Occupational Therapy Degree Information
To practice as an occupational therapist (OT) requires at least a master’s degree. An associate’s degree in occupational therapy enables the student to work as an occupational therapy assistant, but not as a full-fledged OT. For the most part, graduate level programs in occupational therapy use the traditional educational format of classes at a college or university. Some associate degree programs in OT have an online component, as do post-graduate continuing education OT classes. However, expect to attend regular classes when going for a master’s or doctorate in occupational therapy. Gaining a master’s or doctorate in OT enables the student to work in entry-level occupational therapy positions in hospitals, health clinics, nursing homes, schools, doctor’s offices and a variety of other settings. Occupational therapists help all manner of people, from very young to very old, at every level of capability and performance to achieve independence and quality of life through mastering everyday living tasks. OTs work with children with learning disorders, or with people recovering from an accident or with the elderly struggling with cognitive or physical issues. OTs also work with patients suffering from a mental or emotional disorder, finding ways to help them cope with the tasks of daily life.
Occupational therapy students can expect fieldwork as a large part of their studies. Fieldwork provides students with the opportunity to perform OT duties with patients under the supervision of an experienced therapist. All accredited graduate OT programs require at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork. Once they graduate, master’s and doctoral students will take a national certification exam before gaining their license.
While obtaining a bachelor’s degree isn’t enough to begin work as an occupational therapist, there are accredited programs that combine bachelor’s and master’s. A combined program accepts students without a bachelor’s degree, awards the bachelor’s and allows the student to continue on with the master’s program. Once the master’s degree is completed, an entry-level master’s degree is awarded. These combined programs accept transfer students.
A master’s degree program generally takes two years of coursework and supervised fieldwork. Coursework will focus on human growth throughout the lifespan, physical and mental development, theory and practice of occupational therapy and occupations or activities of infants and children, adolescents, adults and elderly. Computers and assisting technology will also be studied. Fieldwork will consist of working with children, adolescents, adults and the elderly with developmental, physical or mental problems that obstruct their ability to live independently.
Doctoral level programs train students in much the same way as master’s programs, but with added components of research, clinical practice skills, theory development, administration and leadership. For the doctorate degree, students must complete an experiential section or residency and a final research project.
Graduate programs in OT teach courses heavy in occupational therapy practice and theory. Computer and assistive technology are studied, as well as how to adapt these technologies to help people achieve daily tasks and goals. Other courses will include classes such as the following:
- Clinical practice
- Applied neuroscience for the OT
- Occupations of infants and children
- Occupations of adolescents and young adults
- Occupatons of adults and older adults
- Impact of conditions on occupations
- Psychiatric dimensions of therapeutic relationships
Level I and II fieldwork are equally heavy components of graduate level programs. Level I fieldwork entails exposure to OT practice with hands-on experiences in hospitals and nursing homes and other medical settings, schools and community halls. Level II fieldwork is full-time usually for eight weeks in the same sorts of settings. Students will work with people of all ages, from infants to elderly.
Occupational therapy opportunities are burgeoning as the population ages. With more people hitting middle and retirement ages, the demand for medical personnel of all kinds grows, including occupational therapists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that OT employment will grow by 33 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than average. This is true as well for occupational therapy assistants and aides. Occupational therapists find work in hospitals, health clinics, doctor’s offices, in industrial settings, home health care, psychiatric hospitals, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes. With work available in a wide variety of settings, with a growing demand for OT services, occupational therapists can expect a great decade ahead.
Full time occupational therapists earn a median salary of $72,320, according to the BLS. With years of experience, OT salaries can increase to over $100,000. Nevada, California, Texas and the District of Columbia pay slightly higher salaries to OTs than other states. Many occupational therapists choose to specialize early on, going into working specifically with children, or the mentally ill or the injured. Specializing can result in higher wages as can working for home health services.
Occupational Therapy FAQ
What types of jobs can I expect with an occupational therapy degree?
OTs work in diverse settings with diverse populations. What you choose to specialize in as an OT can determine where you’ll work—in schools or in psychiatric hospitals, industrial settings or in offices. Most OTs work a full time 40 hour a week job. Others work weekends only or part time in home health care. If you like variety, working as an occupational therapist can be satisfying as you can work with children one week and with the elderly the next.
How long does it take to earn an occupational therapy degree?
An entry level master’s or doctorate degree can take six years or more. Usually students with a bachelor’s decide to become an occupational therapist, and getting the required master’s degree takes two years. A doctorate will take three to four years post bachelor’s degree. Some students, to see if they will like the field, get an associate’s degree in OT and begin their career as an occupational therapist assistant. Most, however, get a master’s degree and begin work from there.
Where are the highest-paying jobs in occupational therapy?
The highest paying OT jobs are in Texas, earning in the low $90,000s for many Texas cities. East coast and west coast metropolitan areas pay more than other parts of the country, as is true for most professions and occupations. Home health occupational therapists can earn higher salaries than those in nursing homes. Some OTs opt to sign up with medical travel job agencies, and can make 20 percent higher salaries than the median salary of $72,320.
What does the Occupational Therapy coursework entail?
While there will naturally be an introductory overview of psychology, students can expect to gain a basic understanding of physiology. They will also be prepped on how to respond to the medical needs of patients with alternative and traditional treatment options.
What are the educational requirements before I can begin practicing as an occupational therapist?
If you intend to work your way from the ground up, then an associate’s degree in occupational degree with enable you to gain work as an occupational therapy assistant. Becoming a fully fledged occupational therapist will require a minimum of a master’s degree.
What can I do with an occupational therapy degree?
If you’re starting out, you can gain employment as an occupational therapy assistant, which involves working closely with the occupational therapist to educate patients on key skills needed to acclimatize to life with their disabilities. Other careers paths include:
- Occupational Therapist
- Health service manager
Is there scope for further training as an occupational therapist?
Even as a qualified occupational therapist, you will be expected to continuously partake in activities designed to bring you up to speed on the latest techniques and developments within your specialization. These events are normally organized by a local professional organization. Notable associations include:
- American Occupational Therapy Foundation
- American Occupational Therapy Association
- National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy
- National Organization on Disability