How to Become An Occupational Therapist

If you are looking for a career that can be both challenging and rewarding, becoming an occupational therapist can be a good option. CNN reported in 2013 that demand for occupational therapists will remain stable. It also ranked occupational therapists in its list of Fastest Growing Jobs between 2010 and 2020 and also ranked it among Booming Jobs in America. Forbes reported the median annual salary for these professionals at $72,000 pay. The Bureau of Labor Statistics noted “The need for occupational therapists is expected to increase as the large baby-boom generation ages and people remain active later in life”. Besides, patients will continue to seek noninvasive outpatient treatment for long-term disabilities and illnesses.

What is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapy is a degree-based, science, health and social care job, which takes a whole-person approach to both mental and physical health and wellbeing, allowing people to achieve their full potential. It provides support to enable people to recover and overcome any barriers that prevent them from doing things that matter to them.

how long does it take to become an occupational therapist

The Role

Occupational therapists are medical experts who work with people to help them overcome the effects of disability caused by physical or psychological illness, accident or ageing. Some of their job responsibilities include:

  • Evaluating a patient's condition and needs
  • Developing a treatment plan for patients,
  • Helping people with various disabilities with different tasks
  • Demonstrating exercises
  • Educating a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient
  • Assessing and recording patients’ activities and progress
  • Recommending special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids

Patients with permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, often require need help in everyday tasks. Occupational therapists show patients how to use appropriate adaptive equipment, such as wheelchairs, and eating aids that may help them perform various tasks on their own. Some of these healthcare professionals work with children in educational settings where they evaluate disabled children’s abilities, and help them take part in school activities.

What does it take?

Being an occupational therapist requires patience, determination, a solid knowledge base and enthusiasm. Most of all, this profession calls for an interest in working closely with people to enable them to lead satisfying lives.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist Education

A master’s degree in occupational therapy is what you need to earn to pursue a career as an occupational therapist. Doctoral degrees are also available for those who would like to further their knowledge after a master’s program.

To enroll in graduate degree programs in occupational therapy, you must pursue a bachelor’s degree and complete coursework in biology and physiology. You may also need to have work experience in related settings to enroll in these programs as some schools also require students to have worked in occupational therapy settings before enrollment.

Both master’s and doctoral programs require at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork that will help you acquire hands-on experience in clinical settings.

Factors Responsible For the Increase in the Demand for Occupational Therapists
  • Large numbers of baby-boomers
  • Treatment of chronic conditions, such as diabetes
  • Medical advances
  • Increasing number of states requiring insurance companies to cover autism-related conditions
  • Federal health insurance reform

Employment Prospects

Career outlook for occupational therapists is excellent as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 29% from 2012 to 2022.This is 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 cerebral palsy and autism. So pursuing this line of work can be considerably beneficial for those who want to enter the healthcare industry.

Salary for Occupational Therapists  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for occupational therapists was $75,400 in 2012. Those who worked in nursing care facilities made more than occupational therapists who worked in hospitals and elementary and secondary schools.

Variety of Settings

As occupational therapists, you will work with young children, adolescents, adults and older people in these areas:

  • Pediatrics
  • Environmental Adaptation
  • Care Management
  • Research Posts
  • Physical Rehabilitation
  • Mental Health Services
  • Learning Disability

You can find opportunities in a number of settings:

  • Community centers
  • Education establishments
  • Prisons
  • Residential and nursing homes
  • Social services and council departments
  • Schools
  • Charities and voluntary agencies
  • Hospitals
  • Housing associations
  • Clients homes
  • Industrial and commercial organizations

According to BLS, the 5 major industries that employed occupational therapists in 2012 were:

  • Nursing care facilities
  • Home health care services
  • Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists
  • Hospitals
  • Elementary and secondary schools

Work Schedule for Occupational Therapists

Most occupational therapists work full time while few opt to work on part time basis. You may work nights or weekends in order to facilitate patients’ schedules.

Job Prospects

According to the BLS, prospects should be good for licensed occupational therapists in all healthcare settings, particularly in:

  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Acute hospitals
  • Orthopedic settings

Those with specialized knowledge in a treatment area also may have better job opportunities. A US News and World Report cited that the diversity of the field makes choosing a specialization early important for occupational therapists. Finding a niche within the field is essential as specialized skills and passion for your work will help you stand out.

Why Occupational Therapy?

