How to become an Occupational Therapist

This article provides in-depth information into What is an Occupational Therapist? What Occupational Therapists do? Degrees for Occupational Therapists, Steps to become Occupational Therapist and much more.

Occupational therapy is the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). Becoming an Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability.

Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities to participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from an injury to regain skills, and providing supports for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.

What does an Occupational Therapist do ?

Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.

  • Observe patients doing tasks, ask them questions, and review their medical history

  • Evaluate a patient's condition and needs

  • Develop a treatment plan for patients, laying out the types of activities and specific goals to be accomplished

  • Help people with various disabilities with different tasks, such as leading an autistic child in play activities

  • Demonstrate exercises—for example, joint stretches for arthritis relief—that can help relieve pain for people with chronic conditions

  • Evaluate a patient’s home or workplace and, based on the patient’s health needs, identify potential improvements, such as labeling kitchen cabinets for an older person with poor memory

  • Educate a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient

  • Recommend special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids, and instruct patients on how to use that equipment

  • Assess and record patients’ activities and progress for patient evaluations, for billing, and for reporting to physicians and other healthcare providers

Steps for becoming an Occupational Therapist


Job Shadow

The first thing a prospective student should do is to job shadow several different clinical settings within the occupational therapy field. Being exposed to a variety of settings will allow the student to get a better feel for which setting they would like to pursue their future occupational therapy career.


Get A Bachelor’s Degree

Typically a bachelor’s degree is required to be admitted into an occupational therapy program. A bachelor’s degree such as in biology, psychology, sociology or liberal arts is commonly accepted. The student is advised to contact the particular educational institution in order to ensure that the necessary prerequisites are met to be admitted into the master’s degree program.


Volunteer For Internship

Numerous master’s degree programs require the student to have volunteered or worked within an occupational therapy setting prior to being admitted to the program. This is often referred to as Level I Fieldwork.


Get A Master’s Degree

At a minimum, a master’s degree from an accredited institution is required prior to entering into the occupational therapy field. Some students will pursue their doctoral degree in order expand their career opportunities. A master’s degree must be earned from an accredited university or college. Once they have earned a master’s degree, students may either apply for licensure or continue their education by pursuing a doctoral degree.


Perform A Supervised Fieldwork

As part of the postbaccalaureate degree, the student will be required to perform a 24-week internship. This is known as Level II Fieldwork.


Pass The NBCOT Exam

The final step is to take the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. Taking and passing the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy exam is a necessary step toward becoming a licensed occupational therapist. Once you have passed this exam, you may apply for licensure in your state.


Apply For Licensure

The field of occupational therapy is regulated in all fifty states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam which require an occupational therapist to be licensed. Applying for licensure will vary state to state. Most states require an application fee, the submission of all official transcripts, a background check, and the submission of NBCOT results. Many times there is a waiting period between the time you submit a completed application with all requirements met until you receive your license and are able to practice.


Find A Job

Occupational therapists have two types of job choices, a permanent or travel therapy position. Travel occupational therapy jobs tend to have better benefits and higher compensation than that of a permanent therapist. Travel therapists are obligated for thirteen week periods, guaranteed forty hour work weeks, and are exposed to different client populations. Permanent therapists are often required to sign annual employment contracts to be eligible for relocation and sign-on bonuses.


Continuing Education

In order to renew license candidates will be required to take a minimum number of continuing education units (CEUs). It is advisable to consult the individual state occupational therapy licensure board for requirements.

Occupational Therapist Degree Levels


To earn an associate’s degree, one must complete a two-year program at a community college or technical school. Students who focus on health and biology in high school, and who volunteer in various OT settings such as hospitals settings or rehabilitation facilities, often have a better chance of getting into an OTA program.

