How to Become an Occupational Therapist in 5 Steps

Research what it takes to become an occupational therapist. Learn about education, licensing requirements and training to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Occupational Therapy Assistant degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Occupational therapists help people with disabilities perform day-to-day life tasks more easily. The following chart provides an overview about becoming an occupational therapist.

Degree Required Master's degree or doctoral degree
Training Required 24 weeks of supervised field work
Education Field of Study Occupational therapy
Licensure or Certification Licensure is required by all states; professional certification is available
Key Responsibilities Test patient abilities and determine achievable goals; devise plan of therapy; train and supervise patient in performance of therapy tasks; assess efficacy of therapy and maintain patient records
Job Growth (2012-2022) 29%*
Median Salary (2013) $76,940*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapists help clients who suffer from physical, mental, developmental or emotional disabilities improve their abilities to do tasks in work or living environments. To become an occupational therapist, you must have a master's degree in occupational therapy, complete six months of supervised fieldwork, pass a national exam and obtain a state license.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

To gain admittance to a master's degree program in occupational therapy you first need to earn a bachelor's degree. Many master's programs accept any undergraduate background, but biology, psychology, anthropology or sociology are relevant areas of study. Bachelor's degree programs are typically completed in four years.

Step 2: Earn a Master's Degree in Occupational Therapy

Master's degree programs train you to observe how patients perform their daily activities, identify areas where they are have having difficulties, analyze the root causes and implement plans that improve their abilities to function. Course topics might include task analysis, musculoskeletal anatomy, neuroscience, physical interventions and mental health therapy. Some programs offer joint bachelor's and master's degrees. Stand-alone master's programs may be completed in two years.

Step 3: Complete Fieldwork Requirements

As part of the master's degree program, you will be responsible for completing six months of supervised fieldwork either in a clinic or community center. This requirement provides an opportunity for you to put theory into practice, receive patient feedback on the effectiveness of your approach and prove that you have met professional standards.

Step 4: Obtain a License

After earning a master's degree, you need to register for the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) exam, which is required by all states (www.nbcot.org). Passing the OTR exam will qualify you for licensure. Each state maintains its own eligibility requirements. Some states may have additional licensure requirements, such as certifications or courses, especially if you plan to work for a school or early intervention program.

Step 5: Specialize in a Clinical Area

Consider specializing once you've gained some experience and expertise in treating a specific kind of patient or ailment. This may require you to earn a doctorate in occupational therapy with a concentration in a specific area, such as gerontology, mental health, pediatrics or physical rehabilitation.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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