Occupational Therapist: Career & Education Info

Occupational therapists help patients, who have a sustained an injury, enhance their life and job skills. Individuals interested in this profession will need graduate schooling and experience before they may sit for a state licensing exam.

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Occupational Therapy Career Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational therapists work with patients who have disabling conditions that prevent them from performing routine tasks (www.bls.gov). These professionals may observe patients in living or working environments to spot motor function deficiencies and other issues. Using that information, occupational therapists create treatment programs aimed at improving their functioning. Occupational therapists may specialize with a certain population such as elderly citizens and children.

Undergraduate Education

Because some graduate programs require prerequisite coursework in psychology, anatomy and physiology, students may consider earning a bachelor's degree in majors that include these subjects. There are some bachelor's programs specific to occupational therapy, which may be combined with a master's program in a five-year plan. Undergraduate students may consider gaining experience working with a practicing occupational therapist, which some master's programs require for admission.

Graduate Education

Students may consider programs that are approved by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (www.aota.org). Most of the accredited programs are at the graduate level. The BLS reports that graduating from an accredited program is required by to sit for the certifying exam.

Master's Degree Programs

Master's degree programs begin with foundational coursework in the principles of occupational therapy. Some schools offer a post-professional curriculum for students who earned a bachelor's in occupational therapy and are already familiar with these concepts. Coursework focuses on clinical decision-making, therapeutic concepts and research. Concentration areas, such as children or rehabilitation, may be offered.

The BLS notes that a minimum of 24 weeks of clinical fieldwork is required for graduation and eligibility to sit for the professional certifying exam. Assignments are based on a student's career interests and many schools allow students to be active in the selection process. During fieldwork, students gain experience treating patients, and may be evaluated afterwards by licensed occupational therapists.

Doctoral Degree Programs

Individuals interested in teaching or researching at the university-level may consider Doctor of Philosophy or Doctor of Occupational Therapy programs. Similar to masters-level programs, these curricula may include internships or other experience requirements such as research. Depending on the program, students may have teaching requirements and comprehensive exams.

Licensing Requirements

Occupational therapists must meet state licensing standards in order to practice. In addition to education and experience, most states have age and exam requirements. Some states require students to pass the certification exam given by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, which leads to the Occupational Therapists Registered credential (www.nbcot.org). Once licensed, occupational therapists typically have to meet continuing education requirements to maintain their credentials.

Career and Salary Info

The BLS projected a much-faster-than-average job growth of 33% for occupational therapists through the 2010-2020 decade. These healthcare professionals will be needed to help a growing number of senior citizens live independently or cope with disability and disease. Job prospects should be especially good for therapists working in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities or any other settings that provide care to the elderly.

As of May 2012, occupational therapists earned median salaries of $75,400, according to the BLS. Most earned annual wages ranging from $50,500 to $107,070.

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