Becoming an Occupational Therapist: A Comprehensive Guide

I. Introduction

Occupational therapy is a healthcare profession that focuses on helping people with disabilities or injuries to improve their ability to perform daily tasks. Occupational therapists work with people of all ages and backgrounds to achieve their goals, whether that means learning a new skill, returning to work, or engaging in hobbies they enjoy. If you’re looking for an opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives, becoming an occupational therapist may be the right path for you.

In this article, we’ll provide a comprehensive guide to becoming an occupational therapist, including the education and certification requirements, career path opportunities, tips for success, and insights from established professionals and current students.

II. Ten Steps to Becoming an Occupational Therapist

Step 1: Research the Profession

The first step in becoming an occupational therapist is to research the profession thoroughly. This may include speaking to current occupational therapy professionals, shadowing or volunteering in a healthcare setting, familiarizing yourself with the education and certification requirements, and learning about the various career opportunities that are available to occupational therapists.

Step 2: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

The next step is to obtain a bachelor’s degree, preferably in fields such as biology, psychology, sociology, or kinesiology. While any major can lead to a career in occupational therapy, it’s recommended to focus on subjects that have a strong emphasis on biology and human anatomy.

Step 3: Gain Clinical Observation Experience

Most occupational therapy programs require applicants to have clinical observation experience under the supervision of a licensed occupational therapist. As such, it’s important to seek out opportunities to shadow or volunteer in healthcare settings, such as hospitals, clinics, or rehabilitation facilities.

Step 4: Apply to an Occupational Therapy Program

Once you’ve completed your bachelor’s degree and clinical observation experience, the next step is to apply to an accredited occupational therapy program. Some programs may require additional prerequisite courses or a minimum GPA, so it’s important to review the admission requirements carefully.

Step 5: Complete a Master’s or Doctoral Degree in Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy programs typically require completion of a master’s or doctoral degree in occupational therapy. These programs prepare students for their careers by providing coursework in anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, medical conditions, and therapeutic techniques.

Step 6: Complete Clinical Fieldwork Requirements

After completing coursework, occupational therapy students must complete a certain number of hours of clinical fieldwork under the supervision of a licensed occupational therapist. This experience helps students to refine their skills and gain hands-on experience in different healthcare settings.

Step 7: Pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) Exam

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) certification exam must be passed in order to become a licensed occupational therapist. This exam tests the applicant’s knowledge in areas such as occupational therapy theories and interventions, assessment and evaluation techniques, and healthcare ethics and standards.

Step 8: Obtain State Licensure

After passing the NBCOT exam, the next step is to obtain a license to practice occupational therapy in your state. Each state has its own licensure requirements, so it’s important to research these requirements thoroughly before applying.

Step 9: Consider Additional Specialty Certifications

Occupational therapists may choose to pursue additional specialty certifications in areas such as gerontology, pediatrics, or mental health. These certifications can help occupational therapists to specialize in certain areas and improve their job opportunities.

Step 10: Continue Professional Development

Finally, it’s important for occupational therapists to continue their professional development throughout their careers. This may include attending conferences, pursuing advanced certifications or degrees, or engaging in continuing education courses to stay up-to-date with the latest research and techniques in occupational therapy.

III. A Comprehensive Guide to Career Path Opportunities as an Occupational Therapist

One of the great things about becoming an occupational therapist is that there are many different career path opportunities available. Here’s an overview of the different occupational therapy specialties and work settings:


  • Pediatrics
  • Mental Health
  • Gerontology
  • Rehabilitation
  • Hand Therapy

Work Settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Schools
  • Outpatient Clinics
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities

Potential Employers:

  • Healthcare Facilities
  • Schools and School Districts
  • State and Federal Agencies
  • Inpatient and Outpatient Hospitals
  • Non-profit Organizations

IV. Building a Career in Occupational Therapy: Tips and Advice from Established Professionals

To gain some insight into what it takes to build a successful career in occupational therapy, we spoke to an established occupational therapist.

Interview with a Successful Occupational Therapist

What led you to pursue a career in occupational therapy?

“I’ve always been interested in healthcare and helping people, and occupational therapy seemed like the perfect fit for me. I like that it’s a holistic approach that focuses on helping people to regain their ability to do things they enjoy, rather than just treating symptoms.”

What advice would you give to someone considering a career in occupational therapy?

