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Occupational Therapy Graduate Programs

Occupational therapy (OT) programs at the graduate level prepare students to work as licensed occupational therapists. At the doctorate level, students have the option of pursuing more research-oriented studies or a program focused on clinical practice.

Essential Information

A master's degree program in OT teaches students how to help patients improve their functional work and living skills. Students learn critical-thinking skills and evidence-based therapeutic practice principles to help them work with clients who may have developmental, mental or physical disabilities.

At the doctorate level, Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Occupational Therapy programs primarily prepare students for research and academic positions. These programs allow students flexibility to pursue a specific area of the field. Alternatively, Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD) programs are geared toward educating individuals for professional practice. Graduates seeking employment will also have to obtain licensure before being hired.

The prerequisites for an occupational therapy graduate degree depends on the level. For instance, a bachelor's degree and prior coursework in anatomy, physiology, statistics and psychology are needed for the master's degree. A master's degree in occupational therapy, occupational therapy certification, GRE scores and volunteer work in an operational therapy clinic are required for a doctorate degree.


Master's Degree in Occupational Therapy

Graduate programs in occupational therapy include coursework in body systems, as well as the core theories and ethical practices of the industry. Students learn these concepts through traditional classroom instruction and lab sessions before moving on to supervised clinical experiences. Topics that may be covered in a program include:

  • Kinesiology
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Patient advocacy
  • Occupational therapy theories
  • Occupational development

Ph.D. in Occupational Therapy

Ph.D. programs include advanced coursework in occupational therapy and research. Some of the course topics offered may include:

  • Research design
  • Statistics
  • Occupation-centered practice
  • Applied scientific philosophy
  • Occupational performance

Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD)

These programs are limited, as there are only five that are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. These programs are usually completed in three years, including summer sessions. Professional fieldwork and clinical rotations are included in these curricula.

OTD students learn to work with diverse populations, such as children and senior citizens. Coursework will cover the relationship between the human anatomy and the workplace. Some possible course topics include:

  • Human performance
  • Pathophysiology
  • Ethical reasoning
  • Clinical anatomy
  • Leadership and public policy

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for occupational therapists were expected to increase 27% from 2014 to 2024, due primarily to the growing number of elderly citizens. Occupational therapists may have their own practice or work for clinics, hospitals or other healthcare facilities. In May 2015, the BLS reported that the national median annual wage for these professionals was $80,150.

Continuing Education Information

The BLS notes that occupational therapists are required to be licensed in all states. While some standards vary by state, all prospective occupational therapists must meet educational and examination requirements. The BLS indicates that applicants must typically graduate from an approved program and pass a national exam to earn the Occupational Therapist Registered credential. Individuals who want to advance their education may complete a doctoral program in occupational therapy.

Graduate-level degrees in occupational therapy prepare future therapists for distinct career paths. At the master's level, the focus is on working with patients, while at the doctorate level, therapists can pursue research or clinical practice tracks. Faster-than-average employment growth is expected for occupational therapists during the 2014-2024 decade.

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