Allied Health Guides

Occupational Therapist Career Overview

Amanda Lundberg, RN, BSN
February 16, 2023
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What is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational Therapy is a branch of rehabilitative medicine that uses interventions to help patients with a variety of physical and cognitive impairments. It focuses on developing and maintaining the skills needed to perform daily activities at home, work, and school that leads to a more independent life. 

Occupational therapists (OTs) work in a variety of settings. Some may work in the home with patients who have permanent disabilities by helping them use equipment such as wheelchairs, leg braces, or eating aids. Often, OTs also assist the elderly in helping them perform daily tasks such as dressing and eating. 

Occupational therapists also may work with patients in mental health settings who are living with developmental or mental disabilities. Therapists assist these individuals with completing responsibilities such as using public transportation or managing time and budgets. 

There are also opportunities for OTs to work in schools helping students who have developmental or physical disabilities reach their full potential. 

The opportunities and job outlook for occupational therapy are growing each year. Read more about how to become an Occupational Therapist, the average salary, and if this is the right career for you.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

Occupational therapy is a hands-on healthcare career that assists patients with disabilities, both cognitive and physical, develop and maintain the skills they need to perform day-to-day activities. This can look like teaching patients new ways of performing activities of daily living such as eating, personal hygiene, or creating a daily routine that promotes independence. It can also include demonstrating to patients how to use assistive devices like wheelchairs or braces. Oftentimes, OTs also educate caregivers and family members on how to best help and accommodate those they love who are living with disabilities or injuries.

A day in the life of an Occupational Therapist can vary depending on the setting and patient needs. Some of the main responsibilities can include:

  • Reviewing patients’ medical histories and analyzing medical data to plan realistic goals for rehabilitation.
  • Teach new ways to perform daily tasks such as eating and dressing.
  • Recommend and demonstrate specialized equipment like wheelchairs and eating aids. 
  • Recommend and instruct patients on different exercises to relieve pain or increase mobility.
  • Make recommendations about changes that would benefit a patient’s living and work environments.
  • Assess and record patients’ progress.
  • Educating employers and families about how to accommodate and help patients.

What Skills Does an Occupational Therapist Need?

Occupational Therapists that are successful have strong skills in problem-solving and organization. Other important skills include patience, flexibility, and strong communication experience as they work with a healthcare team made up of patients, families, and employers. Being observant, optimistic, and creative is also essential as each individual patient’s needs will be different. 

Work Settings For Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings. Most commonly, OTs assist patients in hospitals who are recovering from surgery. Additionally, they can be found in schools working with children who have developmental or physical disabilities. OTs can also find careers in nursing homes assisting the elderly or disabled seniors.

Common Cases Occupational Therapists Encounter

Occupational therapists will most often encounter patients of all ages with physical, sensory, or cognitive problems. The OTs' main role is to help these individuals perform a number of daily tasks allowing them to function more independently. This may include helping those with disabilities or recovering from surgery with new adaptive equipment such as eating aids, walkers, or wheelchairs and also recommending assistive devices that better suit the needs of the patient.

In some cases with patients that have developmental disabilities, occupational therapists may teach skills such as managing time, budgeting, using public transportation, and doing household chores in order to help them engage more independently in daily life activities.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

To become an OT you can expect up to seven years of full-time college courses plus a certification exam: 

  1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree – It is advised to earn a bachelor’s degree in a relevant area such as biology, health science, or psychology.
  1. Earn a Graduate Degree – You can choose from either a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) or a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD)
  2. Become certified – Once you’ve received either your MOT or OTD, you must pass the National Board of Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam to be licensed and practice in the United States

How to Advance Your Career as an Occupational Therapist

Once you become certified as an Occupational Therapist you may find yourself wanting to grow and expand, and the best way to do this is through specializing in one area. There are many different areas in which you could become specifically certified and trained. Here are just a few: 

Average Salary For Occupational Therapists

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2021 median salary range was $85,570 per year with a 14% projected growth, which is much higher than the 5% reported growth for most other occupations. 

Nevada and California are the highest-paying states for OTs with annual wages between $109,000 and $105,000, respectively. South Dakota and Maine are the lowest-paying states at $74,400 and $72,300 annually.

The Pros and Cons of Being an Occupational Therapist

As with any career, there are benefits and drawbacks to becoming an OT. Here is a short list of pros and cons to consider before beginning your journey:


  • Occupational therapy can be deeply meaningful work. Assisting patients with the ability to lead a more independent life in spite of injuries or disabilities can be incredibly rewarding.
  • There are many areas to specialize in and grow to allow you to reach more specific needs of patients.
  • There is a variety of different settings to work in.
  • There is an increase in demand in this field, projecting high growth rates in the coming years.


  • The work of occupational therapists can be very physically and emotionally demanding.
  • Depending on the setting and types of patients you work with, hours could vary outside of usual office hours.
  • Extensive studying is required. To become an OT, you can expect six to seven years of full-time study, a certification exam, and ongoing education.

Ideal Personality Traits

A person who is patient with a positive outlook and the heart to help others will do best in a career as an Occupational Therapist. Each patient you see will have their own unique struggles and needs. Being flexible and adaptable to situations and changes in treatment plans is another strong trait of a successful OT.

With a unique balance of creativity and science, OTs are a much-needed profession that makes a significant difference in the lives of their patients. With Trusted Health's Allied Health Jobs, you can find your dream OT job in your ideal location. Click here to get started today!

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