“I would encourage anyone who is interested in occupational therapy to get as much clinical observation experience as possible. This will help you to understand what the day-to-day work of an occupational therapist is like, and whether it’s the right fit for you. Additionally, it’s important to be patient and compassionate, as you’ll be working with people who may be struggling to overcome physical or mental barriers.”

Lessons Learned and Tips for Success

From our conversation with the occupational therapist, we learned that success in this field requires a combination of technical skills and personal qualities. Here are some tips for success in occupational therapy:

  • Be adaptable and willing to learn new techniques and technologies.
  • Have strong communication skills to listen to and speak effectively with patients and other healthcare providers.
  • Be patient, compassionate, and persistent in helping individuals achieve their goals.
  • Stay up-to-date with the latest research and techniques in occupational therapy, and be willing to pursue advanced certifications or degrees.

Mentoring Opportunities

If you’re looking for additional guidance and support as you build your career in occupational therapy, consider seeking out a mentor. You may be able to find a mentor through your occupational therapy program or professional organizations such as the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). A mentor can provide valuable insights, advice, and support as you navigate your career path.

V. What it Takes to Succeed in Occupational Therapy: An Insider’s Perspective

As important as it is to hear from established professionals, it can also be helpful to get insight from current occupational therapy students and recent graduates. We spoke to a few individuals to learn more about the challenges and rewards of the profession.

Interviews with Current Students and Recent Graduates

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your occupational therapy education and career?

“One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is learning how to balance the technical aspects of occupational therapy with the personal connections you build with patients. It’s important to understand the science behind the therapy, but it’s equally vital to be able to engage with patients, build trust and help them achieve their goals.”

What personality traits and skills do you think are most important for success in occupational therapy?

“I think having an open mind, being adaptable and committed to learning is very important, as occupational therapy is constantly evolving. You also need to be patient, empathetic, and compassionate. It’s also important to be able to work as part of a team.”

Insight on the Challenges of the Profession and How to Overcome Them

From our conversations with current students and recent graduates, we learned that challenges in occupational therapy can range from managing a high caseload to dealing with mental and emotional exhaustion. It’s important to build a support system, whether that’s through mentorship, peer support, or professional organizations.

It’s also important to remember the rewards of the profession. Many occupational therapists report feeling fulfilled and satisfied in their work and the personal connections they make with patients.

VI. Navigating the Educational Route Towards Becoming an Occupational Therapist

One of the biggest challenges in becoming an occupational therapist is navigating the educational requirements. Here’s an overview of what you’ll need to do to become an occupational therapist:

Education Requirements:

  • Bachelor’s degree in a related field
  • Master’s or doctoral degree in occupational therapy
  • Clinical fieldwork experience


  • Human anatomy and physiology
  • Psychology or sociology coursework
  • Basic statistics
  • GRE (Graduate Record Examination) scores

Common Challenges for Students:

  • Heavy coursework and clinical observation requirements
  • Competitive admission to occupational therapy programs
  • The financial cost of pursuing a graduate degree

Resources for Students:

  • American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
  • Occupational Therapy Centralized Application Service (OTCAS)
  • Financial aid and scholarship opportunities from universities and professional organizations

VII. Making a Difference in People’s Lives: How Occupational Therapy could be Your Dream Job

Finally, it’s important to consider the rewards of a career in occupational therapy. Not only can you make a real impact on people’s lives, but you can also find career satisfaction and fulfillment. Here are a few case studies that help demonstrate the impact of occupational therapy:

  • A child with Down Syndrome learns to dress herself independently with the help of occupational therapy techniques.
  • A stroke survivor is able to regain the use of his affected arm with rehabilitative occupational therapy.
  • A person with mental illness is able to return to work and participate in meaningful daily activities through the support of an occupational therapist.

If you’re considering a career in occupational therapy, we encourage you to reach out to professionals in the field, seek out clinical observation experience, and research educational programs thoroughly. With dedication, perseverance, and compassion, you can make a positive impact on people’s lives while building a fulfilling career for yourself.

VIII. Conclusion

We hope this comprehensive guide has been helpful in giving you an understanding of how to become an occupational therapist. With its diverse career path opportunities, chance to make a positive impact on people’s lives, and career satisfaction, becoming an occupational therapist could be the perfect fit for you. Remember to stay committed to your education, seek out professional development opportunities, build a support system, and continue to learn and grow throughout your career.

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