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For those who want to help other people to deal with their disabilities, becoming an occupational therapist can be an excellent career decision. This is a very quickly growing field, and professionals with an advanced education in occupational therapy can anticipate a long, rewarding career path.
Occupational therapists or OTs work with people who have problems performing the common tasks of daily living at home and work due to injury, illness or disability. They focus on improving the quality of life of people who have physical, mental, emotional and or developmental challenges.
Some of the common challenges that an OT may help a patient with include:
- Hearing loss
- Loss of sight
- Muscular dystrophy
In some cases, the disability could be a life long issue, while others could be due to an illness or accident.
An occupational therapist works closely with the patient and creates an individualized treatment plan. For example, an OT may help to treat patients by showing them how to do exercises that can relieve pain. The OT also can recommend special types of equipment that can make the patient’s life easier.
To practice as a full occupational therapist, you need to have at least your master’s degree in occupational therapy. Once you have earned it and certified, you can work in these roles:
- Occupational therapist: You will be working closely with patients who need to improve or develop skills that they need to function in their daily work and life. Many occupational therapists today work with people who have permanent disabilities such as cerebral palsy. You will be showing these patients how to use adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs, leg braces and eating aids.
- Exercise physiologist: These professionals come up with advanced fitness and exercise programs to help their clients to recover from chronic diseases and illnesses. They also help their clients to boost heart function, reduce body fat and increase flexibility. These workers may be referred to as kinesiotherapists and they work to increase overall health of the patient.
- Occupational therapy assistant: They assist OTs in helping patients to develop, recover and improve skills that they need for working and daily living. These assistants usually earn an associate’s degree in occupational therapy, and work with a full OT for a few years. At that point, they may pursue their master’s or doctoral degree to become a full OT.
Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy?
As Americans are getting older as a whole and living longer, more of us need help with various physical and emotional challenges that we have in our daily home and work lives. Disease, depression, injury and developmental disorders can make it hard for people to live independently.
That is why occupational therapy is such a vibrant and growing profession. Professionals who choose a career in occupational therapy are able to make a substantial difference in the lives of their patients. Occupational therapy students have very exciting, rewarding careers they can anticipate for decades to come.
Our aging population and longer life expectancy has driven the demand for occupational therapists to a record high. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that job demand in this field will increase by 27% by 2024. This booming demand will provide OTs with many career advantages.
Specifically, you can expect that you will have a huge variety of good-paying jobs in all sorts of specialties and different parts of the country. You may for example be able to focus your career on occupational therapy for children, which includes learning, playing and growing.
Some OTs enjoy the chance to work with children in school who have learning disabilities. With all of the demand for OTs, you will be able to really choose your career direction, and choose the best job for you in the best location.
To be admitted into a master’s program in occupational therapy, you will need to meet these types of requirements:
- 0 GPA in bachelor’s work
- Should have classes in human anatomy, psychology, physics, human physiology, statistics, and medical terminology
- Statement of purpose
- College transcripts
- GRE scores
Curriculum and Courses
A good option for a master’s degree in occupational therapy is at A.T. Still University. The mission of this occupational therapy program supports the idea of whole person healthcare, which incorporates the needs of the body, mind and spirit.
The curriculum has been designed to prepare occupational therapy students to provide the highest quality healthcare by meeting the needs of consumers in constantly changing healthcare delivery settings. One of the most important parts of providing high quality healthcare in occupational therapy is taking a holistic treatment approach, as well as an emphasis on evidence-based practice.
This occupational therapy program offers a very strong foundation of critical inquiry that is then applied to education, practice and administration of healthcare. The program is strongly committed to the integration of technology in innovative instructional processes and progressive occupational therapy treatment. A critical aspect of this mission is committing to prepare occupational therapy graduates to work with people who have very different healthcare and cultural needs.
Required courses in this three year program are:
- Foundations of Occupational Therapy
- Occupations Across the Lifespan
- Group Process
- Human Anatomy I
- OT Theory and Philosophy
- Human Anatomy II
- Research Methods and Design
- Introduction to Occupational Therapy Testing
- Occupational Analysis I
- Methods of Data Analysis
- Pediatric Occupational Therapy I
- Physical Disabilities I
- Research Directed Study
- Physical Modalities
This program has a strong record of achievement in terms of NBCOT examination results. Of the 96 students who completed the program from 2014 to 2016, 98% passed the NBCOT exam to become a licensed occupational therapist.
This occupational therapy program has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education or ACOTE. The university has been accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, which has been recognized as a regional accreditation body by the US Department of Education.
To qualify for admission into this graduate program, students are required to have had courses in the following:
- Human anatomy
- Human physiology
- Lifespan human development
- Abnormal psychology
- Medical terminology
The University of Texas Health Science Center offers a Master of Occupational Therapy that is fully accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association, and can be completed in two years.
This program balances a high degree of clinical excellence with proven and advanced theoretical concepts to prepare you for advanced therapeutic practice. Students will work hands on with real patients in areas such as early childhood intervention, hand therapy, low vision, child disabilities, sensory integration stroke rehabilitation and psychosocial difficulties.
Required courses include:
- Theoretical Foundations of Occupational Therapy
- Research 1: Assessment and Research Statistics
- Professional Communication in Occupational Therapy
- Occupational Justice and Participation
- Application of Neural Systems to Occupation
- Human Occupation across the Lifespan
- Psychosocial Components of OT
- Environmental Technologies
- Introduction to Anatomy
- Occupational Therapy Process: Neonate-Preschool
- Service Delivery Systems
- Clinical Medicine
- Level 1 Fieldwork: Neonatal-Preschool
- Applied Biomechanics of Movement
- Inter-professional Human Gross Anatomy
Career Outcomes and Job Titles
Some of the job titles you can expect in this career include:
- Occupational therapist case manager
- Clinical occupational therapist
- Community occupational therapist
- Vocational occupational therapist
- Home care occupational therapist
- Rehabilitation consultant
Job and Salary Outlook
- Occupational Therapist — As noted above, this field will see explosive growth in the range of 27%. Americans are aging and living longer, and there is more need for treatment for people with many chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, autism and more. It is expected that there will be more need for outpatient occupational therapists, as more of these types of services are now done on an outpatient basis. Median pay for an experienced OT is $80,200.
- Occupational Therapy Assistant — The job growth for assistants in this field is near record levels – 43% increase by 2024, according to government statistics. As there is more need for OTs, it is only logical that there is more need for aides and assistants as well. This is a great opportunity for many young healthcare workers who can earn an associate’s degree in this specialty. They can work for a few years to gain experience and make a good salary, and then earn their master’s. Median pay is $57,000 per year.
- Exercise Physiologist — Job demand in the exercise physiology field will increase by 11% by 2024, as there is more need for exercise and preventive care as part of hospital and doctor treatment plans. Median pay is $47,100 per year.
Scholarships and Grants
- American Occupational Therapy Association: This leading OT association offers several scholarships for students studying occupational therapy. They include the EK Wise Scholarship; the American Occupational Therapy Foundation Scholarships; and AMBUCS Scholars Scholarships.
- American Occupational Therapy Foundation: This organization also offers several scholarships, as well as the AOTF Intervention Research Grant Program.
- AOTA Evidence Based Practice and Research: AOTA offers many evidence based practice research tools and educational programs that will help you to conduct research and improve your occupational therapy skills.
- University of Southern California Occupational Sciences Research: USC offers many research resources for students and professionals in occupational therapy. There are many funded research programs here that you can contribute to and consult with to expand your knowledge.