Top 5 Questions and Answers About a Master’s in Occupational Therapy

GRADUATE STUDIES | 4 MIN READ

Illustration of an occupational therapist and a patient in a wheelchair. A master's in occupational therapy program can prepare you for a career in OT.

Health professionals in the field of occupational therapy teach their patients how to adapt to their environments. Meanwhile, they adapt, themselves: to new technology, evolving therapies and, usually, an ever-changing caseload of patients. It’s a challenging and rewarding field.

Let’s look at some common questions about a career in occupational therapy.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

Occupational therapy is a hands-on—and on-your-feet—practice. Occupational therapists often work in tandem with other health professionals, including physicians, nurses, physical therapists and speech-language pathologists.

The focus of occupational therapy is helping patients learn to manage everyday tasks, which could mean anything from getting dressed, brushing teeth, eating and drinking, throwing a ball, or typing. Then therapists develop a plan to assist their patients in accomplishing those tasks or find alternate methods of completing them.

OTs evaluate their patients’ strengths and weaknesses to determine action steps. They set goals with their patients and track their progress. They train patients in using assistive devices, whether that be something as simple as a grabber to help pick something off the ground, or as complex as a motorized wheelchair.

They help their patients learn, or relearn, skills: Buttoning a shirt, going up and down stairs, even flipping through a book.

Is Occupational Therapy a Dying Field?

No. It’s the opposite, actually. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field is expected to expand by 17% over the next decade, much faster than typical job growth. The agency predicts about 10,000 occupational therapy jobs to be open each year.

Much of this boom can be attributed to an aging population that wants to stay active in its later years. But early-intervention programs for preschool-aged children—and sometimes even younger—have also been fueling demand. Advances in technology add to the need for specialized services.

How Hard is Occupational Therapy School?

Rigorous is an appropriate word when it comes to the occupational therapy curriculum. Yes, you will be studying. You’ll be doing group research. And you’ll be participating in clinicals with OT professionals to gain hands-on experience.

But you’re not doing it alone. Your classmates and professors will be there to answer questions and form study groups, especially while tackling the heavy-duty science courses, covering research and theory, writing papers and taking exams.

So, yes, it’s hard. But it’s not impossible.

What Can I Do with a Master’s in Occupational Therapy?

Occupational therapists work with patients who have chronic medical conditions, sustained an injury or have a developmental disability or mental-health issue that makes everyday life difficult.

Occupational therapists can be found in a variety of settings. They interact with people of all ages, from infants to the elderly. They work in schools, clinics, vocational programs, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes and mental health facilities. Many are employed by hospitals or other large health centers.

A lot of occupational therapists keep a typical 9-to-5 schedule, but others work in settings that require evening or weekend shifts. In 2020, the median pay for occupational therapists topped $86,000, according to the BLS.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Occupational Therapy License in Illinois?

Most occupational therapists spend five to six years in school, earning their bachelor’s and master’s degrees (sometimes through a combined program).

In Illinois, occupational therapists must intern for six months in an occupational therapy setting under a licensed OT, pass a criminal background check and pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy exam, called the Occupational Therapist Registered exam.

Licensure has to be renewed every two years.

Study Occupational Therapy at Elmhurst University

A master’s degree in occupational therapy from Elmhurst University will prepare you for professional entry-level practice as an occupational therapist. Designed for students who are new to the field of OT, Elmhurst’s graduate program combines rigorous academic coursework with service learning, practical experience in the field, and collaborative research on campus.

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Sources

Illustration by Kingsley Nebechi
Posted May 17, 2022

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