Occupational Therapy Programs by Degree Level

Occupational therapists typically have master's or doctorate level degree's. In these programs, students learn how to help people develop physical and motor skills that are used in daily activities.

Essential Information

Occupational therapy degree programs are available at the master's and doctoral levels. Aspiring occupational therapists need at least a master's degree to get licensed, and these programs are sometimes available as combined bachelor's and master's degrees. After learning the therapeutic skills needed to treat patients with different needs, master's program students do clinical fieldwork. Graduates can take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam to get licensed and practice in the field.

Licensed occupational therapists who aspire to become advanced clinicians or occupational therapy managers can pursue a Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degree. Students in this program complete a capstone project, take advanced occupational therapy coursework and do a clinical practicum. Those who want to work in research or education can pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Occupational Therapy. This program focuses on independent study, research, statistical methods, advanced theory and leadership.

Master of Occupational Therapy Program

The Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) program focuses on theory, current trends and developmental practices in the field. The master's degree in occupational therapy is the minimum academic requirement for licensure as an occupational therapist. The program typically takes two years to complete, as well as an additional semester of full-time fieldwork. Combined bachelor's-to-MOT programs are also available and may include between 4-5 years of study in total.

Students can gain admission to the MOT program during the first year of undergraduate studies or upon completion of their bachelor's degrees; however, specific requirements will vary by school. Prospective MOT students will typically need to complete general courses in behavioral and social science, as well as anatomy and physiology.

Occupational therapy programs at the master's degree level typically include courses in aging and society, rehabilitation, kinesiology and disability. Other topics covered in the program include the following:

  • Therapeutic skills
  • Issues in occupational therapy practice
  • Occupational therapy in physical disabilities
  • Research and occupational therapy
  • Leadership and management
  • Clinical fieldwork

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Doctor of Occupational Therapy Program

The Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) program is designed for experienced occupational therapists pursuing management, clinical and educational positions in the field. This OTD program helps each candidate enhance his or her professional skills through a clinical practicum and capstone project. Students will gain advanced training through the graduate curriculum which primarily focuses on administration, design, instructional methods, assistive technology and specialized occupational therapy topics.

Most OTD programs require students to hold occupational therapist licenses. Students who have not completed master's degree programs in occupational therapy may need to complete prerequisite coursework; however, the specific courses may vary by college and university.

Graduate students develop advanced knowledge in the field of occupational therapy through application, study and coursework. Examples of program coursework include the following:

  • Cognitive and behavioral therapy
  • Qualitative research in occupational therapy
  • Occupational therapy practice models
  • Occupational science
  • Advanced field work experience

Doctor of Philosophy in Occupational Therapy

The program leading to the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Occupational Therapy has a research and theory emphasis. Students gain a comprehensive understanding of advanced practice, leadership and entrepreneurship as they relate to occupational therapy. The curriculum typically includes core and elective coursework, as well as doctoral research, dissertation and residency. Graduates of the Ph.D. in Occupational Therapy program will also gain preparation for teaching, research and management positions.

The Ph.D. program typically requires students to hold a master's degree in occupational therapy or a related field. Many programs require applicants to have worked in the occupational therapy for a minimum amount of time.

In addition to applied and basic research courses, students will also complete coursework in specialized occupational therapy topics. Some of these courses may include the following:

  • Development for intervention guidelines
  • Wellness and health promotion
  • Statistics methods for occupational therapy careers
  • Independent study in occupational therapy research
  • Advanced theory

Popular Career Options

Graduates of the MOT programs will be required to complete the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination in order to practice as occupational therapists in environments such as the following:

  • Mental health care facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Ergonomic consultation
  • Outpatient clinics

OTD graduates can utilize their skills in the public and private sectors. Some typical job titles include the following:

  • Advanced clinician
  • Occupational therapy manager
  • Occupational therapist (private practice)

Ph.D. program graduates typically work in academic roles. Such jobs include the following:

  • University professor
  • Community educator
  • Researcher
  • Occupational therapy scholar

Students who are interested in becoming an occupational therapist can obtain master and doctorate level degrees. Once students finish their programs, they can go on to be licensed and then work in settings such as hospitals, outpatient clinics and mental health care facilities.

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