Occupational Therapist Job Description and Duties

Find out what occupational therapy training and jobs are really like.

The Basics

What you'll do: Occupational therapists treat patients with injuries, illnesses or disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. You'll work with patients to develop, recover and improve the skills they need for daily working and living.

Where you'll work: Hospitals, clinics, public and private educational services, nursing care facilities, home health agencies, outpatient care services, community care centers, government agencies, private practice.

Degree you'll need to practice: Master's degree

Median annual salary: $75,400*

Job Environment

young worker in occupational therapy job

In an occupational therapy job, you will help patients with various disabilities—from decreased motor skills to short term memory loss—learn how to work around their limitations.

Occupational therapists see patients with a wide variety of challenges. Some patients need help with daily tasks such as getting dressed or cooking, while others need assistance improving less tangible skills such as decision-making and memory. An occupational therapy job provides wide exposure to different people, situations and issues that will tap into your compassion and creativity, making this a fulfilling career for those who are passionate about helping others.

You should be encouraging, patient, creative and adaptable, since every person, situation and work environment you encounter as an occupational therapist will be different. You'll need to adapt a patient's custom care and living environment to fit their unique needs.

Career Advancement

Although certification is voluntary, becoming certified as an occupational therapist shows a dedication and commitment to your work and will be attractive to potential employers. Passing the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists (NBCOT) exam will earn you the title of Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR). Licensing is required for therapists in all states; check with the state in which you plan to work.

As you gain experience as an occupational therapist, you can put your skills and knowledge to use in other industries. For instance, you may work with architects and contractors on how to improve building design and accessibility; or, you could consult with companies on ergonomic concerns for product construction. Related careers you may explore include physical and recreational therapy. 

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition; Occupational Therapists.  

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

Occupational Therapy Resources

Did You Know?

  • 52.1 million Americans—nearly 18 percent of the U.S. population—have at least one disability.
  • Twelve percent of the population, or 32.5 million people, have "severe" disabilities.
  • Disabilities are more common in women than in men.