Degree programs for occupational therapy are offered at both the masters and doctorate levels. To qualify for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) and become licensed, the student will need to have completed at least a master's degree. For students who are wanting to advance into the clinical field, pursuing a doctorate degree will be the best course of action. Listed below are the different programs offered at each degree level.
Doctorate in Occupational Therapy vs. Master's in Occupational Therapy
Master of Science in Occupational Therapy
The MSOT is a thesis-based program that focuses on entry-level fieldwork and prepares students to become licensed occupational therapists. Students who choose this program need only a bachelor's degree in any field with a 3.0 GPA. Taking approximately two years, the curriculum consists of functional movement analysis, neuroanatomy and neuroscience, assistive technology, and health care management and administration. Students should choose this option if they are wanting to pursue a career in research. Because of this, it is encouraged to further graduate studies into doctorate education.
Master of Occupational Therapy
Also meant to prepare entry-level occupational therapists, an MOT non-thesis program is designed for students who have obtained a bachelor's degree with a 3.0. Students will take up to two years of combined coursework and clinical fieldwork. Courses may include neurobiology, foundations of occupational therapy, and occupational performance. Upon completion, students will be prepared to work in school systems, organizations, and communities. Students looking to maintain a general practice with no research should pursue an MOT.
Doctor of Philosophy in Occupational Therapy
Offering graduate training in research, this Ph.D. program serves to educate already trained scientists in the occupational therapy field. Upon completion, students typically pursue careers in academic research and education as a career scientist. Programs generally require a minimum of 60 credit hours and students may take courses in supervised teaching, seminars, and independent studies/research. Research may evaluate human performance in every day activities. Specific focuses might include neurophysiological performance, disability and rehabilitation, and education.
Doctorate in Occupational Therapy
Taking approximately two years (up to 53 credit hours) to complete, coursework for the OTD program may include bioethics, education for health professionals, and capstone proposals and research practicums. OTD programs are designed for registered practicing occupational therapists who want to further engage their research and practicing skills. Each student may be required to complete an independent research project that combines discussion and data collection. To qualify for this program, students must have a master's degree with a 3.0 in a related field, as well as six months to three years of professional practice, depending on the school. Students are expected to acquire the necessary skills to become an expert clinician in a specialty practice or research team.
For students looking to advance their occupational therapy careers, whether it be as a practicing clinician or research scientist, pursuing a master's or a doctorates presents several paths towards expansion. Master's degrees allow one to become a licensed practitioner, while a doctorates degree is more suited to those who want to combine academics with research practices.