Occupational therapists are not medical doctors but they perform many of the tasks a doctor does to help children with developmental disabilities. They treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.
They help these patients develop, recover, improve, as well as maintain the skills needed for daily living and working.
This job is people centered and a good fit if you enjoy helping people directly and using your problem-solving skills to teach.
Other Job Titles for Occupational Therapist
- Assistive Technology Trainer
- Early Intervention Occupational Therapist
- Industrial Rehabilitation Consultant
- Occupational Therapist (OT)
- Pediatric Occupational Therapist
- Registered Occupational Therapist
- Rehabilitation Supervisor
- Staff Occupational Therapist
- Staff Therapist
What Occupational Therapists Do
- Review patients’ medical history, ask the patients questions, and observe them doing tasks
- Evaluate a patient’s condition and needs
- Develop a treatment plan for patients, identifying specific goals and the types of activities that will be used to help the patient work toward those goals
- Help people with various disabilities perform different tasks, such as teaching a stroke victim how to get dressed
- Demonstrate exercises—for example, stretching the joints for arthritis relief—that can help relieve pain in people with chronic conditions
- Evaluate a patient’s home or workplace and, on the basis of the patient’s health needs, identify potential improvements, such as labeling kitchen cabinets for an older person with poor memory
- Educate a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient
- Recommend special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids, and instruct patients on how to use that equipment
- Assess and record patients’ activities and progress for patient evaluations, for billing, and for reporting to physicians and other healthcare providers
Patients with permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, often need help performing daily tasks.
Therapists show patients how to use appropriate adaptive equipment, such as leg braces, wheelchairs, and eating aids.
These devices help patients perform a number of daily tasks, allowing them to function more independently.
They Work with Children
Some occupational therapists work with children in educational settings.
They evaluate disabled children’s abilities, modify classroom equipment to accommodate children with disabilities, and help children participate in school activities.
Therapists also may provide early intervention therapy to infants and toddlers who have, or are at risk of having, developmental delays.
They Work with Older People
Therapists who work with the elderly help their patients lead more independent and active lives.
They assess patients’ abilities and environment and make recommendations to improve the patients’ everyday lives.
For example, therapists may identify potential fall hazards in a patient’s home and recommend their removal.
They Improve Workplace Accessibility
In some cases, occupational therapists help patients create functional work environments.
They evaluate the workspace, recommend modifications, and meet with the patient’s employer to collaborate on changes to the patient’s work environment or schedule.
They Work In Mental Health
Occupational therapists also may work in mental health settings, where they help patients who suffer from developmental disabilities, mental illness, or emotional problems.
Therapists teach these patients skills such as managing time, budgeting, using public transportation, and doing household chores in order to help them cope with, and engage in, daily life activities.
In addition, therapists may work with individuals who have problems with drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, or other disorders.
They may also work with people who have been through a traumatic event, such as a car accident.
They Work in Hospitals
They may work with patients who have chronic conditions, such as diabetes or help rehabilitate a patient recovering from hip replacement surgery.
Occupational therapists also oversee the work of occupational therapy assistants and aides.
Is It the Right Career Fit?
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Where They Work
Occupational therapists may spend a lot of time on their feet working with patients.
Occupational therapists held about 133,570 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of occupational therapists were as follows:
|Offices of Other |
|General Medical and |
|Elementary and |
|Home Health Care |
|Nursing Care Facilities |
(Skilled Nursing Facilities)
Therapists may spend a lot of time on their feet while working with patients.
They also may be required to lift and move patients or heavy equipment.
Many work in multiple facilities and have to travel from one job to another.
Most occupational therapists work full time. They may work nights or weekends, as needed, to accommodate patients’ schedules.
How to Become an Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists can help people cope with arthritis and other ailments.
Occupational Therapist Schools
Most occupational therapists enter the occupation with a master’s degree in occupational therapy.
In 2017, there were about 200 occupational therapy programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
Admission to graduate programs in occupational therapy generally requires a bachelor’s degree and specific coursework, including biology and physiology.
Many programs also require applicants to have volunteered or worked in an occupational therapy setting.
Candidates should contact the program that they are interested in attending about specific requirements.
How Long Does it Take to Become an Occupational Therapist?
From high school, it can take 7-10 years to become an occupational therapist. First, you have to earn a bachelor’s degree, which usually takes 4 years and then a master’s.
Master’s programs in occupational therapy usually take 2 to 3 years to complete. Some people earn a doctoral degree. Those programs take about 3 and a half years to finish.
Some schools offer a dual-degree program in which the student earns a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in 5 years. For example, Quinnipiac University in Connecticut offers a accredited dual OT degree.
