Occupational Therapists

Career, Salary and Education Information

Top 3 occupational therapist Jobs

  • Occupational Therapist - San Jose (Flexible Schedule) - CVHCare Home Health - San Jose, CA

    The home care setting allows you quality time with your patient in the comfort of their own home

  • Occupational Therapist - Flagship Rehabilitation - Sandy Spring, MD

    Daily documentation is done via Rehab Optima. Qualifications: This position requires a degree in Occupational Therapy and certification from

  • Occupational Therapist - OT - Inpatient Rehab - SCL Health System - Topeka, KS

    Our rich heritage and mission, and our focus on health care delivery that values person-centered care, excellence and accountability are a winning

See all occupational therapist jobs

What Occupational Therapists Do[About this section] [To Top]

Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.

Duties of Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists typically do the following:

  • 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 with 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.

Some occupational therapists work with children in educational settings. They evaluate disabled children’s abilities, modify classroom equipment to accommodate children with certain 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.

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.

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.

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.

Some occupational therapists, such as those employed in hospitals, work as part of a healthcare team along with doctors, registered nurses, and other types of therapists. 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.

Work Environment for Occupational Therapists[About this section] [To Top]

Occupational therapists held about 114,600 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most occupational therapists were as follows:

Hospitals; state, local, and private 27%
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 24
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 12
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) 9
Home healthcare services 9

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.

Occupational Therapist Work Schedules

Most occupational therapists worked full time in 2014. About 1 out of 4 worked part time. They may work nights or weekends, as needed, to accommodate patients’ schedules.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Occupational Therapists near you!

Occupational therapists need at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy; some therapists have a doctoral degree. Occupational therapists also must be licensed.

Occupational Therapist Education

Most occupational therapists enter the occupation with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. In 2014, there were nearly 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.

Master’s programs usually take 2 to 3 years to complete; doctoral programs take about 3 years. 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 at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork, in which prospective occupational therapists gain clinical work experience.

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.

Important Qualities for Occupational Therapists

Communication skills. Occupational therapists must be able to listen attentively to what patients tell them and must be able to explain what they want their patients to do.

Compassion. 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 patients’ needs and concerns, especially when assisting the patient with his or her personal activities.

Flexibility. 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.

Interpersonal skills. Because occupational therapists spend their time teaching and explaining therapies to patients, they should be able to earn the trust and respect of those patients and their families.

Patience. Dealing with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities is frustrating for many people. Occupational therapists should be patient in order to provide quality care to the people they serve.

Writing skills. When communicating in writing with other members of the patient’s medical team, occupational therapists must be able to explain clearly the treatment plan for the patient and any progress made by the patient.


Would a career as an Occupational Therapist be a good fit for you? Take our Career Test to find out.

Occupational Therapist Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for occupational therapists was $80,150 in May 2015. 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 $53,250, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $116,030.

In May 2015, the median annual wages for occupational therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities) $88,780
Home healthcare services 87,960
Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists 82,610
Hospitals; state, local, and private 80,250
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private 69,460

Most occupational therapists worked full time in 2014. About 1 out of 4 worked part time. They may work nights or weekends, as needed, to accommodate patients’ schedules.

Job Outlook for Occupational Therapists[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 27 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. 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.

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 large 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 in and to perform a variety of daily tasks.

Demand for occupational therapy services also will stem from patients with autism spectrum disorder. More therapists will be needed in schools to assist children with autism in improving their social skills and accomplishing a variety of daily tasks. Demand for occupational therapy services is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through health insurance. The number of individuals who have access to health insurance is expected to continue to increase because of federal health insurance reform. Both rehabilitation and habilitation services are included among essential health benefits to be covered by insurers; however, coverage may vary by state.

Occupational Therapists Job Prospects

Job opportunities should be good for licensed occupational therapists in all settings, particularly acute hospital, rehabilitation, and orthopedic settings, because the elderly receive most of their treatment in these settings. Occupational therapists with specialized knowledge in a treatment area also will have better job prospects.

Employment projections data for Occupational Therapists, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Occupational therapists 114,600 145,100 27 30,400


*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Used by permission.

Explore more careers: View all Careers or Browse Careers by Category

Search for jobs: