Types of Occupational Therapy Degree Programs

This article will talk about what occupational therapists are, how to become one, and the different online degree options there are to get your master’s degree in occupational therapy. We also will describe licensure requirements, and the general job outlook for occupational therapy.

Occupational therapy is a good career choice if you want to help people to recover bodily functions after disease or injury. It also is a good field to enter if you want to have your pick of jobs and an excellent salary.

The primary job of occupational therapists, OTs, is to treat ill or injured patients by working with them to do their everyday activities. The long term goal of an OT is to help a patient to live as normal and as independent a life as possible. You will play a critical role in helping patients to recover and to improve the skills they need for working and living each day.

Some of an OT’s common job duties include:

  • Review the history of the patient and observe them as they go about their daily tasks of living.
  • Evaluate the condition and needs of the patient.
  • Design an individualized treatment plan for patients, and come up with specific goals and activities that will help the patient to reach these goals.
  • Help people with a number of disabilities to do different daily tasks, such as help a stroke patient how to get dressed with only one hand.
  • Demonstrate exercises that can help to relieve chronic pain.
  • Evaluate the workplace of the patient and identify places that could be improved. For example, for a person with memory problems, you could label kitchen cabinets so that he knows what goes where.

As with many jobs today related to health care, the demand for OTs is expected to soar by 2024. The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment will grow an amazing 27% by that time. It is likely to see this increase because occupational therapy is so important to help older people with illnesses and disabilities to live a normal life.

More Americans are living longer, and with older age comes more serious health problems. OTs will play a vital role in helping older Americans to live a more fulfilling life.

To get started in this career field, you may want to earn a certificate in your local area so that you can become an occupational therapy assistant. Many of these certificate or associate’s degree programs are available at local community colleges. This program will take approximately two years, and you will study:

  • Medical terminology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Psychology
  • Rehabilitation theory
  • Gerontology

You also need to complete supervised field work in your community to graduate from an occupational therapy assistant program. After you have some work experience as an assistant, you can become a full occupational therapist.

To become an occupational therapist, you must earn at least your master’s degree in occupational therapy, and some therapists eventually earn their doctoral degree. After you graduate from your master’s program, you must obtain your license to practice as an OT. All states mandate that you have a license, but the requirements for each state will vary.

However, all OT candidates have to take and pass the national OT examination that is given by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy or NBCOT.

To sit for that exam, you need to have earned a degree from an accredited master’s degree program and finished all of the required fieldwork. It is recommended that you enroll in a master’s program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education.

This association also has several board and specialty certifications for OTs who want to focus their career on a certain type of patient, such as pediatrics, mental health or low hearing or vision.

Occupational therapy is an excellent option for people who want to help other people and have plenty of work available around the country. Take a look at these online OT program options:

Master of Occupational Therapy

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences offers a Master of Occupational Therapy degree through an online program based from St. Augustine FL. Students in the online program will complete two full time field work experiences that are three months long and are in the second year of the program.

Approximately 50% of the classes are delivered online, and the online coursework is web-based text with extensive use of high quality graphics, videos and audio. There are times for faculty to student and student to student interaction. Some classes are offered asynchronously so that you can complete them as your schedule allows. Others are offered synchronously with a pre-set class time.

Learning outcomes of this OT program are:

  • Show the skills of a professional OT through a commitment to learning all through your life.
  • Advocate for the OT profession as you collaborate with others on a health care team.
  • Use clinical reasoning skills based upon the knowledge and skills you learn in your master’s program to provide effective interventions for clients in many different settings.
  • Implement the highest ethical and professional behavior principles as you deliver OT services to patients.
  • Learn and use effective leadership skills to advance occupational therapy as a profession.

Your required curriculum includes:

  • Gross Anatomy
  • Patient/Client Care Management
  • Evidence – Informed Practice
  • Scholarly Design
  • Clinical Neurosciences
  • Administration & Management
  • Clinical Applications in Psych and Community
  • Clinical Applications in Pediatrics/Adolescence
  • Scholarly Implementation
  • Wellness and Health Promotion
  • Anatomy Applied to Occupation
  • Domains of Occupational Therapy
  • Occupational Engagement
  • Process of Occupational Therapy
  • Conditions Impacting Occupational Performance

Doctorate in Occupational Therapy

Eastern Kentucky University has a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy program online that is made for a professional who has a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy.

If you have a bachelor’s or a certificate in occupational therapy, you can earn both your master’s and doctorate in this four year program. Note that you need to be licensed and certified to participate in this online doctoral program.

Classes in this program include:

  • Planning and Managing in OT Practice
  • Research in Occupational Therapy
  • Qualitative Inquiry Approaches
  • Occupational Performance Measures
  • Leadership and Change in OT
  • Advanced Occupational Science
  • Culture and Diversity in OT
  • Policy Analysis for OT
  • Research in OT

Master of Occupational Therapy

Shenandoah University in Virginia also offers a good mostly online master’s degree in occupational therapy. It is a 75 credit Master of Science program that is delivered in a very flexible, online format. Students attend classes on campus one day per week, with field work completed on off days and during normal business hours.

Students also are expected to get plenty of hands on experience in their local community under the direction of faculty. This learning model will require you to think in a critical fashion and to act in a professional manner in your community based problem solving field experience.

Required classes in this two year program include:

  • Foundations Of Occupational Therapy
  • Therapeutic Occupation
  • Fundamentals Of Scholarly Inquiry
  • Foundational Case Groups
  • Community Application With Individuals
  • Scholarly Inquiry: Design And Analysis
  • Neuro-occupation
  • Analysis Of Health And Occupation
  • Management And Systems In Ot Settings
  • Foundational Case Groups Ii
  • Community Application In Systems

Occupational therapy offers a solid combination of good salary, job demand and personal fulfillment that is hard to match. Consider earning your certificate or associate’s degree to become an OT assistant, and then you can move on to earn your master’s online after a year or two.

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Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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