Occupational Therapist Jobs: 10 Specialties to Consider

Learn more about how to become an occupational therapist. Discover occupational therapist specialties. Compare occupational therapist jobs by salary and outlook.

portrait of Whitney Sandoval
by Whitney Sandoval

Published September 9, 2022

Edited by Colin Weickmann
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Occupational Therapist Jobs: 10 Specialties to Consider
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For those interested in healthcare careers, occupational therapy can offer an exciting role in helping promote wellness and daily living with a diverse population of people. Occupational therapists work with clients to improve their strength, function, and independence. Work environments can vary from schools to hospitals to in-home services.

What is the difference between physical therapy and occupational therapy? Physical therapy deals with gross motor skills, whereas occupational therapy focuses on fine motor capabilities. Occupational therapists must be caring, empathetic, and enthusiastic to support their clients through challenging and sometimes emotional tasks.

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How to Become an Occupational Therapist

To become a practicing occupational therapist, you have to complete a master's in occupational therapy program and become licensed in the state you choose to practice in. Not many schools offer undergraduate programs in occupational therapy, but there is not a required bachelor's degree for admission into a master's program.

Students who will continue on to a master's in occupational therapy degree should consider majoring in a bachelor's degree related to the field, such as a bachelor's in exercise science or biology. Students who want to teach in higher education or take on research roles may need to complete a doctorate in occupational therapy.

Through your coursework, you may complete practicum work and have the opportunity to apply for internships. These experiences will prepare you for a future career in occupational therapy. Another option is to seek employment as an occupational therapist assistant to gain experience and make connections.

As part of your degree program, you will fulfill the requirements for state licensure, and the coursework will help prepare you to take an occupational therapist licensing exam. Additional certificates and continuing education credits are also available and may be a requirement for renewing your license.

10 Types of Occupational Therapist Specialities

Gerontology

  • Annual Median Salary (2021): $95,310
  • Licenses/Certifications: Along with the required licensure for occupational therapists, those who specialize in gerontology can pursue a certificate in gerontology or board certification through an independent organization. However, no specific requirements exist.

OTs interested in gerontology can pursue an OT degree or a master's in gerontology. Many colleges offer gerontology certificate programs, too. OTs specializing in gerontology work with aging populations to maintain patients' strength and flexibility. These OTs can work in nursing care facilities, hospitals, or patients' homes.


Pediatrics

  • Annual Median Salary (2021): $85,570
  • Licenses/Certifications: No additional certificates or licenses are required beyond those of all OTs.

Pediatric medicine focuses on children's health. Pediatric OTs work in schools, hospitals, and private settings to help kids with physical and sensory needs. Pediatric OTs highlight functional skills like zipping, buttoning, and holding pencils often through play activities and creative lessons.


Mental Health

  • Annual Average Salary (2022): $64,150
  • Licenses/Certifications: No set standard exists, but OTs specializing in mental health often earn a Certified Psychiatric Rehabilitation Practitioner certification along with their OT licensure.

OTs with a passion for psychology can specialize in mental health. Mental health OTs address a patient's emotional well-being and how making adjustments to their routines or lifestyles can improve their mental health. Interventions may include establishing routines for physical care, cooking therapy, and sensory techniques to calm the nervous system.


Physical Rehabilitation

  • Annual Median Salary (2021): $85,570
  • Licenses/Certifications: An optional certificate is in the works, but currently no certification or licensure is required beyond OT licensure.

Working with people who have experienced injury, disease, or surgery, physical rehabilitation OTs assist patients with performing everyday tasks and normal routines after their diagnosis or procedure. Physical rehabilitation OTs may work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, or private agencies.


Driving and Community Therapy

  • Annual Average Salary (2022): $58,560
  • Licenses/Certifications: Certification is provided by the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists.

Driving and community therapy OTs work with everyone from pre-drivers to those who are aging out of driving. These OTs may assist with using maps, pedestrian safety, calm driving techniques, and utilizing public transportation. Work environments may include outside, in cars, or in various forms of public transportation.


Environmental Modification

  • Annual Median Salary (2021): $85,570
  • Licenses/Certifications: Optional certifications and continuing education credits exist, but the only requirement is OT licensure.

Environmental modification is the skill of assessing an environment, whether it be a home, building, or workspace, and determining changes to make that space more accessible. Environmental modification OTs work with patients to assess and change their homes to maximize patient safety, independence, and usage.


Hand Therapy

  • Annual Average Salary (2022): $73,760
  • Licenses/Certifications: Although not required, licensed OTs can pursue a certificate to become a Certified Hand Therapist.

