How to Become an Occupational Therapist


How to Become an Occupational Therapist: Career Path Guide

If you want to become an occupational therapist, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as an occupational therapist:


Those who become occupational therapists are emotionally stable and conduct themselves professionally; traits that are required in order to effectively complete short and long-term tasks related to patient care. They must also have the intellect and academic aptitude necessary to complete the educational requirements that are needed to become a certified professional in occupational therapy.


Those who become occupational therapists are passionate about helping others and providing the best care possible. Occupational therapists must be able to listen attentively to their patients, and effectively communicate with them; they must also be empathetic and compassionate towards their challenges.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as an occupational therapist. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become an Occupational Therapist

In order to become an occupational therapist in Canada or the United States, you need to have a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from an accredited institution. Some occupational therapists also enter the profession with a doctoral degree in this field.


Admission to occupational therapy programs typically requires a bachelor’s degree and specific coursework, including biology and physiology. Many programs also require applicants to have volunteer or work experience in an occupational therapy setting.




Occupational Therapist Job Description

Occupational therapists enable people who experience obstacles to participate in everyday activities. They work with people who have an impairment of body structure, a change in function or barriers in their social or physical environment.


Occupational therapists that are employed in community programs or private practice may offer services such as medical or legal evaluations. Those who are self-employed often provide consulting services to various levels of government.


Occupational therapists are accountable to their provincial or state regulatory body, which has the responsibility of governing the practice of occupational therapy in that jurisdiction. The occupational therapist has the ultimate responsibility for occupational therapy service, which includes direct client care, education, research, administration and consultation.



Occupational Therapist Job Duties

• Evaluate a client’s level of functioning in areas such as self-care, work, study and leisure

• Make recommendations regarding client discharge, home or school management, transfer to alternate programs, integration into the community or return to work

• Facilitate social adjustment by implementing an intervention program

• Assist with stress alleviation by teaching self-management techniques

• Assess the client’s vocational abilities and retrain them to develop new work related skills

• Design and implement health promotion and disability prevention strategies

• Design self-help strategies that train or retrain clients in daily living activities

• Monitor client progress and adjust program as needed



Who Hires Occupational Therapists?

Occupational therapists are hired by organizations that help these people develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Occupational therapists may be hired by, or work on a contractual basis for, organizations such as:


• Community agencies

• Hospitals, continuing care facilities, rehabilitation centres and clinics

• Elementary and high schools

• Colleges and universities

• Municipal, regional or federal government agencies

• Insurance agencies

• Professional organizations

• Self-employment





Occupational Therapist Salary

The salary level of occupational therapists can vary depending on factors such as their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, their track record, and many others.


Occupational Therapist Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the Occupational Therapists occupational group earn an average wage of between $32.99 and $48.00 per hour.


Occupational Therapist Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level of workers in the Occupational Therapists occupational group is $50,057 per year.


Occupational Therapist Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Occupational Therapists Occupational group is $72,320 per year. The lowest 10% of salaries for Occupational Therapists are below $48,920 per year, and the highest 10% are above $102,520 per year. 



Traits and Skills Needed to Become an Occupational Therapist

In order to become effective in a career as an occupational therapist, you need to posses a certain set of personality characteristics and skills; skills that will allow you to be competent and effective in your work; and personality traits that will allow you to maintain a positive attitude towards your work, and help you endure the ups and downs of a career as an occupational therapist. These skills and traits include:


• Ability to communicate with patients and team members

• Able to listen attentively to patients and other team members

• Excellent interpersonal skills

• Excellent organizational skills

• Patience when dealing with people that are ill, disabled or injured

• Must be compassionate and empathetic to the challenges of others

• The ability to work with little supervision

• Must be extremely trustworthy



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Careers Similar to Occupational Therapist

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Occupational Therapist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Osteopathic Physician



Recreation Therapist

Registered Nurse



References: How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as an occupational therapist.


Occupations in Alberta:Occupational Therapist.” (March 22, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 6, 2020.

Healthcare:Occupational Therapists.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved January 6, 2020.

Resources for Students: A Career in Occupational Therapy.” (n.d.). Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists website. Retrieved January 6, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming an Occupational Therapist

Scholarships in Canada and the United States listed for majors that apply to becoming an Occupational Therapist can be found on the following pages:


Exercise Science Scholarships

Kinesiology Scholarships

Psychology Scholarships


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming an Occupational Therapist: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming an occupational therapist. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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