Occupational therapy is a patient-centered, science-based practice classified among the allied health professions. Occupational therapists, or OTs, are trained to help people recover or maintain their ability to carry out the activities of daily living, commonly referred to as ADLs. This includes not only physical and work 'occupations,' but also personal, social and spiritual activities.
Unlike acute medical service providers, OTs focus on sustainable habit-formation and improving the overall quality-of-life for patients. They assist individuals with bathing, grooming, rest, medicating and eating. They supply and modify objects and devices - everything from eating utensils to entire neighborhoods - to promote functional lifestyles with respect to the environment.
Occupational therapists' work often begins as patients transition out of or between medical treatments. Their targeted interventions are correlated with patients' improved health outcomes, daily functioning and overall life satisfaction. They are trained to see the bigger picture and can help people organize their lives in ways that promote goal achievement.
OT services are offered to individuals of all ages and from all walks of life. Therapists are responsible for optimizing personal well-being and function with respect to diverse conditions, including physical illness or injury, emotional and mental disorders, poverty, family violence, disfigurement, aging, learning disabilities, autism, and more.
"Occupational therapy looks at how the illness affects the patient's whole life, from the psychological, cognitive and sensory motor standpoints," says Dr. Ben Herz, assistant professor of Occupational Therapy at the Medical College of Georgia.
On the job, OTs work with individuals and families, and sometimes employers and schools, designing personalized intervention plans to maximize well-being and healthy adjustment. The patient might be an infant born with birth defects, a teenager having difficulty adjusting to his parents' divorce, a middle-aged woman with a drinking problem, or an elderly individual transitioning to an assisted living facility.
Occupational therapists work in outpatient clinics, inpatient rehabilitation centers, hospices, community centers, nursing homes, assisted living, hospitals and individuals' homes. They may help people stop smoking, quit drinking, manage long-term pain, lose weight, develop healthy lifestyles, or transition back into civilian life.
Occupational therapists are at the forefront of today's most crucial health issues. As more attention is paid to problems like obesity, arthritis, diabetes and chronic pain, public awareness of the importance of healthy lifestyles and diets is growing. OTs have a critical role to play in educating food and healthcare consumers about their choices.
OT coursework should be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, or ACOTE. The recommended curriculum spans medicine, occupational development and performance, and therapeutic practice.
Occupational therapy is regulated across the country, although the extent of oversight varies. Most states issue licenses, but a few "certify" or "register" OTs. Graduates who have earned primary certification should apply for a license with the intended state-of-practice.
Be aware that occupational therapists are responsible for acting as ethical professionals. Because their work brings them into close contact with a wide variety of personalities and cultures, they must be sensitive to issues of discrimination on the basis of race, gender and other social factors.
Occupational therapy is both a 'people' profession and a hard science that requires technical skills. Therapists must therefore be familiar with numerous disciplines, from chemistry and physiology to psychology and anthropology.
Starting salaries for freshly graduated occupational therapists are estimated to be around $50,000 a year. Mid-career median pay approaches $80,000. By comparison, an occupational therapy assistant may earn $30,000 a year.
Occupational therapists are skilled professionals who must be credentialed through a formal national organization. The principal body for OT professionals is the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists, or NBCOT. Practitioners may also find the American Occupational Therapy Association, or AOTA, helpful for finding key professional resources.
NBCOT administers the main professional certification examination for this profession, and its programs are recognized by most states. Students must earn not only a four-year bachelor's but also a two-year master's degree in OT to be eligible to sit for the 'National Board Certification in Occupational Therapy,' or NBCOT, examination.
Successfully passing the NBCOT exam means that new practitioners may use the title 'occupational therapist' and the "OTR" credential, as well as apply for a license in the intended state-of-practice.
Occupational therapists are trained up to the graduate level to ensure they are fully qualified to take peoples' health into their hands. There are many high-quality undergraduate programs to consider en route to a graduate-level education in occupational science. The AOTA maintains a complete list of American occupational therapy schools and their requirements.
Most occupational therapists earn a graduate degree at the master's level. In 2012, Forbes named the Master in Occupational Therapy, or M.O.T., one of the highest-value degrees in the United States. Some schools offer blended undergraduate-graduate tracks combining, for instance, a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitation Science (B.S.R.S.) with the Master of Occupational Therapy, or (M.O.T.). Blended programs are often accelerated and thus require less time and money.
A master's degree is the standard among occupational therapists, but it's not unusual to go further and earn a doctorate like the Ph.D. in Occupational Science. A less intensive alternative to the Ph.D. offered at some schools is the O.T.D., or Occupational Therapy Doctorate. The O.T.D. is an accelerated doctorate lasting at least two years. The shortest tracks are designed for those with preexisting industry experience. Occupational therapy programs offering online O.T.D.s are available.
The AOTA issues certifications in four areas of emphasis:
There are several postdoctoral programs available in this field that offer more training and deeper specialization. Other certifications may be obtained through educational institutions. Sensory Integration (SI), for example, is a specialty based on neuroscience as well as educational psychology. SI occupational therapy mainly focuses on minors with developmental, learning and behavioral disorders, from autism to Parkinson's Disease. SI has had a significant influence on pediatric OT practice.
