Occupational Therapist

Career Information

Occupational therapist works with a pediatric patient
••• Some occupational therapists work with pediatric patients. FatCamera / Getty Images

An occupational therapist (OT) is a health professional who is responsible for helping patients regain their ability to perform daily living and work activities. His or her patients have generally lost these abilities because of mental, physical, or developmentally or emotionally disabling conditions.

An occupational therapist is one member of a rehabilitation team that may also include a physical therapist, speech pathologist, psychologist, and social worker.

 OTs may work with particular populations, for example, children or the elderly, or they may work in specialized settings including mental health.

Quick Facts

  • In 2016, occupational therapists' median annual salary was $81,910.
  • Almost 115,000 people worked in this occupation in 2014.
  • Most occupational therapists work in hospitals or the offices of other health professionals. Nursing care facilities and schools also employ many of them.
  • Most jobs are full-time, but about 25% of all OTs work part-time.
  • The job outlook for this occupation is excellent, earning it the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics' "bright outlook" designation. This government agency expects employment to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2024.

What Are an Occupational Therapist's Job Duties?

Let's take a look at a day in an OT's life. What do they do? We turned to job announcements on Indeed.com, to see how employers described their duties.

  • "Conduct initial assessments"
  • "Collaborate with physicians, patients and their families, nurses, therapists, social workers and other members of the patient care team to develop and implement a patient specific care and treatment plan"
  • "Provide quality treatment that is reflective of the stated goals in the treatment plan"
  • "Maintain safe and clean working environment"
  • "Assist with determination of discharge readiness"
  • "Document and record the patient’s condition"
  • "Provide supervision and evaluation of aides and occupational therapy assistants"

The Truth About Being an Occupational Therapist

  • OTs spend a significant amount of their work day standing.
  • They often have to lift patients and heavy equipment.
  • Travel from one healthcare facility to another is common.

Education and Licensing Requirements

If you want to become an occupational therapist, you will need to earn a master's or doctoral degree in occupational therapy from a program that the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)  has accredited. ACOTE is part of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)Biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, liberal arts, and anatomy are all appropriate college majors for those who ultimately want to get a graduate degree in occupational therapy.

You will need a professional license to practice as an OT anywhere in the U.S.. To get one, In addition to your degree from an accredited program, you will have to pass a national certification examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

What Soft Skills Must OTs Have?

Certain personal qualities, also know as soft skills, contribute to one's success in this field. Here are the ones you must have to succeed:

  • Communication Skills: To relay instructions to your patients, you must have superior verbal communication skills. Excellent listening skills will allow you to understand what they are telling you. Along with the ability to express yourself in writing, these skills will facilitate the sharing of information with other members of a patient's healthcare team.
  • Interpersonal Skills: These will help you establish relationships with clients that are based on trust and respect.
  • Service Orientation: You must have a strong desire to help and care for others.
  • Monitoring: You need the ability to check your patients' progress to see if the treatment you are using is effective.
  • Critical Thinking: OTs have a variety of treatment methods from which to choose. You will have to select ones that could help your patient's condition, and then pick the one you decide will be most successful.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

We again took a look at Indeed.com to find out what qualities employers are looking for in job candidates. These are some of their requirements:

  • "Establish and maintain effective working relationships with physicians and other staff"
  • "Ability to assess patients’ conditions and exercise independent judgment"
  • "Desire to develop professionally"
  • "Current CPR certification"
  • "Knowledge of word processing and basic internet skills"
  • "Ability to establish/nurture connections with people of diverse backgrounds and interests"

Is This Career a Good Fit for You?

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

 DescriptionAnnual Salary (2016)Educational Requirements
Speech PathologistTreats people who have speech-related disorders.$74,680Master's Degree in Speech-Language Pathology
Physical TherapistHelps restore function in people who have disabling conditions or who have been in accidents.$85,400Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree

Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA)

Works with OT to treat patients.$59,010Associate Degree From OT Assistant Program

Occupational Therapy Aide

Prepares treatment rooms and equipment for OTs and OTAs.$28,330HS or Equivalency Diploma/On-the-Job Training


Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited February 15, 2017).

Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited April 18, 2017).