Flexibility and Low Stress: Money Magazine reported that occupational therapists work is flexible and does not involve a lot of stress.

Recession Proof Jobs: This occupation was also ranked #18 in Lawrence Shatkin’s 150 Best Recession-Proof Jobs.

Self-Satisfaction: Helping people live their life to the fullest can be a great source of satisfaction.

Happiness: Many occupational therapists say that they love their job and love being in this field.

Growth: As opportunities for occupational therapists are expected to grow faster than the average in the future, this line of work may make a suitable option.

Diverse opportunities: The field also offers a number of opportunities, so you will have many options for careers within the field as well.

You will also love the healing power of occupation and helping people maintain health through occupational engagement. Many OTs find this profession life changing. In fact, it will not just change your life; it will make a positive impact on others’ lives as well. There is nothing more satisfying than the sense of achievement you will get after helping a patient fully recover.

How to become an Occupational Therapist in Texas?

Texas is the third highest employer of occupational therapists with 9,250 individuals working in the field, earning an annual mean wage of $89,360. To become an Occupational Therapist in Texas, you will need at least a master’s degree. Some fields might even require you to have a doctoral degree in occupational therapy. Once you have completed your education, you will need to pass the national exam by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). To work in Texas, you will need additional licensure issued by the Texas Occupational Therapy Licensure Board.

How to become an Occupational Therapist in California?

California is home to the second largest number of Occupational Therapists in any state, with 9,580 professionals employed in the field currently. The annual mean wage for this occupation in California is $95,160. To enter this field in California, you will need to complete a master’s degree in occupational therapy and apply for certification by clearing the National Certification Exam administered by the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy. Following this, you will have to apply for a California State License under the Board of Occupational Therapy in the state. You will be required to renew this license on a regular 2-year basis.   

Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:After becoming an occupational therapist, what income should I be expecting?

A:According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapists made a median annual income of $75,400 in 2012. The top 10 percent earned over $107,070 while the lowest 10 percent earned less than $50,500. Factors such as location, employer, and degree will affect the exact salary an individual qualifies for. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:What skills do I need to become an occupational therapist?

A:As an Occupational therapist, you must demonstrate certain skills and have diverse abilities. The career can be demanding in a number of ways. Occupational therapists must have strong communication skills, analysis skills, interpersonal skills, active listening skills, time management skills, and critical thinking skills. (Source: O*Net Online)

Q:How long does it take to become a occupational therapist?

A:It can take you 6 to 7 years to become an occupational therapist after high school. You must first complete a 4 year bachelor program and then pursue a master's degree in occupational therapy which can take 2-3 years to complete. The exact duration will depend upon the academic route you pursue and training program. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:Why become a occupational therapist?

A:Many people choose to become an occupational therapist as it gives them the opportunity to help people in need. Occupational therapists spend their time helping patients suffering from conditions and injuries that limit their mobility. The field also offers reasonable income to professionals. Occupational therapists made earned a median salary of $75,400 in 2012 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics and The American Occupational Therapy Association Inc)

Q:What do occupational therapist do?

A:Occupational therapists provide rehabilitation services and help treat disabled, ill or injured patients. These professionals use different Therapeutic exercises to help patients improve their motor skills for every-day activities. Typical duties of an occupational therapist include: diagnosing medical conditions, developing exercise plans, recommending specialized equipment to patients, showing patients how to adapt to new equipment, and assisting patients in creating a functional work environment to enhance their healing process. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:What are the requirements to become a occupational therapist?

A:To become an occupational therapist, you need to have at least a master's degree in occupational therapy. Many students also pursue a doctoral program in occupational therapy after getting a masters degree. After you have completed the academic requirements, you must pass a licensing examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapists. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:What degree do you need to become a occupational therapist?

A:You need to have at least a master's degree in occupational therapy. To enroll in this degree program, you may have to complete relevant coursework in areas such as physiology and biology at undergraduate level. You can also improve your career prospects by further pursuing a doctoral degree. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:how long does it take to become an occupational therapist?

A:To become an occupational therapist, you need to complete at least a master's degree in occupational therapy. However, first you need to complete a 4-year degree program from an accredited university in any major such as kinesiology, psychology, sociology, biology and so on. After completion of your bachelor's degree, you will need to get a masters degree (typically takes 2 years to complete). Following this, you will be required to get licensed in your respective state.

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