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How to Become an Occupational Therapist

There are few professions with as many rewards as occupational therapy; the opportunity to help a wide range of individuals improve their lives and achieve greater independence is as enriching a career as any available. If you choose this honored profession, you may work with developmentally challenged children and adults, patients recovering from traumatic injuries or seniors who are attempting to maintain functionality.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average salary for 108,800 Occupational Therapists across the country in 2010 was $72,320. By 2020, this profession is expected to grow by 33 percent or almost 36,400 jobs. If you are hoping to enter this lucrative profession, the coming years should provide you with ample opportunities almost anywhere in the country.

While the majority of states have their own specific requirements for occupational therapists, the majority stipulate steps similar to the following:

Step 1: Graduate with an Occupational Therapy Degree

All states require that Occupational Therapists complete a degree program that is accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) or the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) with a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree. The curricula typically include courses like:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Occupational Therapy principles
  • Human Occupation Throughout the Lifespan
  • Kinesiology and Biomechanics
  • Psychopathology
  • Therapeutic Media, Materials and Processes
  • Interpersonal and Interprofessional Communication

Step 2: Complete an Internship

Like most other medical specialties, Occupational Therapy requires its practitioners to possess firsthand clinical experience prior to licensing. This clinical experience is usually acquired through an internship facilitated by the Occupational Therapy department at your college. In some cases, this experience may also be obtained independently through a term of service with an Licensed Occupational Therapy. In most states, this internship should last between four and six months.

Step 3: Pass the National Certification Exam

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy is the certifying body for all Occupational Therapists in the United States. National certification is a prerequisite for state licensing and involves taking the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) exam. This exam is available online or in a hard copy version, with the digital version costing $500 and the paper version costing $540. Most states allow you to take the OTR exam as many times as necessary to pass, but the NBCOT requires that you wait 45 days between attempts. You must score at least in the 70th percentile to pass the OTR exam.

Step 4: Apply for a State License

Prior to the actual application process, some states may request that you take a jurisprudence exam which evaluates your knowledge of pertinent laws and regulations regarding the OT profession in that state. This exam is usually available online with applicants allowed to use almost any material available to pass it. In most states, you may retake the exam as many times as necessary to achieve the requisite score.

The application process typically requires submission of a signed and completed application along with the required fees. You will also need to request that the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy forward a score report or Verification of Certification indicating you have passed the OTR exam. You will also need to provide official transcripts demonstrating you have the required Occupational Therapy education. Many states also allow you to submit a Verification of Licensure from another state where you have practiced as an Occupational Therapist in lieu of a NBCOT notice.

Step 5: Maintain Licensure

Each state has its own requirements for maintaining licensure. While a few states require that Licensed Occupational Therapists only pay a renewal fee to renew their license, the majority stipulate that LOTs complete up to 36 hours of continuing education during their current licensure period to qualify for license renewal.

If you would like additional information on how to become an Occupational Therapist, you may wish to contact one of these organizations: