The so-called “Father of Occupational Therapy,” William R. Dunton, was a Maryland psychiatrist and, notably, a quilt enthusiast – an apt “occupation” that combines the physical with the creative, and often the social. He encouraged his patients to quilt as well, as he helped develop OT as a recognized profession. In 1917, Dunton founded the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy, which still exists today under the name American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).
Nowadays, occupational therapists are skilled healthcare professionals who make profound impacts on the lives of those living with disability, injury, or illness. It’s a profession based as much in empathy as science, as OTs empower their patients to move with greater autonomy and confidence through their day-to-day lives.
To become an occupational therapist, you must earn a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) and become board-certified. Once you graduate, you’ll be prepared for a rewarding career with a wide range of specialties and placements, each designed to bring meaningful improvements to your patients’ quality of life at home, work, and school.
Table of Contents
Occupational Therapist Job Duties
WCU MSOT Program
Occupational Therapist Job Duties
What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?
Simply put, an occupational therapist helps patients with moving through day-to-day life. The typical OT patient is seeking help with an injury, disability, or illness that makes certain motor functions challenging. Therapies can include anything from exercises to adapting to equipment like leg braces. OTs can also help identify modifications to assist in daily tasks at home, school, or work.
In addition to providing therapies aimed at physical independence, occupational therapists often work with developmentally disabled populations on skills such as organization and social coping. In all cases, an OT is there to help a patient achieve greater autonomy and confidence in their daily life. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the role of the occupational therapist usually includes the following:
- Review and evaluation of patient condition and history
- Development of a treatment plan with milestones and goals
- Assistance in the performance of tasks, such as dressing and washing
- Demonstration and supervision of exercises
- Environmental evaluation (home, work, school) for modifications
- Education for patients as well as their families and coworkers
- Helping patients adjust to equipment, such as braces or eating aids
- Record keeping and reporting to coordinate care with physicians
What Is the Difference Between an Occupational Therapist and Physical Therapist?
While OT and PT might seem intuitively similar, the function of each is distinct. Both offer rehabilitative care and techniques for movement. A physical therapist treats patients for injuries, conditions, and disorders affecting mobility in order to restore or improve things like strength and range of motion. An occupational therapist, on the other hand, focuses on movement as it relates to daily tasks, like driving and eating.
What Can Occupational Therapists Specialize In?
Licensed OTs can choose to pursue a specialization that serves a specific population or area of focus. These specialties usually require advanced board certification or continued education, and include:
- Mental health
- Physical rehabilitation
- Driving and community mobility
- Environmental modification
- Feeding, eating, and swallowing
- Low vision
- School systems
These advanced certifications can be accomplished by completing eligibility requirements. Requirements vary by specialty but usually include a minimum of three years of practice experience as an OT, as well as minimum hours within the area of specialty. Once prerequisites are met, you can apply for board certification through the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).
Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?
Curious what you can do with a MSOT degree? Once you’re licensed to practice as an occupational therapist, you’ll have the opportunity to work in a range of placements, including the following (according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics):
- Offices and clinics
- Elementary and secondary schools
- Home healthcare
- Nursing care facilities
Can Occupational Therapists Open a Private Practice?
Many OTs run private practices. If you’re thinking of opening one of your own, remember that running your own venture requires you to be a businessperson as much as an occupational therapist. For OTs with the entrepreneurial spirit, private practice can be rewarding. Start to consider the planning and maintenance required, which will include:
- Business identity (values, goals, trademarks)
- Space planning (if you’re opening a physical location)
- Licensing and insurance
- Market analysis
- Marketing (ads, website, social media)
- Budget and financial planning
- Staff and human resources
- P&L (accounting and payroll)
- Metrics and performance analysis
- State and federal requirements
Each of the line items above contains a complex set of tasks and considerations. Many of them, like payroll, can be outsourced to a vendor, if that makes sense for your business. When you’re ready to start planning, intend to do plenty of self-education, and expect a learning curve.
How Long Does It Take to Become an Occupational Therapist?
Completing an MSOT degree is typically a one- to two-year occupational therapy graduate program (the West Coast University program is 24 months). You’ll first need an undergraduate degree in order to apply as a graduate student.
Many OT candidates elect for a specialization, which will require certifications in addition to any state-required licensure. Consider preparation for exams an extension of your school-based study. Field experience is often built into your degree curriculum.
What Is the Best Undergraduate Degree for Occupational Therapists?
There is no particular undergraduate degree that is required for you to apply to graduate school for occupational therapy. However, completing a bachelor’s degree in a science or field that relates to OT will set you up for success in completing your MSOT.
