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How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Master's degree

Occupational therapists help clients deal with pain from arthritis and other conditions. A master's degree in occupational therapy is required; however, some go on to earn their doctoral degree. Registration and licensure is required.

Education & Training

The majority of occupational therapists begin their occupation with a master's degree in occupational therapy. The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education offers numerous programs as part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Graduate program admission requires a bachelor’s degree and relevant coursework to be completed in physiology and biology. The majority of programs require applicants have previously worked or volunteered in an occupational therapy environment.

It can take 2 to 3 years to finish a masters' degree. Doctoral programs often take approximately 3 years. Certain schools offer a dual degree program where students can earn a master's and bachelor’s degree in 5 years. Courses are available part time on weekends and via night school for those with families and jobs.

There is a 24 week requirement for supervised field work with both doctoral and master's programs. During these practicums, clinical work experience is obtained.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

The NBOT or National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapists is the national exam that all occupational therapists are required to pass. In order to sit for this exam, candidates must have all of their field work requirements complete and have earned their degree from an educational program that is accredited.

Individuals who pass the NBCOT exam are entitled to use the term OTR or Occupational Therapist Registered. In order to maintain certification, they must continue their continuing education requirements.

There are many certifications available from the American Occupational Therapy Association for those who wish to obtain an advanced level of knowledge within a specialty area including: low vision, mental health or pediatrics.

Skills and Qualities that will Help

Communication skills: It is necessary for occupational therapists to be attentive with patients and be able to explain a clear course of action.

Compassion: Having a desire to help individuals improve their daily quality of life is essential in this profession.

Flexibility: Being flexible with patients is key. As every technique will not be suitable for each patient, therapists need to utilize their creativity when determining treatment plans. There are a variety of tools and adaptive devices that suit the needs of the patient to help build strength and mobility.

Interpersonal skills: Earning the respect and trust of their patients is integral in their overall success. Occupational therapists spend much time introducing therapies and techniques to their patients.

Patience: It can be frustrating for individuals to deal with disabilities, injuries and illnesses; therefore, occupational therapists must be patient in order to provide quality care.

Writing skills: Occupational therapists must clearly communicate their treatment plan to the patient and additional team members. Tracking patient progress is another vital aspect of the service they provide.