designed to provide students with solid foundations in the methods, theories and ethics of occupational therapy. Upon graduating with your Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) degree, you will have the ability to design therapy programs for a diverse set of clients, help consumers increase their independence and apply evidence-based practice to therapeutic settings. A master's program will prepare you to apply for jobs in a variety of places, including schools, hospitals, patients' homes, nursing homes, rehabilitation clinics and more. When researching schools, look for programs that are accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) to ensure your degree will meet licensing requirements.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Earning your master's degree will open up job opportunities that pay as much as $75,000-$86,000 per year.*
  • Occupational therapy is a fast-growing field according to the BLS.
  • A master's degree will enable you to pursue continuing education opportunities and certifications offered by AOTA.
  • Occupational therapy can be an emotionally rewarding career as you help others on a daily basis.

Cons

  • Master's programs in occupational therapy tend to be expensive, with some schools costing as much as $770 per credit hour.**
  • Job opportunities are fairly limited to occupational therapy and teaching positions.
  • Occupational therapy master's programs are competitive, with some schools only accepting 25 students annually.***

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Chatham University, ***University of Washington

Courses and Requirements

While pursuing your MOT, you'll participate in a diverse set of courses to obtain a well-rounded education in the primary principles and goals of occupational therapy. Your coursework will focus on teaching you how to promote and establish consumer independence, incorporate meaningful activities into therapy programs and adapt therapeutic activities to various environments. Some general courses you might take in your master's program include:

  • Kinesiology
  • Occupational therapy theory and practice
  • Human anatomy
  • Foundations of occupational therapy
  • Therapy and communication skills

In addition to the required coursework, you will also complete fieldwork throughout the duration of the program alongside licensed occupational therapists. You will also need to develop and present a capstone project for graduation, which combines community service with an academic paper. Capstone projects in occupational therapy are typically education- or advocacy-based.

Some programs include licensing, while others do not. You may need to complete other licensing requirements after graduation in order to obtain your license. Currently, licensing is required and regulated in all 50 states and all United States territories.

Online Availability

At this time, there are no accredited master's programs in occupational therapy available exclusively online. However, hybrid programs that allow you to complete a portion of your coursework online are available.

Stand Out With This Degree

While completing your mandatory fieldwork hours, try to conduct them in as many different settings as possible. For example, spend some time working with Alzheimer's patients in a nursing home, as well as time with adults who have developmental disabilities at a day program. Having diverse fieldwork experience will make it easier to decide what setting you want to work in after graduation, and it will also provide more hands-on experience to maximize your education and better prepare you for work.

Doctoral Degrees in Occupational Therapy

Doctorate programs in occupational therapy continue to build upon the foundations established in master's programs, but they also teach students how to effectively conduct independent research to contribute new knowledge to the field. As with master's programs, try to seek out schools that are AOTA-accredited to ensure your degree will meet licensing requirements. Some schools require you to already hold a master's degree and licensing to apply, while others accept students who have graduated with honors from undergraduate programs. Earning a master's degree may cut down the length of time it takes to earn your doctorate. Upon completion of your program, you'll be granted a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD). However, if you're interested in conducting research or teaching at the university level, Ph.D. programs in rehabilitation science are also available.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Earning a Ph.D. could lead to jobs that pay as much as $107,000 per year.*
  • Your doctorate will allow you to work in even more settings, including academic publications, advocacy organizations and universities.
  • You could be considered a leading authority in the field once you have earned a doctorate.

Cons

  • A doctorate is not required to become an occupational therapist.
  • Working as an occupational therapist may require long periods of time spent on your feet and the ability to lift patients.
  • You could spend 7-11 total years in postsecondary programs, depending on the type of doctoral program you choose.

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)

Courses and Requirements

Courses in doctoral-level occupational therapy programs focus on establishing independence in a student's education. You will take advanced theory and practice courses, as well as attend advanced research and critical analysis seminars. This is to prepare you to become a pioneer in the field through independent study and academic research. Some of the courses you may take in an occupational therapy doctorate program include:

  • Occupational practice
  • Educational theory and technology
  • Advanced practice in occupational therapy
  • Applied occupations
  • Advocacy and leadership in occupational therapy

In addition to coursework, you'll complete a capstone project for graduation as part of an OTD program. This project will combine community service or fieldwork experience with writing an academic paper. If you complete a Ph.D. program, your program may require that you complete teaching experiences and a dissertation.

Online Availability

At this time, there are no accredited doctoral programs in occupational therapy available exclusively online, and it is extremely rare to find hybrid programs. This may change in the future as more universities begin offering distance and correspondence courses to their curricula.

Stand Out With This Degree

If you're interested in working in occupational therapy research or education, consider submitting academic papers or articles you have written to various associations within the field while you are still in school. The AOTA accepts submissions throughout the year and regularly publishes academic articles written by students or recent graduates. Having your work published will help you build a name for yourself and provide relevant experience for your resume.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
      • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership
  • Saint Louis, MO

    Washington University in St Louis

  • Online Programs Available
    4. Utica College

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy
      • Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy
  • Toledo, OH

    University of Toledo

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of the Sciences

  • San Marcos, CA

    University of St Augustine for Health Sciences

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor of Management - Health Care Management and Leadership

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Washington University in St Louis

Utica College

  • Transitional Doctor of Physical Therapy

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University of Toledo

University of the Sciences

University of St Augustine for Health Sciences