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Occupational Therapist Is Ranked in the Top 5 Best Jobs in the US

written by Skye Sherman - Apr 20, 2020
medically reviewed by Dr. Christine Bishara, MD - May 16, 2022

Did you know that occupational therapy is one of the top career paths in the US?

CNBC recently shared a new report released by and placed “occupational therapist” at number 4 out of the 10 best jobs for 2019. Forbes also included occupational therapy in its list of the best remote job opportunities for 2020; OTs can actually offer virtual support and work one-on-one with clients or to educate larger groups on various health topics.

There are many reasons for the popularity and strengths of this job. In this article, we’ll explore what it means to be an occupational therapist, what a typical day looks like, and why occupational therapists love their job. Read on to learn more about why occupational therapy is such a popular job in the US.

What is an occupational therapist?

According to the Touro College School of Health Sciences, “For anyone who aspires to have a fulfilling career in the health sciences that requires compassion and makes a difference every single day, studying occupational therapy in college is an excellent choice.

Occupational therapy helps people of all ages develop the skills needed to manage everyday life activities. For some people, simple tasks in the home, workplace, school, community, or other settings pose challenges for a variety of physical or mental reasons; occupational therapists help improve their abilities to perform those tasks.”

Occupational Therapist Is Ranked in the Top 5 Best Jobs in the US Infographic

Occupational therapists may work in daycare centers, schools, hospitals, homes, or outpatient clinics, long-term care facilities, private practices, hospices, or rehab facilities; they may work with elderly patients, autistic children, injured adults, recovering patients, or young children. They may work with athletes or infants. Patients may have physical or mental disabilities, injuries, or simply need additional assistance in going about their day-to-day life.

The average day for an occupational therapist can vary so much, it’s hard to nail down an average day or schedule. An OT’s work depends mainly on who and what they specialize in, and what kind of jobs and situations they take on.

Occupational therapy is not to be confused with physical therapy. According to Midland Daily News, “The role of a physical therapist is to diagnose and manage movement dysfunction and enhance physical and functional abilities. Their main goal is to restore, maintain and promote not only optimal physical function, but optimal wellness, fitness and quality of life as it relates to movement and health. …

“Occupational therapists, as their name suggests, focus on occupations. Occupations aren’t just jobs, however. They’re meaningful activities that patients do in daily life. The goal of an occupational therapist is to get their patients to regain skills to complete these occupations, as well as help them modify their occupations to make them achievable.”

Physical therapists are more focused on restoring movement and health, often after an injury or similar situation. Occupational therapists, on the other hand, help their patients regain the skills they need to complete the activities of everyday life, whether that’s running or completing job tasks, from sitting all day to manual labor.

Believe it or not, occupational therapy is not a new field: in fact, OT dates back over 100 years! Occupational therapy was founded by a group of doctors at Clifton Springs Sanatorium in 1917. Some believe that OT goes back even further, to 100 BCE, when patients with mental or emotional disorders were treated with therapeutic massages, exercises, baths, and music. Watch the video from The American Occupational Therapy Association, which describes some of the defining moments of official occupational therapy over its past 11 decades, to learn more.

The demographic data surrounding occupational therapists, such as age, gender, race, and more, also shows how this field is open to anyone. The average age of an OT is 41.1, and the number of people employed as OTs has been growing at a rate of 2.51%, up from 112,323 people in 2017 to 115,137 people in 2018.

Other interesting facts:

• The average age of male occupational therapists is 41.7; the average age of female occupational therapists is 40.9.

• The most common race/ethnicity for occupational therapists is white: 85.2% of occupational therapists are white.

• Asian is the second most common race in this occupation, representing 6.54% of occupational therapists. Black is the third most common race of an OT.

• 83.9% of occupational therapists are female, making them the more common gender in the occupation.

What do you need to become an occupational therapist? What is the average salary?

Many people enter the field of occupational therapy because the barrier to entry is relatively low, and the prospects are good. If you’re willing to study hard, work hard, and exercise care and compassion with your patients, your decision to become an OT can provide a stable, fulfilling job for the duration of your working years.

According to the Touro College School of Health Sciences, “To be an occupational therapist, you’ll need a bachelor of science degree in health sciences combined with a master of science degree in occupational therapy. … Credentials and experience aside, however, there are certain skills and personality types that make for an exceptional occupational therapist. These include:

● Patience

● Compassion and empathy

● Creativity

● Communication skills

● Problem-solving abilities

● Flexibility

● Interpersonal skills”

This is important to consider: you can’t just study to become an OT and then happily enjoy your job if you don’t have the right personality for it. The job can be physically and emotionally demanding, and not everyone may be up for the task, so it’s important that your heart is in it, too.