Part-time programs that offer courses on nights and weekends are also available.
Both master’s and doctoral programs require at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork, in which prospective occupational therapists gain clinical work experience.
In addition, doctoral programs require a 16-week capstone experience.
Can You Be an Occupational Therapist Without a Degree?
You cannot be an occupational therapist without a degree. All therapists are required to get a license and all state’s require that you pass a national exam. To be eligible for the exam you need a degree.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require occupational therapists to be licensed.
Licensing requirements vary by state, but all require candidates to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).
To sit for the NBCOT exam, candidates must have earned a degree from an accredited educational program and completed all fieldwork requirements.
Therapists must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title “Occupational Therapist, Registered” (OTR). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain certification.
The American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of board and specialty certifications for therapists who want to demonstrate their advanced or specialized knowledge in areas of practice, such as pediatrics, mental health, or low vision.
An Occupational Therapist is a Good Job Fit for
O*NET Interest Profiler Results
You can learn more about the free career test here.
According to O*NET Interest Profiler categories, social occupations frequently involve working with, communicating with, and teaching people.
These occupations often involve helping or providing service to others. As an occupational therapist, you would be working with and teaching people how to perform every day tasks.
The job falls into a secondary interest of investigative.
Investigative occupations frequently involve working with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking. These occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.
As an occupational therapist, you would be finding customized solutions such as modifying movements or using tools to do certain tasks for a person living with disabilities.
Occupational Therapist Personality Type
If your Myers-Briggs personality type is INFJ, an occupational therapist job is a must-have on your list of possible occupations. As an INFJ you love helping people and connecting with them on a deeper level.
INFJs enjoy having meaning in their work, so helping people learn to be more independent and teaching them to have confidence in their abilities can be a rewarding line of work.
Don’t know your personality type? You can take a free personality test at 16Personalities.
Teaching others how to live with a disability is chance to serve people one on one and bring ideas and information to them.
You can truly counsel people so they can perform tasks on their own and not let a disability hold them back.
Soft Skills Needed to Be an Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists must be flexible when treating patients.
Because not every type of therapy will work for each patient, therapists may need to be creative when determining the treatment plans and adaptive devices that best suit each patient’s needs.
Occupational therapists must listen attentively to what patients tell them and must explain what they want their patients to do.
When communicating with other members of the patient’s medical team, therapists must clearly explain the treatment plan for the patient and any progress made by the patient.
Occupational therapists are usually drawn to the profession by a desire to help people and improve their daily lives.
Therapists must be sensitive to a patient’s needs and concerns, especially when assisting the patient with personal activities.
Because occupational therapists spend their time teaching and explaining therapies to patients, they need to earn the trust and respect of those patients and their families.
Dealing with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities is frustrating for many people.
Occupational therapists should exhibit patience in order to provide quality care to the people they serve.
How Much Occupational Therapists Get Paid
The median annual wage for occupational therapists was $84,950 in May 2019. The average salary for the same year was $86,210.
The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $56,800, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $121,490.
2019 Median Salaries for Occupational Therapists
|District of Columbia||320||$94,000|
Most occupational therapists work full time. They may work nights or weekends, as needed, to accommodate patients’ schedules.
Is it Easy to Find Job as an Occupational Therapist?
The number of occupational therapist jobs are expected to grow by 18 percent by 2028.
|Job Title||2018||2028||Increase||total new jobs|
Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb.
However, the demand for occupational therapy services is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through health insurance.
The need for occupational therapists is expected to increase as the large baby-boom generation ages and people remain active later in life.
Occupational therapists can help senior citizens maintain their independence by recommending home modifications and strategies that make daily activities easier.
Therapists also play a role in the treatment of many conditions and ailments commonly associated with aging, such as arthritis and stroke.
Occupational therapists also will be needed in a variety of healthcare settings to treat patients with chronic conditions, such as diabetes.
Patients will continue to seek noninvasive outpatient treatment for long-term disabilities and illnesses, either in their homes or in residential care environments.
These patients may need occupational therapy to become more independent and to perform a variety of daily tasks.
Demand for occupational therapy services also will stem from patients with autism spectrum disorder. Therapists will continue to be needed in schools to assist children with autism in improving their social skills and accomplishing a variety of daily tasks.
Job opportunities should be good for licensed occupational therapists in all settings, particularly acute hospital, rehabilitation, and orthopedic settings where the elderly receive treatment.
Occupational therapists with specialized knowledge in a treatment area also will have better job prospects.
For more information about occupational therapists, visit
For more information about the certification exam for Occupational Therapist, Registered, visit
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