Foundations of occupational therapy
  • Introduction and Occupations of Daily Living

  • OT Profession, Ethics in OT, OT Practice Framework, OT Process

  • Clinical Reasoning, Therapeutic Relationships, Client-Centered

  • Understand the role of sociocultural, socioeconomic, and diversity factors and lifestyle choices

  • Demonstrate knowledge of global social issues

  • Prevailing health and welfare needs

Therapeutic communication skills
  • Intercultural Communication

  • Clarity and Safety in Communication

  • Resolving Conflict between Nurse and Client

  • Identify the purpose of therapeutic communication

  • Apply concepts of group dynamics and communication principles

  • Discuss methods for communicating effectively

Health services practice management
  • Hospital and Health System Administration

  • Healthcare Financial Management

  • Understanding Healthcare Reform Issues

  • Identify the basic service and program elements in the continuum of healthcare

  • Define the major health care professions and the role of health care admins

  • Differentiate the roles of clinicians and managers


Depending on the requirements of your graduate school and licensing board, you may need to earn a bachelor’s degree in a particular area. For example, some graduate schools require you to earn a degree in biology, while others may require occupational therapy. However, a bachelor’s degree in a field such as in psychology, sociology, or liberal arts is also commonly accepted. While earning your bachelor’s degree it’s important you know which prerequisite courses you need to complete in order to get into a master’s program.

Human development and functioning
  • Cross-Cultural Perspective on Human Development

  • Introduction to Developmental Research Strategies

  • Social Influences Across the Lifespan

  • To learn about how development is studied

  • To know the factors that contribute to the prenatal development

  • To understand the social development of infants, toddlers, adults and elderly.

Occupational therapy process
  • Psychosocial Occupational Therapy

  • Group dynamics in occupational therapy

  • Introduction to splinting

  • Articulate the history and philosophy of occupational therapy

  • Contrast the education, roles, and functions of occupational therapy

  • Describe occupational performance areas, skills, and contexts

Research in Occupational Therapy
  • Introduction to Basic Research Concepts

  • Pragmatics of Doing Research

  • Research Design

  • Articulate the importance of research

  • Effectively locate, understand, and evaluate information

  • Use research literature to make evidence-based decisions


Master’s programs typically include classroom work combined with field work. Field work is usually performed in hospitals, private homes, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers, and clinics, under the direct supervision of an occupational therapist. Students are encouraged to perform their field work in various settings throughout their two-year master’s program to help them decide where they fit best in the field.

Functional anatomy
  • Organization of the Body

  • Tissues of the Body

  • Systems of the Body

  • Explain how joints are classified and recognize

  • Demonstrate the motions that each joint can do

  • Define the various roles a muscle

  • Introduction to Neural Cells and Brain Organization

  • Resting Potentials and Action Potentials

  • Synapses and Neurotransmitters

  • Introduction to all levels of neurobiology

  • Explore one aspect of neurobiology

  • Increase familiarity with the scientific process

  • Introduction to Kinesiology and Physical Activity

  • Spheres of Physical Activity Experience

  • Importance of Physical Activity Experiences

  • Obtain a critical understanding and apply knowledge in kinesiology

  • Effectively communicate the essential theories, scientific applications, and ethical considerations

  • Recognize and apply sustainable approaches


Doctoral programs in occupational therapy take about 3 years to complete. Doctoral Program in Occupational Therapy (OTD) is designed for those who wish to enter the field of occupational therapy at the highest level of preparation. Candidates may apply for admission after completing a bachelor's degree.

Introduction to Public Health
  • Introduction to public health

  • Global public health

  • Infectious diseases

  • Understand the goals of public health

  • Understand the methods used to measure the health of populations

  • Describe the leading global health problems

Professional Development in OT
  • Using Reflection to Advance Professional Expertise

  • How to Use Social Media as a Professional Development Tool

  • Continuing Competence Research

  • To monitor and document progress toward successful professional growth

  • To assess additional learning needs and organize professional growth activities

  • To fulfill one’s ethical responsibility for continued self-learning

Occupational Therapy Interventions
  • Overview of Stroke

  • The Occupational Profile

  • Assessment in neurological and neuromotor disorders

  • Apply theoretical constructs to evaluation with a variety of clients

  • Use standardized and nonstandardized screening and assessment tools

  • Select appropriate assessment tools on the basis of client needs