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Physical therapist helping an individual walk

So You Want to be an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapists (OTs) are health care professionals who treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.

Occupational therapists:

  • Help children thrive in the “occupations” of childhood, which include learning, playing, and growing. Therapists work in schools with students who have learning disabilities or behavioral problems. Others work with premature newborns at pediatric hospitals or children with cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and other disabilities.
  • Work with individuals in their homes, community centers, rehabilitation hospitals, businesses, and nursing homes. In these settings, occupational therapists help people with traumatic injuries, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, or mental health problems, learn to live productive lives through the use of meaningful occupations.
  • Train workers to use proper ergonomics on the job, help people with low vision maintain their independence, make buildings and homes more accessible, provide older driver evaluation and training, and promote health and wellness.

To practice as an occupational therapist in the US, you must earn at least an master’s degree in occupational therapy from an ACOTE-accredited OT education program and pass a national licensure exam. OTs are licensed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands. Licensure is required in each state in which an occupational therapist practices and must be renewed on a regular basis, with a majority of states requiring continuing education as a requirement for renewal.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of physical therapists is expected to grow 27% from 2014-2024, much faster than average. Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb.

*Adopted from literature of the AOTA and the Bureau of Labor Statistics.