Career Development

How To Become a Senior Occupational Therapist: Step-by-Step Guide

Learn about the steps important to pursuing a career as a senior occupational therapist, including education, skills, salary and more.

Senior occupational therapists (OTs) are health care professionals who work with elderly patients to help them regain independence and improve their quality of life. Senior OTs typically work in hospitals, nursing homes or other long-term care facilities. If you are interested in working with the elderly population, becoming a senior OT may be the perfect career for you. In this article, we discuss what senior OTs do, the average salary and how to become one.

What Does a Senior Occupational Therapist Do?

A senior occupational therapist is a highly trained and licensed medical practitioner who works with elderly patients to help them regain independence after an injury or illness. These professionals rehabilitate seniors by providing treatment and evaluation as patients complete healing exercises or therapies designed to increase mobility and strengthen injured areas of the body.

A senior occupational therapist may complete any of the following tasks in their daily work:

  • Evaluate patients to determine the severity of an injury or illness.
  • Identify physical limitations in a patient’s range of motion, balance and coordination.
  • Plan the best course of treatment to help a senior recover as quickly and safely as possible.
  • Lead patients through exercises to increase coordination, agility and strength.
  • Use treatment products and medical rehabilitation tools like a goniometer which measures joint angles to complete patient rehabilitation.
  • Complete therapeutic treatments such as electrical stimulation or massage on affected areas.
  • Encourage and coach seniors to work toward healing by relearning certain processes and activities.

Senior Occupational Therapist Salary and Job Outlook

The average salary for a senior occupational therapist is $97,850. However, salaries can vary based on factors such as experience, education, geographical location and the specific employer.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job prospects for occupational therapists will grow much faster than average over the next decade. This is due to an aging population who will need more assistance to maintain their quality of life. Additionally, many occupational therapists work with patients who have disabilities, which is another growing population.

How to Become a Senior Occupational Therapist

Here are several steps you should take to become a senior occupational therapist.

1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy

To practice occupational therapy, you first need to earn a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy. The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) accredits occupational therapy programs based on their curriculum, teaching methods and the quality of students they attract.

During your undergraduate program, you take courses in anatomy, neuroscience, psychology, kinesiology and other related subjects. You also complete clinical rotations at an accredited occupational therapy program where you gain hands-on experience working with patients under supervision from experienced therapists.

2. Complete an accredited occupational therapy program

After earning a bachelor’s degree, you must complete an accredited occupational therapy program. The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) accredits occupational therapy programs based on their curriculum, faculty and facilities. Students should research prospective schools’ ACOTE accreditation status to ensure they meet the necessary standards.

Occupational therapy programs typically last between two and four years. During this time, students take courses in anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology, biochemistry and pharmacology. They also learn about patient care, ethics, communication, documentation and management.

3. Pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam

After graduating from an accredited occupational therapy program, you must pass the NBCOT exam. The test is administered in two parts. The first part tests your knowledge of basic science concepts and principles related to occupational therapy. The second part evaluates your clinical skills and abilities through a series of case studies.

You are required to pass both sections of the exam within seven years of completing your degree. If you fail either section, you have to wait at least 30 days before taking it again. You also need to pay a registration fee for each attempt.

4. Obtain a state license to practice occupational therapy

After graduating from an accredited occupational therapy program, you must obtain a state license to practice as an occupational therapist. Each state has different requirements for licensure, so be sure to research the guidelines in the state where you plan to work.

Typically, candidates need to pass an exam that is administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). The exam consists of three parts—a clinical reasoning assessment, a multiple-choice section and an essay question.

5. Gain experience working with patients of all ages

Aspiring senior occupational therapists should gain experience working with patients of all ages. This will help you develop the skills and knowledge necessary to work with a wide range of patients in different settings, such as hospitals, clinics and private practices.

During your undergraduate program, consider participating in an internship or externship where you can apply what you learn in class to real-world scenarios. You may also choose to pursue an entry-level position at a healthcare facility after graduation.

6. Develop strong communication and interpersonal skills

Communication and interpersonal skills are important for occupational therapists to develop, as they interact with patients and their families on a regular basis. Occupational therapists must be able to clearly explain treatment plans and goals to their patients and their loved ones. They also need strong communication skills to work effectively in a team environment with other healthcare professionals.

7. Stay up to date on changes in the field of occupational therapy

As a senior occupational therapist, you should continue to learn about advancements in the field of occupational therapy. You can do this by reading professional journals and attending conferences hosted by your state association or the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).

The AOTA offers many opportunities for continuing education, including webinars, workshops and courses. These resources are free to members of the AOTA.


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