Career Development

Occupational Therapist Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More

Occupational therapists help patients with physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities learn how to accomplish a wide range of tasks in their everyday lives. They work with a variety of populations including the elderly, people in rehabilitation after an injury or illness, and children with developmental disabilities.

Occupational therapists help patients with physical, cognitive, or emotional disabilities learn how to accomplish a wide range of tasks in their everyday lives. They work with a variety of populations including the elderly, people in rehabilitation after an injury or illness, and children with developmental disabilities.

As part of this process, occupational therapists often help patients overcome obstacles they face due to their disability. For example, they may help someone who has limited mobility develop proper techniques for eating or typing on a keyboard, or they may help someone who feels depressed gain the confidence they need to return to work.

Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be an occupational therapist and what it takes to become one yourself.

Occupational Therapist Job Duties

Some of the tasks occupational therapists perform include:

  • Conducting evaluations to identify the patient’s physical, emotional, or cognitive strengths and challenges
  • Observing, assessing, and evaluating patients’ abilities, as well as patient/client perceptions of their own abilities
  • Developing treatment plans that take into account the patient’s specific needs using an interdisciplinary approach with other healthcare professionals if needed
  • Conducting therapeutic activities in collaboration with patients to improve physical, emotional, or cognitive functioning
  • Performing follow up assessments to monitor progress and make changes to treatment plans
  • Working with physicians or other medical staff to create treatment plans for patients that include appropriate interventions
  • Suggesting adaptive devices or equipment that can help patients reach their goals

Occupational Therapist Salary & Outlook

The median annual wage for occupational therapists is $80,952. The highest earners make over $113,000. Those earning higher wages tend to work in private practice or outpatient care centers.

Demand for occupational therapists is expected to grow much faster than average over the next decade. This is due to an aging population who will need more medical services as they age, as well as a growing focus on preventative care.

Occupational Therapist Job Requirements

The requirements for occupational therapists are as follows:

Education: Most employers require occupational therapists to have a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Students complete coursework in areas like pediatric rehabilitation, aging, geriatrics, pediatrics, psychology and the nervous system. 

Training: In addition to their education requirements, occupational therapists must complete an internship as part of their training. The internship generally lasts one year. During this time, the therapist completes supervised clinical work with patients under the supervision of a licensed practitioner. This work helps them gain practical experience before they begin working independently as a professional.

Certifications & Licenses: To practice as an occupational therapist, professionals must be licensed by the state where they plan to work. They can become licensed by passing a national exam through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

Occupational Therapist Skills

An occupational therapist must have the following skills:

Problem-solving skills: The ability to solve problems, either with a patient or a co-worker, is important in this job. You may have to come up with creative solutions for common situations, such as handling patient emergencies.

Patience: This job can be stressful at times because you’re working with people who are often in pain and frustrated by their injuries or illnesses. A certain amount of patience is required when dealing with patients’ families and co-workers.

Communication skills: In addition to interacting with patients and their families, occupational therapists must work well with other healthcare professionals. Communication skills are crucial in these interactions.

Organizational skills: In order to run a successful practice, occupational therapists must be organized and efficient at keeping track of appointments, billing, and other tasks.

Empathy: Because occupational therapists work with people who are often frustrated or in pain, they must possess empathy and compassion toward others. 

Knowledge of medical terminology: Occupational therapists must know how to read medical reports and x-rays so they can keep up with the latest developments in medicine and research. This skill is particularly important if an occupational therapist wants to specialize in treating a specific disease or injury.

Occupational Therapist Work Environment

Occupational therapists work for health or social service agencies, hospitals, clinics,residential care facilities, rehabilitation programs, and other settings. The majority of occupational therapists work full time. They usually have an office where they meet patients for evaluation and treatment. They work one-on-one with clients, so they need strong interpersonal skills and a caring attitude.

Occupational therapists can be on their feet most of the day when providing services. In some cases, they provide care after hours, and many therapists are on call to provide emergency treatment. Some occupational therapists provide services to patients at their homes or travel to different facilities providing outpatient services. 