We found 170 schools offering occupational therapy degree programs in the U.S.
|Sage College of Albany||Albany||NY||2407|
|University of New Mexico - Main Campus||Albuquerque||NM||23670|
|Grand Valley State University||Allendale||MI||18569|
|Alpena Community College||Alpena||MI||1853|
|Fox Valley Technical College||Appleton||WI||6806|
|Medical College of Georgia||Augusta||GA||1932|
|Southern Nazarene University||Bethany||OK||2064|
|University of New England||Biddeford||ME||2684|
|University of Alabama at Birmingham||Birmingham||AL||14951|
|University of Mary||Bismarck||ND||2343|
|Northeast Mississippi Community College||Booneville||MS||2796|
|Suny Health Science Center at Brooklyn||Brooklyn||NY||1470|
|Suny at Buffalo||Buffalo||NY||24830|
|University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill||Chapel Hill||NC||24892|
|Chicago State University||Chicago||IL||6914|
|University of Illinois at Chicago||Chicago||IL||24942|
|Cleveland State University||Cleveland||OH||15294|
|Cuyahoga Community College District||Cleveland||OH||19518|
|University of Missouri - Columbia||Columbia||MO||23309|
|Ohio State University - Main Campus||Columbus||OH||47952|
|University of Central Arkansas||Conway||AR||8481|
|Mount Aloysius College||Cresson||PA||1297|
|Allegany College of Maryland||Cumberland||MD||2592|
|Saint Ambrose University||Davenport||IA||3011|
|East Central Community College||Decatur||MS||2291|
|Texas Womans University||Denton||TX||8404|
|Wayne State University||Detroit||MI||30408|
|Mercy College - Main Campus||Dobbs Ferry||NY||9244|
|Midwestern University||Downers Grove||IL||1499|
|Pennsylvania State University - Penn State Dubois||Dubois||PA||1012|
|The College of Saint Scholastica||Duluth||MN||2054|
|The Community College of Baltimore County||Dundalk||MD||18168|
|Pennsylvania State University - Penn State Worthington Scranton||Dunmore||PA||1716|
|University of New Hampshire - Main Campus||Durham||NH||14689|
|The University of Texas at El Paso||El Paso||TX||15224|
|University of Southern Indiana||Evansville||IN||9012|
|The University of Findlay||Findlay||OH||4510|
|Baker College of Flint||Flint||MI||3896|
|Pacific University||Forest Grove||OR||1979|
|Colorado State University||Fort Collins||CO||26807|
|Nova Southeastern University||Fort Lauderdale||FL||18587|
|University of Florida||Gainesville||FL||45114|
|The University of Texas Medical Branch - Galveston||Galveston||TX||1927|
|University of North Dakota||Grand Forks||ND||11031|
|Calvin College||Grand Rapids||MI||4309|
|Grand Rapids Community College||Grand Rapids||MI||13400|
|East Carolina University||Greenville||NC||18750|
|Lenoir - Rhyne College||Hickory||NC||1515|
|University of Indianapolis||Indianapolis||IN||3599|
|Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis||Indianapolis||IN||27525|
|Jackson Community College||Jackson||MI||5069|
|University of Mississippi Medical Center||Jackson||MS||1674|
|Cuny York College||Jamaica||NY||5357|
|Western Michigan University||Kalamazoo||MI||28657|
|University of Kansas Medical Center||Kansas City||KS||2409|
|Rockhurst University||Kansas City||MO||2727|
|Keuka College||Keuka Park||NY||952|
|A T Still University of Health Sciences||Kirksville||MO||1028|
|Keystone College||La Plume||PA||1220|
|Lansing Community College||Lansing||MI||16011|
|Loma Linda University||Loma Linda||CA||3153|
|Bay Path College||Longmeadow||MA||800|
|Saint Francis University||Loretto||PA||2129|
|University of Southern California||Los Angeles||CA||29194|
|Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center||Lubbock||TX||1719|
|University of Wisconsin - Madison||Madison||WI||40658|
|The University of Tennessee Health Science Center||Memphis||TN||2069|
|Concordia University - Wisconsin||Mequon||WI||4603|
|Florida International University||Miami||FL||31945|
|Mount Mary College||Milwaukee||WI||1246|
|University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee||Milwaukee||WI||23578|
|University of Minnesota - Twin Cities||Minneapolis||MN||45481|
|Saint Mary S University of Minnesota||Minneapolis||MN||3200|
|University of South Alabama||Mobile||AL||11673|
|University of Louisiana at Monroe||Monroe||LA||9405|
|Monroe County Community College||Monroe||MI||3555|
|Pennsylvania State University - Penn State Mont Alto||Mont Alto||PA||1307|
|West Virginia University||Morgantown||WV||21987|
|Tennessee State University||Nashville||TN||8640|
|Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center at New Orleans||New Orleans||LA||2720|