Saint Joseph's occupational therapy student helping patient use spoon

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Information and resources to help you decide if a career in occupational therapy is right for you.

Occupational therapist putting cast on patient's hand

What is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapy (OT) is a form of treatment provided by a health professional to help those of all ages who have an injury, illness, pain or disability. An occupational therapist assists patients in learning how to perform daily activities they’re unable to perform on their own, such as walking, cooking, cleaning or driving. 

What is the Difference Between OT & PT?

Before deciding to become a physical therapist, you may be wondering what is the difference between occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT). Occupational therapy focuses on helping patients perform activities in their daily lives, whereas physical therapy focuses on helping patients use a specific part of their body (such as learning how to walk after hip replacement surgery). In other words, occupational therapy focuses on the ability to improve fine motor skills and teach patients how to complete daily tasks, or occupations. Physical therapy aims to improve movement, strength and range of motion in the body. Additionally, the role of an occupational therapist is to help treat the social, emotional and physical well-being of an individual, as opposed to a physical therapist who focuses on one issue in the body.

What is the Average Salary for a Physical Therapist?

Occupational therapists make a median annual salary of $85,570, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist?

To become an occupational therapist, you will need to earn an undergraduate and graduate degree, as well as pass the licensure exam. It can take an average of six to seven years to become an occupational therapist. 



Step #1:
Pursue a Bachelor’s Degree

If you are interested in an occupational therapy career, you earn a bachelor’s degree in biology, sociology, education, psychology, health sciences, or a direct-entry occupational therapy program.


Step #2:
Earn a Graduate Degree

After receiving your bachelor’s degree, choose a 2-year Master of Occupational Therapy or a 3-year Doctor of Occupational Therapy to complete your graduate degree.



Step #3:
Get Certified

Once you receive your undergraduate and graduate degrees, you need to pass the licensure exam in order to become a practicing OT.

Two occupational therapists helping patient with leg movement exercises

What Job Opportunities are available for an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapy is an in-demand field considered to be one of the best healthcare jobs in the U.S. Employment prospects for OT are projected to grow 14% between now and 2031. Occupational therapy professionals also work in research, academia, technology, communications, policy and administration.

OTs can practice in a number of diverse environments, including:

  • Community health centers
  • Hospitals
  • Clients’ homes
  • Social services
  • Independent Contractor (Self-employed/business owner)


Want to Learn More?

If you’re looking for a top-ranking occupational therapy program, Saint Joseph’s University is home to award-winning faculty who will mentor you through your OT coursework and field placements. Saint Joseph’s University also offers a BS to DrOT pathway for transfer students and incoming undergraduate students (through our direct-entry admission pathway).