Career Advice: Is Occupational Therapy Worth It?

Interested in a career in the medical field that not only allows you to continuously learn, but also gives you a sense of satisfaction every time you help someone? Then, consider the occupational therapist route. In this article, we explain everything you need to know about considering the occupational therapist career path to decide if occupational therapy is worth it or if it’s a waste of time.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

An occupational therapist (or OT) is a licensed professional that provides treatment to people with chronic pain or an injury or illness that makes it hard for them to live a normal life. Often, these conditions are incurable, so instead of trying to cure the problem, OTs find ways to help you adapt. This may either be learning how to perform certain movements on your own or providing you with assistive devices.

Most occupational therapists train for general therapy for the whole body. Some OTs, however, take more training focused on a specific part of the body or specifically for eyesight, children, or elderly. They may have an assistant, but they are not licensed and can only assist with your treatment as far as the OT says. An OT, however, can work with a doctor, physical therapist, psychologist, or other licensed medical professional.

An OT can work with patients as young as premature babies and as old as seniors. They try to understand a patient’s problem that prevents them from doing a certain daily activity and then find a way to help the patient perform the task with ease or less pain. Some treatment may be as simple as changing the furniture position around the house, some may involve using a cane to walk, and some treatment may require medicine. A therapy session can be as long as necessary, but it usually lasts one or two hours.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

All licensed OTs have a bachelor’s degree relevant to occupational therapy. Some universities and colleges offer a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, but you can still pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy with a s degree in biology, psychology, sociology, health science, or any related course. Prior to 2007, it was not necessary for aspiring OTs to seek further education after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. Today, however, all states except Colorado require practicing therapists to have a master’s degree in occupational therapy before they can apply for a license. Most master’s degree programs are around two to three years long and include practical field work, with some programs specializing in a certain area of occupational therapy.

After earning your master’s degree, you can take the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination. Application fee for the test costs between $500 to $525.  If you fail, you can retake the exam after 45 days. The NBCOT has exams dates available every months, so check with your state licensing board where and when you can take the exam.

If you pass the exam, you can apply for a license. Some requirements vary between states, but generally (aside from a passing examination score), you will also need to provide your college transcripts and a background check. After getting your license, you can only perform occupational therapy in the state you earned your license. You will have to stay updated on the latest occupational therapy practices through continuing education and tests for license renewal.

An Occupational Therapist’s Salary

Occupational therapists in the United States earn an average $84,270 per year. If you’re just starting your career in the field, expect your entry-level salary to be around $55,490. Senior top-level occupational therapists can earn up to $128,000 per year. Your salary will also depend on the state you practice in and where the demand is high. It’s more profitable to work in Nevada, where the average salary is around $94,300, compared to North Dakota, where OTs earn around $67,020.

Where Can I Work?

Aside from the state, the institution where you work can effect how much you earn. A full-time therapist will obviously earn more than a part-time therapist (1/3 of therapists work part time), but a full-time therapist with a year of experience working in a nursing home in North Dakota may earn less than a senior OT working in a scientific institute working in Nevada. The type of industry and company you work in can have an effect on how much you earn.

Working in a management-level position will earn you more than someone in a non-managerial position even if they have the same years of experience. Other good options for where you can practice include:

  • Scientific institutions
  • Private and public schools
  • Private companies
  • Home health care services
  • Private and public hospitals
  • Nursing care facilities
  • Private office practice

Demand for Occupational Therapists

There are around 130,400 occupational therapists practicing in the United States. Most of them practice in California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida. California also ranks third in terms of the highest average salary, but this is assuming you can stand out in the most densely populated state for occupational therapists. Nevada and New Jersey have the highest salary (and District of Columbia and Arizona, after California), so these are also good options.

There are positive predictions for the job market for OTs. It’s possible that a large percentage of the baby boomer population has no plans of retirement and plan to remain independent, which could increase the need of learning how to adapt with illnesses and chronic pain associated with age. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment rate for occupational therapists will grow to 29% by 2022, which means around 32,800 jobs for licensed OTs.

Is Being an Occupational Therapist Worth It?

Have you ever felt that moment of helplessness when you feel like your life is spiraling out of control? Patients who are unable to do simple daily tasks or perform at work or school like everyone else do, but magnified. While there are other career paths in the medical industry that provide higher salaries, this is a good option for people looking for a rewarding career. If you are patient and are interested in helping people with their everyday needs, this is an ideal career path for you.

No two patients are alike in terms of treatment. An occupational therapist observes the life and practices of each patient before deciding a course of action. You need to be creative enough to find a way to make your patient’s life as easy as possible.

If you’re in it solely for the money, you’re better off finding a career with higher income. The road to becoming an OT is not easy nor cheap. Education for OTs is expensive and will continue even after you’ve received your license. If you genuinely like the satisfaction of helping people solve their problems while still focusing on academic pursuits, this is an ideal career. You will get a salary that’s higher than the national average of $47,060, but this is not the only thing OTs should look forward to.

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