Wondering about university recommendations and how to get the degree? All you have to do is study health sciences or a similar field during your undergraduate years, and then apply for a program in occupational therapy when you approach your next phase of schooling. The most common major for occupational therapists is Health, but Psychology, Business, and Parks, Recreation, & Leisure come after that.

Discuss with a career advisor or admissions counselor about the best path to becoming an occupational therapist, or do some research on colleges offering the best occupational therapy programs in the country if you really want to set yourself up for success.

As long as OT is the right fit for you, you can expect a comfortable lifestyle as an OT. “According to the U.S. News & World Report, the best-paid OTs made upwards of $100,890 in 2018. The median salary was $84,270. As far as the future of OT, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts nearly 24,000 new jobs to open by 2028. In other words, the outlook for OTs is in good shape.”

Looking at the data above, the requirements and amount of schooling required to become an occupational therapist is reasonable, especially when you consider how much an OT can expect to make as well as the outlook of the future of the career path. It’s unlikely that the need for an OT will ever dwindle or vanish, so making a decision to become an OT is likely a smart career move.

Let’s hear from an occupational therapist: What do you love about your job?

If you’ve ever met an occupational therapist, you’ve likely heard some of the perks of the career path. Many OTs love their job--and if they don’t, there’s room for them to try something else in the field without having to go back to school and start over.

Mothers and fathers who want to focus on raising their young children especially love the flexibility that their OT career path affords them.

“The career path comes with a lot of flexibility: you can work part time, return to work after taking a few years off to stay at home with your kids, or create a schedule with hours that work for you,” says Gail Springstead, an occupational therapist who has now opted to become a stay-at-home mom for the time being.

“There’s also a lot of lateral career mobility, meaning you can switch things up and explore different settings, specialties, and niches rather than being stuck in one particular area of the field. Compared to most other clinical professions, there’s a lot you can change about your everyday if you’re an occupational therapist.”

She also points out the autonomy given to OTs. “You can develop your own style of therapy and find a setting you like with good coworkers and a healthy, comfortable atmosphere,” shares Springstead.

“OT is a great career with above average income (if you don't go to an expensive program) and great lateral mobility, job market permitting,” says callyfree on Reddit.

Another Reddit user points out, “There are many different types of OT jobs. I just found a few listings for workman’s comp consulting, injury prevention specialist at Amazon, insurance review, case management, and online consultant jobs that all list OT degrees as viable candidates.”

In other words, there’s a multitude of different directions you can go with an OT degree. That’s likely a big part of the reason that the job is ranked so highly. You get good value for your education because you’re paid well and can do a lot of different things with the degree. If you go one direction and don’t like it, you can switch gears and do something else in the field without completely starting from scratch.

The downside is that many report there’s not a lot of flexibility when it comes to vertical career mobility and progression--in other words, climbing the ranks or the financial ladder. Most occupational therapists start out within $10 or less dollars of their upward ceiling, so there’s not a lot of room for financial growth, no matter how long you’ve been at it. If upward mobility in a health-related field is what you’re after, look into the highest paying pharmaceutical jobs.

Otherwise, consider the perks of becoming an occupational therapist and determine is this career path is right for you!

Other frequently asked questions about occupational therapy

Below we’ve listed out a few common questions about the field of occupational therapy.

Is a license required in the states?

Of course! This is a medical profession. According to All Allied Health Schools, “All states require occupational therapists to become licensed. To earn your license, you’ll need a degree from an accredited program and your NBCOT certification. Check the state you plan to work in for additional fees and requirements.” To practice and work as an occupational therapist, you’ll need to earn the appropriate degrees and become certified.

Do you need a prescription for occupational therapy?

You already know you need a prescription to order drugs online, but do you need a doctor’s prescription for occupational therapy? According to the University of the State of New York, not necessarily: “Occupational therapists can perform occupational therapy evaluations without a referral or prescription. However, to implement an OT treatment plan, under certain circumstances, you must have a referral or prescription from a licensed health care provider acting within his or her scope of practice.” The laws can differ between states and jurisdictions, but usually you can secure the services of an OT without needing a prescription.

If you have additional questions about ordering from an online Canadian pharmacy, consult our Frequently Asked Questions.



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