Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists are members of a health discipline who focus on enabling function and well-being for people whose ability to perform daily activities is limited by physical or emotional disease, injury, birth defects, social deprivation, poverty or aging, through the building and development of essential skills.

Occupational therapists are also concerned with health promotion in the general population, and on those whose health status is at risk, in order to prevent impairment and to improve the quality of life.

How do you become an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapy assistants are prepared for practice at the technical level in accredited associate degree programs. Occupational therapists are prepared at the graduate level in accredited programs offering a master's or doctoral degree. Most states require occupational therapists to be licensed in order to practice. The National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists (https://nbcot.org) is the organization that provides the national certification examination, which is used by most states to determine eligibility for licensure.

What do occupational therapists do?

  • The occupational therapist assesses individuals, the family, and those who care for persons who cannot function independently, in order to determine the need for services.
  • Using the information attained in the assessment, the occupational therapist designs a program of intervention focused on the development, improvement or restoration of the individual's ability to perform daily living tasks, and the skills associated with work, education and leisure.
  • Occupational therapists provide intervention designed to develop, enhance or restore sensorimotor, oral-motor, perceptual, and neuromuscular functioning, as well as address emotional, motivational, cognitive or psychosocial impairments that interfere with optimal performance or the sense of well-being.

Who are some of the people served by occupational therapists?

  • Persons of all ages, from birth through old age.
  • Persons from all cultures and from all levels of education and economic status.
  • Persons in need of rehabilitation after serious illness or injury.
  • The homeless.
  • Persons addicted to drugs and alcohol.
  • The mentally ill.
  • Children with learning disabilities.
  • Adults who lack job skills.

Who is the person who should consider occupational therapy as a career?

If you answer yes to these questions, you should explore occupational therapy to see if you can make a significant contribution to the well-being of others.

  • Are you genuinely interested in people?
  • Are you able to handle higher education, at either the associate degree level to qualify as an occupational therapy assistant, or graduate education, to qualify as an occupational therapist?
  • Are you excited about the life sciences (chemistry, physiology, anatomy, pathology, physics, and biology)?
  • Are you interested in theories about what makes people behave as they do? Do you like to learn about psychology, sociology, anthropology and ethics?
  • Are you a truly creative person for whom problem solving provides a great measure of life satisfaction?
  • Are you able to focus on rigorous college studies over a period of years?
  • Do you love to work with people to guide them in their search for their own solutions to their problems?
  • Can you deal with people from backgrounds different than your own, and allow them to set priorities for their lives that may be very different from yours?
  • Do you want to be prepared for a career which is in high demand, with starting annual salaries in the high $30,000's for the occupational therapy assistant, or around $50,000 for the occupational therapist?
  • Are you able to adhere to a professional Code of Ethics that demands a standard of behavior that is the foundation of service excellence?
  • Do you want to wake up in the morning and really mean it when you say, "Oh great. I get to go to work today!"

Information provided by:

Hermine Plotnick, M.A., OTR/L
Associate Professor and Chair
Department of Occupational Therapy
New York Institute of Technology
Northern Boulevard
Old Westbury, NY 11568-8000
516 686 3738
For more information, contact The American Occupational Therapy Association, 4720 Montgomery Avenue, PO Box 31220, Bethesda, MD 20824-1220, or their web site: https://aota.org. This web site has a list of the more than 300 accredited educational programs, as well as other information about the profession.

Useful Links

U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics:

2000 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates

Health Services

Last updated: July 2003