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Occupational Therapist Advancement Opportunities

Occupational therapists work with individuals to develop skills that may help them with employment or other facets of their life roles. After working as an OT, some may wish to grow their career by working with specific populations or concerns. Others may seek management roles.

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Career Growth Opportunities for Occupational Therapists

Occupational therapists (OTs) play a vital health care role helping people to engage in the activities of everyday living. After working as an occupational therapist, some OTs may wish to advance in the profession. Some may wish to pursue specialty certification such as pediatric occupational therapy, mental health occupational therapy, or hand therapy. Others might seek supervisory roles such as becoming a senior occupational therapist or a regional rehabilitation director. Some information on these careers is presented here.

Job Title Median Salary (2018)** Job Growth (2016-2026)* Education or Experience
Pediatric Occupational Therapist $60,722 24% (occupational therapists) AOTA Board Certification in Pediatrics
Occupational Therapist, Mental Health $77,938 24% (occupational therapists) AOTA Board Certification in Mental Health
Senior Occupational Therapist $79,300 24% (occupational therapists) Experience as occupational therapist
Certified Hand Therapist $82,216 13% (health diagnosing and treating professionals, all other) HTCC certification
Regional Rehabilitation Director $104,334 20% (medical and health services managers) Occupational therapy and management experience

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **PayScale.com

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Career Information

Pediatric Occupational Therapist

One way that occupational therapists can grow their career is to earn specialty certifications and have increased practice opportunities with specific populations. One option for this path is to become a pediatric occupational therapist. Pediatric occupational therapists focus on working in rehabilitation with children. They choose specific activities that help children develop coordination, memory, or other occupational skills. The therapist properly maintains records of these activities. To earn specialty certification as a pediatric occupational therapist, the candidate must meet the requirements of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), which include the possession of a degree as an occupational therapist, 500 hours working with pediatric clients as an OT, and the submission of a portfolio.

Occupational Therapist, Mental Health

Another area of concentration for occupational therapists is within the mental health field. Mental health is considered to be a key practice area for development within occupational therapy. According to the AOTA, occupational therapists with a mental health focus play key roles in working with clients experiencing trauma, autism spectrum disorders, and sensory integration difficulties among others. They do so by conducting evaluations to identify the barriers standing in the way of occupational performance, conducting group and individual therapy sessions, modifying the living environment to reduce any physical barriers, and encouraging participation in occupational roles. Occupational therapists wishing to focus on mental health treatment should pursue board certification in mental health through the AOTA. Requirements include a professional degree in occupational therapy, at least five years of practice experience, 5,000 hours delivering some form of mental health treatment, and the submission of a reflective portfolio.

Senior Occupational Therapist

Some occupational therapists may wish to pursue managerial roles within the field of occupational therapy. These individuals may consider a role as a senior occupational therapist. Senior occupational therapists typically provide some direct services to OT clients, and may work with more challenging cases. They are responsible for documentation and ensuring that services are provided in accordance with regulations, as well as supervising more junior staff members. Senior occupational therapists must be licensed as OTs, and have experience in their practice area.

Certified Hand Therapist

Occupational therapists who enjoy working with a wide range of clients might consider obtaining an additional certification to work as a certified hand therapist. Hand therapists focus on disorders of the hand, wrist, elbow, and shoulder. They evaluate a client, and develop a comprehensive treatment plan to meet their needs and ensure appropriate function of the limb. Splinting may also be provided by the hand therapist. To become a hand therapist certified by the Hand Therapy Certification Commission (HTCC), the candidate must have at least three years of experience as an occupational therapist, document 4,000 hours of hand therapy, and pass an examination.

Regional Rehabilitation Manager

Some occupational therapists may be eager to pursue upper-level healthcare management roles. One title they may consider is that of becoming a regional rehabilitation manager. These individuals are members of the upper-level management team at rehabilitation facilities. They oversee numerous facilities to ensure they are providing appropriate care in compliance with all regulations, and work to grow the business aspect of the facilities. They ensure that all clinical care, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy is being conducted with fidelity. Regional rehabilitation managers should have experience as a therapist within the rehabilitation field and should also possess management experience.

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