Online Occupational Therapy Degree Programs

For the portion of the population who are injured, ill, disabled or otherwise in need of assistance with day-to-day activities, tools and therapies for personal empowerment can make a big difference in the quality of life. Specialized knowledge and skills are required to recommend the right solutions for each patient, and occupational therapy degree programs help students with the training necessary to make everyday life easier for others.

Occupational therapists may be called upon to perform a vast variety of specific tasks thanks to the often-unique nature of individual therapy cases, but there are some general responsibilities of the profession common to most jobs:

  • Observing and interviewing patients to evaluate their condition and therapeutic needs
  • Developing treatment and management plans specific to the individual patient
  • Surveying home and workplace environments for ways they can better meet a patient's needs
  • Recommending and training patients on special assistance equipment
  • Assessing and making reports on patient progress

It's necessary to earn at least a master's degree from an accredited occupational therapy program before beginning work in the field. Some therapists continue their education through to the doctoral level. Certain colleges and universities may offer dual-degree programs, which allow students to complete both their bachelor's and master's degrees in 5 years.

Coursework in occupational therapy degree programs

The schedule of courses that lead to occupational therapy degrees tends to vary from institution to institution, but most programs do include instruction on several fundamental concepts. Here's a list of subjects that occupational therapy students can expect to cover while in school:

  • Neuroscience
  • Anatomy
  • Kinesiology
  • Human interactions
  • Age-appropriate occupations
  • Occupational theory
  • Occupational analysis
  • Occupational therapy management

Many occupational therapy degree programs contain a significant amount of clinical practice and fieldwork, which helps students become accustomed to workplace environments. Doctoral programs tend to lean toward preparing students for research and other academic work and may therefore contain less of a hands-on component than master's programs.

Career outlook for professionals with occupational therapy degrees

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that occupational therapy careers should experience very rapid job growth between 2012 and 2022, with a 29 percent increase in employment opportunities leading to a total of nearly 33,000 new jobs. Rising demand for and access to outpatient treatment procedures is cited as a primary driver of growth in the field.

Graduates of occupational therapy degree programs earned a median annual salary of $76,940 in 2013, according to the BLS, with the lowest 10 percent bringing in no more than $51,310 and the top 10 percent taking home $109,380. The industry in which occupational therapists were employed had some influence over their wage expectations, with those working in nursing care facilities earning a median salary of $84,490 and those working in elementary or secondary schools earning a median of $69,390 in 2013.

The skills learned in occupational therapy programs can translate to other careers as well, depending on regional demand, job experience and additional education:

  • Recreational therapists, who use social and community activities for therapeutic purposes, earned a 2013 median salary of $43,180 annually.
  • Physical therapists, who typically need a post-graduate professional degree, but whose methods are somewhat similar to those employed by occupational therapists, earned a median annual salary of $81,030 in 2013.

Sources:
"Occupational Therapists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, May 14, 2014, www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm
"29-1122 Occupational Therapists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 14, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291122.htm
"29-1125 Recreational Therapists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 14, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291125.htm
"29-1123 Physical Therapists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 14, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291123.htm
"Curriculum: Occupational Therapy," Indiana University, Department of Occupational Therapy, http://shrs.iupui.edu/occupational_therapy/degrees/curriculum.html
"Occupational Therapy (MOT)," Nova Southeastern University, http://www.nova.edu/chcs/ot/mot/curriculum.html
"Doctor of Occupational Therapy (DOT)," Nova Southeastern University, http://www.nova.edu/chcs/ot/otd/curriculum.html

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