Occupational therapists (OTs) are concerned with an individual's ability to occupy time in a healthy, satisfying and successful manner. The term occupation refers to those self-care, work/productive, leisure and play activities which organizes time and impacts one's ability to find purpose in life and maintain health. Practitioners help clients, individually or in groups, master skills for achieving productive and satisfying lives. The occupational therapist seeks to evaluate what people do and assists in empowering them to take a more active role in caring for their own health through engagement in meaningful occupation. OTs use self-care, work, play, and leisure occupations to help clients adapt to individual life circumstances in order to regain, sustain and maintain health. For example, an occupational therapist might work with a premature infant using age appropriate daily activities (occupations) to promote the development of his/her immature nervous system. Other examples are: working with an adult who has had a spinal cord injury to adapt his/her home and workplace so s/he can resume daily activities; providing an individual with emotional or psychiatric problems with coping strategies to deal with the stresses in his/her daily life; helping people to make difficult life transitions such as home to school or school to work, making necessary changes in order to resume working, and reintegrating into the community. Rather than treating symptoms or diseases, occupational therapy focuses on abilities.
Occupational therapists may have many roles. They often work directly with individuals or systems who need their services, or they may evaluate clients, plan appropriate treatment and supervise someone else who implements the program. Additionally, they may act as consultants, managers, researchers and educators. Occupational therapists work in many different environments and with persons of all ages. For example, they may work in public and/or private schools with children who are learning disabled, physically challenged, and/or developmentally delayed. Medical settings such as hospitals, rehabilitation clinics and skilled nursing facilities are traditional sites for OTs to work, usually with clients who have had their lives interrupted by acute and chronic illnesses and conditions (e.g. head injuries, strokes, depression or arthritis). Less traditional but increasingly common settings are community environments, clients' homes, business and industrial settings.
Job Market and Salaries
Employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase 33 percent from 2010 to 2020, much faster than the average for all occupations. The increasing elderly population will drive growth in the demand for occupational therapy services. In the short run, the impact of proposed Federal legislation imposing limits on reimbursement for therapy services may adversely affect the job market for occupational therapists. However, over the long run, the demand for occupational therapists should continue to rise as a result of the increasing number of individuals with disabilities or limited function who require therapy services. The baby-boom generation’s movement into middle age, a period when the incidence of heart attack and stroke increases, will spur demand for therapeutic services. Occupational therapists held about 108,800 jobs in 2010.
The median annual wage of occupational therapists was $72,320 in May 2010. 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 $48,920, and the top 10 percent more than $102,520. Median annual wages in selected industries employing occupational therapists in May 2010 were: home health care services, $79,570; nursing care facilities, $78,410; offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists, $73,770; hospitals, $72,450; individual and family services, $64,520.
Most occupational therapists enter the occupation with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. A small number of programs offer doctoral degrees in occupational therapy. Admission to occupational therapy programs 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. Master’s programs generally take 2 years to complete; doctoral programs take longer. Some schools offer a dual degree program in which the student earns a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in 5 years. Part-time programs that offer courses on nights and weekends are also available. Both master’s and doctoral programs require several months of supervised fieldwork, in which prospective occupational therapists gain real-world experience.
Program & Requirements
Students with an interest in occupational therapy should visit the Graduate and Professional Admissions webpage for Occupational Therapy. The website is the most current information outlining requirements and prerequisites. Students with questions regarding admission to the School are encouraged to talk with staff in the Office of Admissions for Professional Programs (800-933-9308).
- Prior to entrance, applicants must have
- Acquired a bachelor’s degree and all specified School of Occupational Therapy prerequisite coursework.
- It is recommended that applicants have observed in occupational therapy practice settings for at least 40 hours and preferably in more than one setting (e.g. physical rehabilitation, pediatrics, mental health, or wellness promotion) to foster a more complete understanding of the profession.
PrerequisitesNatural Science (12 hours)
Bio 202, General Biology I (prerequisite for Bio 224)
Bio 224, Human Anatomy with Lab
Bio 240, Human Physiology with Lab
Kinesiology is recommended.
Developmental Psychology (preferably Across the Lifespan)
Social Science Elective (outside of Psychology)
Engw 201, Expository Writing Engw202, Writing about Disability (strongly recommended)
Psy 348 or Soc 300 or Anth 301
It is recommended that this be taken in a department of
psychology or sociology, and include a qualitative research component.
Must include courses from two (2) of the following areas: literature, religion, history, philosophy, ethics, and history or appreciation of art, music or theater. Upper division coursework recommended.
Kinesiology is recommended.
Phil 307, Ethics, Medicine, and Health Care is strongly recommended.
Obtainable through School of O.T./Independent Study
Most schools also require or highly recommend paid or volunteer experience in the health care field.
Director of Occupational Therapy
Executive Director of Graduate/Professional Admissions