How to Become an Occupational Therapist

In this role, your education, skills, and compassion will have a profound impact on a wide variety of patients.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Every day in the life of an occupational therapist is different.

A sudden injury or illness that leaves patients physically or mentally disabled can be challenging to navigate. As you learn how to become an occupational therapist, you will help patients recover physical function and manage the stress of this difficult life change.

Every day in the life of an occupational therapist is different. You might help a stroke victim learn how to dress herself again one day and help a patient with mental health challenges learn how to pay his bills on time the next. Still another day may find you fitting a child with leg braces to help him walk.

Take a look at the typical day for an occupational therapist, the training required to start this career, what salary to expect, and how to find the best occupational therapist jobs.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

Occupational therapists help patients with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities and those recovering from impairments caused by injuries or illnesses. As an occupational therapist, you will work with patients to develop, recover, improve, and maintain the skills they need for daily living and working. This can include working with:

  • children and adults with permanent disabilities, such as muscular dystrophy, to help them perform daily tasks and live more independently
  • elderly patients who have diminished mobility to modify their home to accommodate a wheelchair
  • workplaces to suggest modifications to the work environment or schedule that will accommodate a patient’s abilities
  • patients with mental health or emotional disabilities to teach them skills such as using public transportation and doing household chores
  • individuals with substance abuse, depression, or post-traumatic disorders to help them learn to cope with the stresses of everyday life

Along with your hands-on work with patients, your occupational therapist duties will also include evaluating their conditions and designing treatment plans for them. You may also work with the patient’s family to help them accommodate and care for their loved one at home, or visit homes, schools, and workplaces to suggest modifications that will help patients live more independently.

Take a look at Monster’s occupational therapist job description to find more common responsibilities.

Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?

The majority of occupational therapists work in hospital and medical office settings. You may work in a medical practice that specializes in physical, occupational, or speech therapy or in audiology. You could also be employed by schools, nursing homes, or home health services.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Becoming an occupational therapist includes classroom work to earn a degree, field experience working with patients, and licensure.

Occupational Therapist Education Requirements

To become an occupational therapist, you’ll need to obtain a bachelor’s degree. In addition to taking undergraduate classes in biology and physiology, you may also want to get hands-on experience by volunteering, completing an internship, or working a part-time job in an occupational therapy setting.

Once you’ve finished your undergraduate education, you can apply to an accredited occupational therapist program to earn your master's degree or a doctorate in occupational therapy. Both master’s and doctoral programs require at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork with patients.

You need to log a lot of hours in the field and classroom to learn how to become an occupational therapist. Get help funding your education with these occupational therapist scholarships.

How Long Does It Take to Become an Occupational Therapist?

After completing a four-year undergraduate program, expect to complete your master’s program in two to three years. A doctoral program takes another three and a half years. Some schools offer an accelerated dual-degree program that allows you to earn both your bachelor’s and master’s degrees in only five years.

How Much Do Occupational Therapists Make?

According to Monster data, the median occupational therapist salary is $38.54 an hour. However, your salary will depend on your education and experience level, as well as your location. An entry-level occupational therapist salary might be closer to $26.32 an hour, while an established occupational therapist can earn more than $45 an hour.

You can look up the average salary for occupational therapists in your location by using the Monster Salary Guide.

How to Find Occupational Therapist Jobs

The BLS projects a 16% growth in job opportunities for occupational therapists over the next 10 years, as baby boomers age and remain active longer. Occupational therapists will also be called on to provide vital services for people with conditions including autism and Alzheimer’s, along with other illnesses, disabilities, and injuries.

At that pace, you’re sure to find many occupational therapist jobs on Monster.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the top five states for occupational therapist jobs are:

The top five areas are:

Start Your Hands-On Career as an Occupational Therapist

Now you know how to become an occupational therapist, just think of how many lives you’ll impact in this rewarding career. Get started by uploading your resume to Monster for free so that recruiters can find you for the top occupational therapist jobs in your area.