Occupational Therapy: How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Occupational Therapy: How to Become an Occupational Therapist

December 27, 2023

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Are you interested in pursuing a career in occupational therapy (OT), or wondering how long you need to go to OT school? Read on to learn how to become an occupational therapist by earning a bachelor’s and master’s degree in occupational therapy so that you can decide if it’s the right career path for you.

Career Outlook

Occupational therapy practitioners are in high demand across the country, and the future looks bright for this growing field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for occupational therapists is projected to grow nearly 20 percent over the next 10 years, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations.

U.S. News & World Report included occupational therapy on its list of the best medical jobs that don’t require medical school, and CNBC ranked occupational therapy as no. 5 on its list of the 11 most meaningful college majors and how much they pay.

The CNBC report highlighted key markers such as income (the median salary for an occupational therapist is $88,500) and a high degree of career satisfaction (89% of practitioners who say their work “makes the world a better place.”)

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), “Occupational therapy is the only profession that helps people across their lifespan to do things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (or occupations). Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability.”

It’s understandable why occupational therapy and physical therapy tend to get confused with one another. While both fields help improve a patient’s movement, the difference lies in the goal. Physical therapy is the field of improving body movement, which bases most of its tenets on rehabilitation science.

Examples of ways in which occupational therapists help people include:

  1. Working with children to help them participate fully in school.
  2. Working with individuals who have recently been injured to help them regain specific skills and abilities that they need to care for themselves or perform their jobs.
  3. Working with elderly people to help them maintain or regain the ability to perform everyday functions.

At the most basic level, occupational therapists help people who may be disabled, sick, or injured perform day-to-day tasks that they either need or want to do, which can include eating, getting dressed, driving a car, or using a computer.

Occupational therapists work with people of all ages, and in urban and rural environments, and they work in a number of different settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Schools
  • Patients’ homes

What Qualifications Do You Need to Become an Occupational Therapist?

So, before navigating how to become an occupational therapist, many may wonder: what degree do you need to be an occupational therapist? The answer varies, however, there are specific qualifications that need to be met to pursue a career in OT.

  1. Earn a master’s degree and complete prerequisite courses: As a prospective occupational therapist, you need a master’s degree. Additionally, all states require occupational therapists to be licensed.
  2. Pass the NBCOT: Occupational therapists are required to pass the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists (NBCOT) exam to earn their certification and the title of Occupational Therapist Registered, or OTR. The NBCOT exam is the only professional certification or licensure exam offered for occupational therapists.
  3. Comply with state-specific requirements: Certain states may have additional requirements, such as the payment of fees, continuing education, and work experience. It’s important to understand the unique licensure requirements for the state in which you’d like to pursue occupational science or other health careers.

In summary, to become an occupational therapist, you need to earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy, pass the NBCOT exam, and comply with state-specific requirements. With a growing demand for occupational therapists and the opportunity to make a positive impact on people’s lives, pursuing a career in occupational therapy can be a rewarding choice.