How Much Do Occupational Therapists Make?
- Occupational therapists earned a median salary of $85,570 in May 2021.
- Location, industry, and experience can impact salary expectations.
- Nevada reported the highest average occupational therapist salary.
- The home health services industry paid occupational therapists the most in May 2021.
Occupational therapy can help people overcome injury, disability, or illness. Occupational therapists work with patients of all ages, allowing them to adapt their environment or task to their needs.
Becoming an occupational therapist requires earning a graduate degree from an accredited program, passing a national certification exam, and obtaining a state license. Like many healthcare careers, students should attend an accredited program to ensure they meet licensing requirements. Advanced occupational therapy education, location, and professional credentials or specialization can increase occupational therapist salary expectations.
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What Is the Average Occupational Therapist Salary?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median occupational therapist salary in May 2021 was $85,570, though some industries offer much higher pay. This median salary exceeds the median salary for all occupations, which was $45,760 in 2021.
Occupational therapist salary often increases with experience. As of August 2022 Payscale data, entry-level licensed occupational therapists make an average of $34.80 per hour. Those with 5-9 years of experience earn an average of almost $39 per hour.
The occupational therapist's industry will also affect job opportunities and salary expectations. While healthcare practitioners' offices offer the most occupational therapist jobs, home healthcare services report the highest average salary of $102,640, as per BLS data.
Job Growth for Occupational Therapists
The BLS projects a 17% increase in occupational therapist jobs from 2020-2030, with about 10,100 job openings each year. Several factors drive the demand for more occupational therapists, including an aging population. The growth in the diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and a move toward holistic, non-invasive treatments to manage chronic conditions are also driving the field's growth.
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How Much Do Occupational Therapists Make By State?
Geographic location can impact occupational therapist salary expectations. Some states may find it challenging to meet the demand for occupational therapists. The cost of living can also lead to higher pay.
Nevada, California, and New Jersey offered high occupational therapist salaries in May 2021, according to the BLS. California and Texas also employ the most occupational therapists to serve their large populations. States in the western portion of the U.S. typically reported higher pay for occupational therapists than states in the Plains, the Midwest and the Southeast.
|State||Annual Mean Wage|
|District of Columbia||$90,150|
Where Can I Make the Most Money as an Occupational Therapist?
Highest-Paying States for Occupational Therapists
Nevada reported the highest average occupational therapist salary at $109,010 in May 2021. Neighboring California and nearby New Mexico also offered top pay. However, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Nevada reported a cost of living that's slightly higher than the U.S. average.
|State||Annual Mean Salary|
Highest-Paying Metropolitan Areas for Occupational Therapists
According to the BLS, the San Jose metropolitan area reported the highest average occupational therapist salary of $121,190 in May 2021. According to Payscale, the cost of living in San Jose is about 53% higher than the U.S. average. In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that San Jose had a median home value of $925,800 from 2016-2020.
|Metropolitan Area||Annual Mean Salary|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||$121,190|
|San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA||$113,210|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$113,190|
|Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA||$111,680|
|Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV||$110,640|
Highest-Paying Nonmetropolitan Areas for Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapist jobs in the north coast region of California offer the highest pay for nonmetropolitan areas. Occupational therapists here earned an average salary of $108,170 in May 2021, as per the BLS. However, housing and other expenses make California an expensive place to live. Other nonmetropolitan regions may offer a lower cost of living, especially in the Southeast or Midwest.
|Nonmetropolitan Area||Annual Mean Salary|
|North Coast Region of California||$108,170|
|North Valley-Northern Mountains Region of California||$105,810|
|Big Thicket Region of Texas||$99,280|
Highest-Paying Industries for Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapist jobs in the home healthcare services industry reported the highest average pay of $102,640 in May 2021, according to BLS data. Home health brings occupational therapy to the patient, requiring therapists to travel from place to place. Some occupational therapists may work in company management, earning an average salary of $100,700. Other therapists may work for specialty outpatient care centers, earning an average of $98,120, thanks to specialized experience or training.
|Industry||Annual Mean Salary|
|Home Healthcare Services||$102,640|
|Management of Companies and Enterprises||$100,700|
|Other Ambulatory Healthcare Services||$98,120|
|Child Day Care Services||$97,980|
|Continuing Care Retirement Communities and Assisted Living Facilities for the Elderly||$97,620|
How Can I Increase My Salary as an Occupational Therapist?
