How To Become An Occupational Therapist

By Jordan Fabel •  Updated: January 5, 2022  •  7 min read  •  Health
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If you want to provide a very necessary service for those recovering from an illness, injury, or accident, becoming an occupational therapist is the career for you. This career will help you to help others. You will be able to work with patients as they recover from a traumatic experience.

Becoming an occupational therapist does require specialized education, however. If you want to enter this career, you should understand the job duties first. Let’s look at the job duties of an occupational therapist and the steps to become one.

How To Become An Occupational Therapist

Job Duties of an Occupational Therapist

As an occupational therapist, you will work with patients that have been injured, suffered an illness, been in an accident, or have become disabled. You will help them to perform physical activities and maintain a healthy lifestyle. It’s common for an occupational therapist to help patients through the full recovery from an illness or injury.

Some of the common job duties include:

If you become an occupational therapist, you will perform all of these job duties. There may be other things you will need to do, depending on the patient.

How To Become An Occupational Therapist in 6 Steps

Step #1 – Do Well in High School

The path to becoming an occupational therapist starts with good grades in high school. Scoring high on the ACT or SAT is also helpful. You want to get into a good college or university after high school.

Step #2 – Get Your Bachelor’s Degree

After high school, you will need to get a bachelor’s degree. This is the first major step towards becoming an occupational therapist. Getting a degree in kinesiology, physiology, biology, or health sciences is recommended. These four options will allow you to gain the knowledge of anatomy you will need for your master’s degree program.

While you are completing your bachelor’s degree, you can also get some field experience. This is done through an internship or volunteer opportunities. Work experience can help as you apply for master’s degree programs. It can also help you gain hands-on practice within your field.

Step #3 – Get Your Master’s Degree

After completing a bachelor’s degree, you will need to apply to master’s degree programs in occupational therapy. This is a rather competitive field, so make sure you get high grades and gain some experience, if possible.

Occupational therapy master’s degree programs will last two or three years. You want to choose a program approved by the American Occupational Therapy Association. This type of program will help you gain the knowledge you need to enter into this career field.

As you complete your master’s degree, you will also gain clinical experience. You will shadow different licensed occupational therapists at different types of medical facilities. Your final semesters will include performing basic processes under supervision.

Step #4 – Pass the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists exam

After completing your master’s degree program, you will need to pass the NBCOT exam. This exam will take about four hours to complete. If you pass the exam, you will receive your OTR certification and become eligible to apply for a license within your state. This certification is good for three years. If you don’t pass, you will need to wait 45 days to try again.

Step #5 – Get Your Occupational Therapy License

You will need to earn a state license to work as an occupational therapist. After getting your Occupational Therapist Registered certificate, you will need to apply for a state license. Your education and test scores will be factored into the licensing approval process.

Every state is a bit different, so check the requirements before you apply. Once you get a state license, you will need to adhere to the guidelines set by your state to maintain your license.

Step #6 – Specializing and Getting More Certifications

You don’t have to specialize, but many occupational therapists will choose a specialty. You can acquire the right certifications to fit your specialty. The specialties include:

You will need to pass the correct exam and get the right certification to enter any of these specialties.

Common Skills Needed to Become an Occupational Therapist

If you want to become a successful occupational therapist, you will need the following skills:

These skills can help you become a successful occupational therapist. Developing all of these skills throughout your education and fieldwork can help you succeed faster in this career.

Frequently Asked Questions About Occupational Therapists

How much can I make as an occupational therapist?

According to, you can earn close to $82K per year as an occupational therapist. The salary you earn will depend on your location, level of experience, and employer, however. Top employers will likely pay well over $100K per year for good occupational therapists.

Some locations pay far above the national average, too. New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Diego all have average salaries higher than the national average. The right specialty may also help you earn a higher salary.

What type of benefits will I get as an occupational therapist?

Your benefits will ultimately depend on the employer you work for. However, some of the most common benefits include access to a 401(k) retirement account, health insurance, life insurance, license reimbursement, and a referral program. you may also get a flexible schedule and paid housing with some employers.

How long will it take me to become an occupational therapist?

It will likely take you six to seven years to become a licensed occupational therapist. You will need to complete a bachelor’s degree program and get a master’s degree. Fieldwork will also be necessary before you can meet the licensing requirements.

Is this field a growing field of employment?

Yes, occupational therapists are expected to increase by about 16% over the next ten years. With an aging population and a higher demand for occupational therapists, this career is growing at about three times the rate of all occupations.

Where will I work as an occupational therapist?

Most occupational therapists will work in hospitals or clinics. However, you may also work at a school, nursing facility, or an outpatient care center.

It’s common for an occupational therapist to work with a physical or speech therapist. In some cases, you may even treat patients in their homes.

Becoming an occupational therapist is a great career option if you want to help others. You will work with those needing your help. Make sure you follow the steps above to enter this career.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path.