Focusing on the arm, from the shoulder to the fingertips, hand therapist OTs provide rehabilitation and management care for people with injuries or diseases that affect their upper body. Hand therapy OTs may work in hospitals or rehabilitation centers. Patients may have had strokes, developed arthritis, or experienced an injury.


Brain Injury

  • Annual Average Salary (2022): $75,000
  • Licenses/Certifications: No certifications are required beyond OT licensure.

Those who experience a brain injury may have difficulties with memory, setting routines, and independent living. OTs who specialize in brain injury can help clients with cognitive tasks, mood management, and modifying living space to maximize independence. Typically, brain injury OTs work in a client's home or a residential facility setting.


Autism

  • Annual Average Salary (2022): $63,500
  • Licenses/Certifications: Having certificates from recognized organizations in the field of autism may be beneficial for finding a position, but no requirements exist beyond the OT licensure.

OTs focusing on people with autism work as part of a team to help their clients build physical strength and fine motor skills, regulate emotions, and explore sensory-seeking activities. Autism specialist OTs may work for centers that specialize in autism, in private practices, or at schools.


Seating and Mobility

  • Annual Average Salary (2022): $60,000
  • Licenses/Certifications: Although certification is not required, interested OTs can earn their Seating and Mobility Specialist Certification in addition to their OT license.

Seating and mobility OTs work with people in wheelchairs or scooters to increase patients' safety and access to their environments. OTs with this specialty can help position the wheelchairs and add modifications or devices to maximize their clients' independence and mobility.

Occupational Therapist Salary

A career in OT offers a competitive salary. However, an occupational therapist's salary depends on many factors, including years of experience, level of education, and setting. For instance, an OT working for a school district generally makes less than an OT working for a private practice.

According to Payscale, entry-level OTs earned between $52,000-$87,000 in 2022, whereas more experienced OTs can make $99,000 annually.

How to Find an Occupational Therapist Job

Taking advantage of internships and building connections with professors and alumni services at your school can help you land a job after college. You can also check with your college's career services department for additional resources like job fairs.

While job fairs can help you network with a large variety of employers, combing through the best job search sites can provide many job leads. You can also find positions listed on many professional organizations' websites, like the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) career page.

Occupational Therapist Professional Organizations

American Occupational Therapy Association: Licensed OTs, OT assistants, and OT students can access the resources and research available at AOTA. AOTA also offers an expansive selection of OT courses and certifications.

American Occupational Therapy Foundation: Along with publishing a quarterly journal, AOTF spearheads research in OT and aims to increase public knowledge of the role and benefits of OT.

National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy: NBCOT is a nonprofit that establishes the credentials for OT certification and grants certification to OTs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Occupational Therapist Jobs

What type of occupational therapist gets paid the most?

According to the BLS, OTs who work in home healthcare get paid the most. The annual mean wage of home health care OTs was $102,640 in 2021. Home healthcare OTs typically work for private agencies in their clients' homes.

The second highest-paying OT position was in nursing care facilities. In 2021, OTs working in nursing care facilities earned a mean annual wage of $96,320. These OTs may work for the nursing care facility or a private company that contracts with these nursing homes.

What occupational therapist specialty is the most popular?

Several OT specialties are popular, including mental health, physical rehabilitation, and pediatrics. However, one specialty that is projected to experience a huge demand is geriatric OT. Because the aging population is growing, the need for OTs to work with older folks is also expected to grow.

Although some specialties are more popular, the BLS reports that the highest number of OTs are employed in private offices.

Can I become an occupational therapist with an online degree?

Earning a degree online is a legitimate way to complete your college program. Universities across the country offer degrees in occupational therapy as well as continuing education credits and certificate programs.

Because occupational therapy is a hands-on profession, you may be required to complete practicum hours or an internship in person. If you attend an online school outside of your state of residence, you may need to complete additional requirements to become certified in your state.

How much money can I make as an occupational therapist?

The amount of money you can make as an OT depends on many factors, including where you live, your experience, and your working environment. The median salary for all OTs was $85,570 in 2021, according to the BLS. However, pay varied greatly depending on the industry.

For instance, OTs working in elementary and secondary schools earned an annual mean wage of $78,480, while OTs working in specialty hospitals made an annual mean wage of $94,420.

What is the fastest way to become an occupational therapist?

Becoming an OT requires the completion of a master's degree as well as state licensure. You Can earn college credits while in high school or pursue an accelerated degree program to finish your bachelor's degree faster. However, you will still need a master's in occupational therapy.

A few colleges in the U.S. offer OT bridge programs. These programs allow occupational therapist assistants to complete their master's in occupational therapy. Some allow candidates to pursue their master's degree with only 84 undergraduate credits.

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