To become a registered occupational therapist (OTR) you must graduate from one of the numerous occupational therapy educational programs located in colleges and universities throughout the United States. Most programs offer a baccalaureate degree; however, if you already have a baccalaureate degree in a related field you may be eligible for an entry-level master's degree or certificate program offered by some schools. The course content for each type of program focuses on biological and behavioral sciences, human growth and development and occupational therapy theory and practice. All programs require a period of supervised clinical experience. To become a certified occupational therapy assistant (COTA) you must complete an approved educational program. The majority of these are two-year associate degree programs in community colleges. The program includes courses in the structure and function of the human body, psychology, occupational therapy principles and techniques, and a period of supervised clinical experience.
Upon completion of the educational requirements to be an occupational therapist or an occupational therapy assistant, you are eligible to take the national certification examination administered by the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy. In addition, most of the states require that you be licensed to practice. To become licensed, you must present proof of successful completion of the certification examination and pay a fee which varies from state to state.
Occupational therapists employed in rehabilitation centers, facilities, hospitals, or home health agencies may design and construct splints for injury victims, plan and supervise a program of activities to assist those recovering from a stroke or monitor the heart rate and energy requirements of heart patients as they practice self-care or homemaking activities. Occupational therapists working with the mentally ill may be responsible for group or individual treatment activities designed to help individuals learn personal or social behavior skills. Typically, occupational therapists work with individuals representing practically all disability groups. As an employed occupational therapist you may provide services to patients of all ages with physical, developmental and emotional problems.
Future employment is especially bright for those who choose a career in occupational therapy. According to a report by the U.S. Department of Labor, occupational therapy is one of the fastest growing health professions, with career opportunities in administration, research and education as well as direct patient treatment. Occupational therapists work in a variety of rehabilitation-related settings including rehabilitation centers, hospitals and facilities. As a registered OT, you may have a private practice. Occupational therapists and occupational therapist assistants work may provide consultation to nursing homes, public and private schools or home health agencies.
Starting salaries for registered occupational therapists averaged $38,000 in 1995. Starting salaries for OT assistants average $27,000 per year.
Additional Information Source
American Occupational Therapy Association
4720 Montgomery Lane
P.O. Box 31220
Bethesda, MD 20824-1220