Occupational therapists might help stroke patients learn to accomplish once simple tasks like dressing or cooking. They may coach individuals with short-term memory loss on daily routines like list making, help an amputee choose a new career or specialize in adapting classroom environments for students with disabilities. Regardless of which patient population an occupational therapist chooses to work with, they will need several years of formal education and clinical training. The degree requirements for occupational therapists are stringent, and each level of study builds upon the one before.
Taking courses like biology, chemistry, physics, health, psychology and sociology and completing volunteer work in a health care setting might give high school students an edge when it comes to college admission to study occupational therapy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Interviewing an occupational therapist at a local clinic or hospital could also provide valuable insights about the career and help clarify goals when choosing a university or area of specialty.
Occupational therapists must have a master's degree to practice and must obtain a bachelor's degree before starting a master's degree program. Undergraduate courses typically include psychology and other social sciences, as well as subjects requiring students to participate in labs along with classroom commitments. These include organic chemistry, general physics, human anatomy and physiology. Maintaining a grade point average above 3.3, working as an occupational therapy assistant or performing clinical volunteer work will likely improve the chances of getting into a master's program, according to All Allied Health Schools.
Entrance requirements for occupational therapy master's degree programs vary. For instance, some require candidates to have as many as 150 hours of clinical experience during the undergraduate years, according to All Allied Health Schools. Students also need letters of recommendation from practicing occupational therapists and previous college instructors. The typical master's degree program takes about two and a half years to complete, generally including one and a half years of academic study covering a broad range of subjects such as medical terminology, physiology and mental health. The final year of the master's degree program usually focuses on working directly with patients under the close supervision of licensed therapists.
2016 Salary Information for Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapists earned a median annual salary of $81,910 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, occupational therapists earned a 25th percentile salary of $67,140, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $99,300, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 130,400 people were employed in the U.S. as occupational therapists.