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Occupational Therapist Training Programs and Requirements

Occupational therapists (OTs) help disabled persons gain or regain the knowledge and skills needed to complete everyday activities, such as cooking, eating, dressing and grooming. Occupational therapist training programs are offered at the graduate level, and requirements for entry to the field generally include a minimum of a master's degree.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

In order to find work as an occupational therapist, qualified individuals are generally required to have completed an accredited occupational therapy training program and to possess a valid state license. Many employers are willing to hire recently licensed graduates; however, some hiring organizations may prefer occupational therapists with experience.

Furthermore, experience providing therapy to particular populations, such as children, or in specific settings, such as nursing homes, may be preferred. CPR training may also be requested by some employers.

Formal Education

Occupational therapist training programs prepare students to work with diverse populations, understand patients' needs and determine a course of occupational therapy treatment based on those needs. While master's and doctoral degree programs are common, some colleges also offer combined bachelor's and master's degree programs in occupational therapy, which usually take five years to complete instead of six.

Master's Degree Programs

As master's-level students, future occupational therapists participate in skills labs and clinical experiences. They learn about general anatomy with a focus on the nervous system. They also study physiology, movement therapy, activity adaptation and trends in rehabilitation techniques.

Doctoral Programs

Often, doctoral programs are intended for occupational therapists who seek advanced clinical roles; OTD programs are more skills-based than Ph.D. programs, which tend to be research-based. At the doctoral level, graduate students learn advanced theories and practice techniques in occupational therapy, as well as instructional methods.

Job Experience

All accredited occupational therapy programs require students to participate in six months of supervised clinical experience. Many employers are open to hiring new graduates with no professional experience beyond the requirements for course completion. In contrast, other organizations may require 1-2 years of experience.

Licenses and Certifications

All states require occupational therapists to be licensed. While specific requirements may vary, generally applicants for licensure must have graduated from an accredited occupational therapy program and must pass a licensing exam. Continuing education courses are typically required to maintain licensure. Additional certification requirements are generally needed for OTs who wish to work in educational settings.

Occupational therapists can also earn the credential Occupational Therapist Registered, which is offered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT, Requirements are similar to those needed for state licensure. In fact, many states utilize the NBCOT exam for licensing.

Workshops and Seminars

Professional organizations, such as the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), offer educational conferences, which may last for several days. Attendees can listen to keynote speakers, join continuing education seminars or participate in networking events. Local colleges may also offer seminars, which can last 2-4 hours, on specific occupational therapy topics.

Additional Professional Development

Occupational therapists can often find educational resources on industry websites, such as the AOTA website ( OTs can read blogs and online news articles or connect with peers through discussion boards and special interest group sites. Magazines, scholarly journals and books can also keep therapists up to date on rehab trends and research developments.

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