Occupational Therapist Career Path

Getting Started

While entry-level positions are usually in hospitals, clinics, or rehabilitation centers, on-the-job training is common. Work hours are long and the pay is modest. The profession attracts highly motivated people who enjoy working with patients. Most entry-level occupational therapists have had prior experience in related professions.

Five Years On The Job

After five years, occupational therapists are fully licensed and working with patients on their own. They are familiar with the ins and outs of their profession’s procedures. They are familiar with all aspects of patient care, including psychological problems that may be contributing to their physical disabilities. Occupational therapists must have a strong desire to help people recover from illness or injury in order to endure the long hours spent on one patient at a time.

Ten Years On The Job

After ten years of experience, occupational therapists are well known in their profession and respected for their excellent work. They often supervise the work of other occupational therapists and may even head up programs and departments dedicated to helping people recover from illness or injury. Excellent salaries await those who get to this point; competition is fierce but rewarding for those who make it through.

Occupational Therapist Trends

Here are three trends influencing how occupational therapists work. Occupational therapists will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.

Impact of Technology on the Workplace

As technology continues to develop, it is also influencing the way that occupational therapists interact with patients. For example, online video conferencing services can help make it easier for therapists to connect with patients who live in remote areas or who have mobility issues. 

Rise of Specialty Rehabilitation Centers

As more patients are being treated in specialty rehabilitation centers rather than traditional hospitals, occupational therapists are being called upon to take on new roles.

Whereas traditional OTs work with patients who have acute injuries or disabilities, they are now required to provide guidance and assistance to patients who may be suffering from long-term conditions that require frequent treatment over an extended period of time.

Furthermore, OTs must have an understanding of how each type of rehabilitation center works in order to properly care for their patients while staying within the facility’s protocols. 

Increasing Demand for Children’s OT

Children with special needs are the fastest growing population of patients receiving occupational therapy.

According to the US Census Bureau, 6.2% of children ages 5-15 have some type of disability or developmental delay.

To meet this growing demand, many colleges and universities are offering specializations in pediatric occupational therapy to help ensure that the workforce is prepared to meet this increased need. 

How to Become a Occupational Therapist

1. Planning Your Career

If you’re interested in becoming an occupational therapist, you will need to consider the steps that are necessary to achieve your goal. You should think about how long it will take you to complete your education, as well as whether or not you have enough time to devote to the process. Make sure that your decision is one that will work with your lifestyle.

You can also shadow current therapists to see how they spend their days; speak with those in similar roles to learn more about the kinds of tasks they perform; and talk with friends and family members who might know someone in this field to get a sense of what working as an OT is like.

2. Writing a Resume

The best resumes for occupational therapists emphasize an understanding and empathy towards the patient and their needs. Your resume should highlight your ability to communicate effectively, ask questions, and work closely with patients to create a treatment plan that is individualized to their needs. You can list your work experience in a way that highlights this value. For example, you can discuss how you helped patients with a specific condition or how you helped them learn to use new equipment.

Be sure to include any licenses, certifications, or memberships you may have related to this field.

3. Applying for Jobs

When searching for positions, look into both government-funded jobs as well as private companies. One source to look into is the American Occupational Therapy Association, which has links to several job boards. 

You can also attend local events, workshops, and conferences that are related to your field. If you’re already working as an occupational therapist, try reaching out to potential employers directly through their websites. Try reaching out to companies in person at conferences, too—this can give you an edge when it comes to standing out among other applicants.

4. Ace the Interview

When preparing for an occupational therapy job interview, it’s important to be able to explain why you are interested in the specific field. Look for ways to relate your skills and experience to the specific needs of the client, hospital, or school that you’re interviewing with. A great place to start is by reviewing their website, articles, reviews, or any information they have provided in advance.

Practice your responses to questions like: What gets you out of bed in the morning? What do you consider to be some of the most challenging obstacles you have had overcome? What do you like least about your current job? 

When sharing any negative information, be prepared to explain how it has shaped your approach to doing things differently in the future.


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