Choose a Specialty
An occupational therapist may consider specialty training and professional certification to increase their salary. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) offers gerontology, pediatrics, and physical rehabilitation certification.
While occupational therapists may seek electives in their specialty area in school, the AOTA does not require specific coursework. Instead, the organization looks at work experience related to the specialization. Much like state licensing, maintaining a professional credential requires continuing education courses.
Home health services, which pay the highest average occupational therapist salary, may prefer occupational therapists who specialize in gerontology. Schools, which pay an average occupational therapist salary of $78,480 as of May 2021, may prefer a pediatric certification.
Consider Travel Occupational Therapy
Like many medical professionals, many areas face a shortage of qualified occupational therapists for available jobs. Travel occupational therapists can help meet these critical needs. Travel occupational therapists often contract with a hospital, skilled nursing facility, or outpatient therapy provider for short-term assignments.
This option offers high earning potential, and some facilities may offer housing. Before practicing in a new state, occupational therapists must apply for a state license. Although, there are efforts to enact an interstate licensure compact, according to the AOTA.
Sometimes a move across a state line can increase salary potential. For example, Idaho reports an average occupational therapist salary of $80,760 in May 2021, as per the BLS, but the surrounding states all offer higher average salaries. Look for states with higher salaries, lower cost of living, low unemployment, and a growing population.
Most occupational therapists work in the offices of other health practitioners, such as a rehabilitation practice group. But this industry pays an average occupational therapist salary of $87,690 as of May 2021 BLS data. Home health occupational therapists earned an average of $102,640 the same year.
Frequently Asked Questions About Occupational Therapist Salary
Is becoming an occupational therapist worth it?
Yes. Becoming an occupational therapist requires many years of studying, taking exams, and earning state licensure. However, these medical professionals report high job satisfaction, according to a 2021 review, with growing job opportunities and an above-average salary. Many occupational therapists also find their work fulfilling as they help clients reach goals or overcome challenges.
Where do occupational therapists make the most money?
San Jose, California, offers the nation's highest average occupational therapist salary at $121,190 as of May 2021 BLS data. Several other California cities also report high average occupational therapist salaries compared to the state average. About 11,460 occupational therapists work in California.
Occupational therapists also make a lot of money in Nevada, specifically the Las Vegas area. According to the BLS, occupational therapist jobs in Las Vegas reported an average pay of $110,640 in May 2021.
Which occupational therapist jobs pay the most?
Occupational therapist jobs in home health services report the highest average pay among industries. Other top-paying industries include management of companies, other outpatient healthcare services, and child day care services.
Health practitioner offices employ the most occupational therapists, with 34,380 occupational therapist jobs as of May 2021 BLS data. These offices include physician groups, rehabilitation practices, and behavioral health facilities.
How can an occupational therapist make more money?
Occupational therapists can increase their salary by gaining more experience, advancing their education, or specializing in a high-need service, such as autism interventions or gerontology. Occupational therapists can pursue professional credentials in pediatrics, gerontology, or physical rehabilitation.
Moving to an area with higher pay can also increase earning potential. Look for areas with high salaries, high job growth, and low cost of living. Occupational therapists can also find jobs in new industries that pay higher salaries, like home health services.
What is the highest salary an occupational therapist can make?
According to the BLS, top-earning occupational therapists reported salaries greater than $123,840 in May 2021. The lowest occupational therapist salaries were less than $60,680.
Higher salaries typically go to occupational therapists with more experience. While Payscale reported an average entry-level salary of about $72,380 per year as of August 2022 for licensed occupational therapists, those with 20 or more years of experience earned an average of about $93,600 per year.