Imagine trying to shower or dress yourself only using one arm. Some people will have disabilities, injuries or illnesses in their lifetime that may prevent them from performing even the most basic life activities. When this happens, occupational therapists are there to help. Occupational therapists assist patients in learning, or re-learning, how to do the tasks that they need to perform in their daily lives. Whether it's teaching a disabled child how to dress himself or teaching a senior citizen how to use a walker, occupational therapy can help improve a person's quality of life. A doctoral degree in occupational therapy can prepare you for a career that's both personally and financially rewarding.
A doctorate is not required to practice in clinical occupational therapy, although it is the most common career field for graduates of occupational therapy programs. Because a doctorate is not required, a graduate of a doctoral program will make essentially the same as a master's level graduate working as an occupational therapist. The exception to this is if the doctoral level graduate goes into medical leadership. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, occupational therapists pulled in an average of $75,400 per year in 2012. Occupational therapists working in the school system have the lowest average salary, at $68,440. The highest average salary, $86,850, was reported in the home health care industry. Medical and health services managers, on the other hand, have a median annual income of $84,270, which means it is possible to earn a higher salary in leadership.
Your state may also be a factor in your income. For practicing occupational therapists, Nevada and New Jersey are where the money is. In 2012, Nevada had the highest reported median income, at $105,290, and New Jersey had a median income of $86,680. Occupational therapists in North and South Dakota don't fare as well on the salary scale. The average incomes there were $56,620 and $63,290 respectively, in 2012.
Other Career Options
So what else can you do with a doctorate in occupational therapy? Aside from practicing clinical occupational therapy, a doctorate in occupational therapy can also prepare you for careers in teaching or research. The BLS reported a 2012 salary of $100,370 for health specialties college professors. Medical research scientists aren't too far behind, at an average salary of $87,830.
As with many jobs in health care, occupational therapy jobs are expected to grow quickly over the next decade. By the year 2020, it is expected that there will be 33 percent more jobs in the field. Occupational therapy has been described as "recession-proof" and was rated one of America's best jobs by Forbes, Wall Street Journal, CNN Money and U.S. News and World Report. Rewarding work, high salaries, and excellent growth potential make this a promising option for those interested in a health care career.