Occupational Therapist

Overview of Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists are trained and licensed individuals who treat sick, injured or disabled patients with therapies designed to help the patients get through their daily lives. They help the patients improve, develop and maintain the skills necessary for the day-to-day lives both at home and at work. Occupational therapists may work in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, home health services and in occupational therapy offices. They also spend a lot of their time working with and treating patients with the autistic spectrum disorder.

Related resource: Top 25 Online Master’s in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Key Responsibilities

Occupational therapists have many duties and responsibilities. They typically have the following responsibilities.

• Evaluation patient’s needs and conditions

• Reviewing patient’s medical files

• Speaking to the patient and observing their actions

• Helping disabled patients perform difficult tasks

• Identifying a patient’s goals and developing an appropriate treatment plan

• Developing exercise plans to help patients function with the minimum pain

• Evaluate the patient’s workplace or home while keeping the patient’s health needs in mind, to determine ways to make it easier for the patient to function

• Educate the patient’s family members or employer on how to best care for the patient

• Assess the patient’s progress and make adequate documentation

• Demonstrate to a patient how to correctly use necessary medical equipment

• Education schools on equipment that may be necessary for the patient to perform daily tasks

Necessary Skills

Working as an occupational therapist or an applied behavior analyst can be very rewarding and challenging at the same time. The therapist must be able to acknowledge that every patient is different and must be treated differently. This therapist must possess some very special qualities.

• Must have adaptability and be flexible enough to know the different patients’ needs.

• Must have good communication and interpersonal skills to speak with the patient and family members.

• Must have compassion and patience to deal with the many different types of patients and their different needs.

• Must be able to multi-task and be organized.

Degree and Education Requirements

Occupational therapists are required to have at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy from an accredited occupational therapy program. Some occupational therapists choose to earn doctoral degrees. As of 2017, there were about 200 accredited occupational therapy programs in the U.S. To get into occupational therapy graduate program, the applicant must already have a bachelor’s degree.

Completing the master’s degree program generally takes two to three years of full-time study. Graduate programs typically require the student complete at least 24 weeks of fieldwork in the form of supervised clinical experiences. Doctoral students also need to complete a 16-week capstone project. Occupational therapists are required to be licensed in all the states. States may vary in their licensing requirements, but all the states require the therapist to be nationally certified by passing the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam.

The student must complete the academic requirements and the fieldwork before he or she can sit for the certification exam. There are also various specialty certifications available to occupational therapists. Occupational therapists who wish to work as applied behavior analysts must pass a certification exam through the Behavior Analyst Certification Board to earn the credential of Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA®).

Pros and Cons of the Position

Occupational therapy, like most occupations, comes with pros and cons. The pros of working as an occupational therapist are:

• Opportunities to meet new people

• The huge demand for occupational therapists offers good job growth.

• Offers various work settings, such as clinics, hospitals, outpatient centers, etc.

• Flexibility in choosing from various fields, such as vision therapy, geriatrics, pediatrics, etc.

• Job satisfaction from knowing you’re helping others

• Ability to choose various areas of specialties

• Job offers a lucrative salary.

The disadvantages or cons of working as an occupational therapist are:

• Extensive education and study required

• Occupational therapists may be at risk of infection from patients.

• Must deal with challenging behavior from patients on a regular basis

• The job can be physically demanding.

• May be required to work long hours as well as in the evenings or on weekends

• The job can be emotionally draining.

Getting Started

Occupational therapy programs are very competitive and have a selective admissions policy. Applicants should possess a bachelor’s degree. Students who don’t have a bachelor’s degree program can enroll in a dual-degree program that allows them to earn the bachelor’s degree and the master’s degree. These programs are only offered at certain schools. Applicants who already have the bachelor’s degree often get preferential treatment in the enrollment process.

Additionally, the applicant should have completed specific courses, such as physiology and biology. Some schools also require the applicant has worked in an occupational therapy setting or completed volunteer work in that area. Students who wish to enroll in occupational therapy programs are advised to learn what requirements are needed well in advance of enrollment.


The salaries occupational therapists earn can be affected by several factors, including:

  • training, education
  • years of experience
  • certifications
  • employer
  • location

As of May 2017 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational therapists earned an average annual wage of $83,200 with wages ranging from $54,560 to $120,440. The average hourly wage for occupational therapists is $40.69. PayScale, another wage reporting agency, lists the average annual wage at $65,084 as of July 2018. Below are the five top-paying states for occupational therapists.

  • Nevada – $103,280
  • Texas – $94,530
  • New Jersey – $94,100
  • District of Columbia – $93,110
  • Connecticut – $90,760

Future Outlook

Occupational therapists are very much in demand due to the important role they play in treating patients with various illnesses and disabilities. These include

  • cerebral palsy
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • loss of body parts

In many cases, therapists spend a lot of time helping patients make the transition from being disabled to getting back to work. Their help in treating autistic patients has increased the demand for occupational therapists. Occupational therapists are expected to see a job growth of 24 percent during the decade of 2016-2026, according to the BLS.

When working with applied behavior specialists, occupational therapists have been highly successful in treating patients with autistic spectrum disorder, as well as other behavior and occupational problems. Despite how challenging it can be to work as an occupational therapist, this career can be very fulfilling. What could be more exciting and rewarding than working diligently with a patient and seeing progress?