Some undergraduate majors that dovetail nicely into MSOT study include:
- Exercise science
Prerequisite requirements vary by graduate program, so be sure to check what each school requires as you’re doing your research.
What Subjects Are Covered in an MSOT Program?
Depending on your school and master’s in occupational therapy program, your precise curriculum will vary. At WCU, you can expect your MSOT curriculum to touch upon all of the topics below:
- Occupational Therapy Profession and Practice
- Theory of Fieldwork
- Theory of Scholarship and Research
- Evaluation and Assessment
- Clinical Skills and Procedures
- Human Movement and Occupation
- Occupational Performance: Populations
- Older Adult
- Occupational Performance: Skills Labs
- Older Adult
- Occupations and the Brain
- Occupations Through the Lifespan
- Evidence in OT Practice
- Evidence/Modalities/Technology in OT Practice
- Community and Wellness Interventions
- Leadership and Advancement in OT Practice
- Preparation for Practice
These disciplines and subjects will be taught in the classroom, labs, and practice experience.
What Is the OTR® Exam?
The Occupational Therapists Registered (OTR) examination, administered through the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT), is the credentialing test you must pass after graduation from an MSOT program, and before you are allowed to practice. We highly recommend you review the NBCOT Handbook for detailed steps, FAQs, and a checklist for the test.
Steps for Taking the OTR® Exam:
- Complete an entry-level OT degree program (master’s or doctoral level).
- Create your NBCOT online account. (Steps below are through your account at NCBOT.)
- Complete and submit your application and fees.
- Submit your final transcript to NBCOT.
- Make any changes or special accommodation requests (changes made after the submission is in review will incur an additional fee).
- Receive your eligibility confirmation and Authorization to Test (ATT) once approved.
- Schedule your exam with Prometric. (You will receive a biometric-enabled check-in notice.)
- Prepare for the exam. (You can purchase study guides and practice tests through NBCOT.)
- Arrive on time with required identification. (See handbook page 25.)
- Pass the exam, or you may retake the exam on a specific schedule. (See handbook page 31.)
- You will need to renew your certification four years after your initial test date, and every three years thereafter.
WCU MSOT Program in Texas and California
West Coast University offers an on-campus MSOT program in Los Angeles, and we’re also launching a new MSOT program in the Dallas Metro area in January 2023. The program at the WCU-Texas campus combines face-to-face instruction with flexible online classes. Enrollment is currently open for both programs.
Students attending our campuses get hands-on experience in our industry-current simulation labs, which allow students to practice patient care techniques in realistic healthcare settings.
Occupational therapy is a meaningful career that can profoundly enhance your patients’ quality of life. If you are interested in starting an MSOT program, tap the Request Info button on this screen or call us at (866) 508-2684 so we can answer any questions you have about your education options. We’re happy to help you with your educational journey!
The WCU entry-level occupational therapy master’s degree (MSOT) program has applied for accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) or the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), located at 6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 200, North Bethesda, MD 20852-4929. ACOTE’s telephone number c/o AOTA is (301) 652-AOTA and its Web address is www.acoteonline.org. The program must be granted Candidacy Status, have a pre-accreditation review, complete an on-site evaluation and be granted Accreditation Status before its graduates will be eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapist administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). After successful completion of this exam, the individual will be an Occupational Therapist, Registered (OTR). In addition, all states require licensure in order to practice; however, state licenses are usually based on the results of the NBCOT Certification Examination. Note that a felony conviction may affect a student’s ability to sit for the NBCOT certification examination or attain state licensure.
The WCU entry-level Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) program has applied for accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) or the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), located at 6116 Executive Boulevard, Suite 200, North Bethesda, MD 20852-4929. ACOTE’s telephone number c/o AOTA is (301) 652-AOTA and its web address is www.acoteonline.org. The program must be granted Candidacy Status, have a pre-accreditation review, complete an on-site evaluation, and be granted Accreditation Status before its graduates will be eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapist administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). After successful completion of this exam, the individual will be an Occupational Therapist, Registered (OTR). In addition, all states require licensure in order to practice; however, state licenses are usually based on the results of the NBCOT Certification Examination. Note that a felony conviction may affect a student’s ability to sit for the NBCOT certification examination or attain state licensure.
WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment.
With the COVID-19 endemic, the university is currently offering some on-ground courses in the distance education modality, as needed. As the situation changes, students may be expected to return on-campus to complete their program on-site in the regular learning modality as outlined in the university catalog.
WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.