Occupational Therapist (OT)

  • Occupational Therapist (OT)

Work Activities/Work Locations

  • Occupational Therapists use therapeutic activities and programs to help individuals with disabling conditions to regain their abilities in the home and work environment. They assess, plan, organize, and participate in rehabilitative programs that allow an individual to learn the necessary skills to live an independent and productive lifestyle.
  • They work with individuals suffering from physical, emotional, psychological or a developmental disabling condition.
  • OTs not only help clients improve basic motor functions and reasoning abilities, but also compensate for permanent loss of function.
  • OTs assist clients in performing activities of all types, ranging from using a computer, to caring for daily needs such as dressing, cooking, and eating.
  • Physical exercises may be used to increase strength and dexterity, while paper and pencil exercises may be chosen to improve visual acuity and the ability to discern patterns.
  • A client with short-term memory loss, for instance, might be encouraged to make lists to aid recall. A person with coordination problems might be assigned exercises to improve hand-eye coordination.
  • OTs also use computer programs to help clients improve decision making, abstract reasoning, problem solving, and perceptual skills, as well as memory, sequencing, and coordination–all of which are important for independent living.
  • For those with permanent functional disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, OTs instruct in the use of adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs, splints, and aids for eating and dressing.
  • OTs develop computer-aided adaptive equipment and teach clients with severe limitations how to use it. This equipment enables clients to communicate better and to control other aspects of their environment.
  • Some OT’s treat individuals whose ability to function in a work environment has been impaired. These practitioners arrange employment, evaluate the work environment, plan work activities, and assess the client’s progress.
  • Therapists also may collaborate with the client and the employer to modify the work environment so that the work can be successfully completed.
  • Occupational therapy is also beneficial to the elderly population; because they help senior citizens lead more productive, active and independent lives through a variety of methods, including the use of adaptive equipment.
  • Most occupational therapists work in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, adult day care programs and home health agencies. A small number of occupational therapists are in private practice.
  • OTs may work exclusively with individuals in a particular age group, or with particular disabilities. In schools, for example, they evaluate children’s abilities, recommend and provide therapy, modify classroom equipment, and in general, help children participate as fully as possible in school programs and activities.
  • OTs in mental health settings treat individuals who are mentally ill, mentally retarded, or emotionally disturbed.
  • To treat these problems, therapists choose activities that help people learn to cope with daily life. Activities include time management skills, budgeting, shopping, homemaking, and use of public transportation.
  • They may also work with individuals who are dealing with alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, eating disorders, or stress related disorders.
  • Recording a client’s activities and progress is an important part of an OT’s job. Accurate records are essential for evaluating clients, billing, and reporting to physicians and others.

Advantages and Disadvantages

  • In large rehabilitation centers, therapists may work in spacious rooms equipped with machines, tools, and other devices generating noise.
  • Therapists are on their feet much of the time and face hazards such as back strain from lifting and moving clients and equipment.
  • Those providing home healthcare may spend time driving from appointment to appointment.
  • The baby-boom generation’s movement into middle age, a period when the incidence of heart attack and stroke increases, will increase the demand for therapeutic services.
  • Growth in the population 75 years and older—an age group that suffers from high incidences of disabling conditions—also will increase demand for therapeutic services.


Getting Started

  • A Master’s Degree or higher is the minimum educational requirement since 2007.
  • UW-LaCrosse has a graduate level program that takes 3 years, including summers. The applicant must have earned an undergraduate degree that includes specific prerequisite coursework with no grade below a C and no more than 2 courses with a C, have a minimum GPA of 3.0, and report a minimum of 10 hours of job shadowing with an OT.
  • Relevant undergraduate majors include Biology, Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Liberal Arts, and Anatomy.
  • All OT Programs have specific prerequisites. One should plan their undergraduate courses certain that their content qualifies at the schools you plan to apply to.
  • Prerequisites for UW-LaCrosse include: Anatomy & Physiology (6-8 credits); Physics (4); Human Development Across the Lifespan (3); Statistics or Principles of Research (3-4); Sociology or Anthropology (3); and Abnormal Psychology (3). See above for minimum grades.
  • Occupational Therapy coursework includes the physical, biological, and behavioral sciences and the application of occupational therapy theory and skills. Some of the courses offered the first year are: Human Physiology, Human Movement, Occupational Therapy Research, and Occupational Performance: Mental Illness. Second year students are introduced to more advanced courses such as: Impact of Psychosocial Issues on Occupation and Occupational Therapy Theory. Completion of 6 months of supervised fieldwork also is required.
  • Carroll University partners with UW-Milwaukee to offer a Program spending 2 years at Carroll and then 3 years at UW-Milwaukee to complete the Master’s in Occupational Therapy (MOT).

Educational Institutions

Carroll University
Mount Mary College
University of Wisconsin – La Crosse
University of Wisconsin – Madison
University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee


Pre-Professional Programs

Carroll University
Carthage College
Concordia University
Lawrence University
University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire
University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh
University of Wisconsin – Green Bay
University of Wisconsin – Platteville
University of Wisconsin – River Falls
University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point
University of Wisconsin – Stout
University of Wisconsin – Superior

  • All States regulate the practice of OT. To obtain a license, applicants must graduate from an accredited educational program AND pass a national certification examination.
  • Students graduating from an accredited program are eligible to sit for the National Certification examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).
  • Those who pass the exam are awarded the title “Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR)”.
  • State licenses are usually based on the results of the NBCOT Certification Examination and additional open-book testing on the state licensure law.
  • A Master’s Degree or higher is the minimum educational requirement. Helpful High School Courses & Experiences:
  • Students should take a college preparatory curriculum that includes advanced courses for honors students.
  • Helpful high school courses would include Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Health, Art, Anatomy and Physiology, Biotechnology, Foreign Language (minimum of two years), and Statistics and Probability.
  • School admissions offices also look favorably at paid or volunteer experience in the health care field.

American Occupational Therapy Association
4720 Montgomery Lane, Suite 200
Bethesda, MD, 20814-3449
301/652-6611 or 800/729-2682

American Occupational Therapy Foundation
4720 Montgomery Lane
Bethesda, MD, 20814
240/292-1079 or 800/729-2682

National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, Inc. (NBCOT)
12 South Summit Ave., Suite 100
Gaithersburg, MD, 20877-4150

Wisconsin Occupational Therapy Association
N83 W13410 Leon Rd.
Menomonee Falls, WI, 53051

Career Outlook

Number Employed in 2014 (Wisconsin): 3,010
Number Employed in 2014 (U.S.): 114,600
Expected Employment in 2024 (U.S.): 145,100
Percent Employment Growth (2014-2024): 43%
Expected Annual Openings: 5,260
Median Salary in 2014 (Wisconsin): $67,334

Salary information is located at Career One Stop

Wisconsin AHEC Health Careers Information Center provides the most current salary information available from CareerOneStop. CareerOneStop will have a lapse between when the information is gathered and when it is released.

  • Occupational therapists in hospitals and other health care and community settings usually work a 40-hour week.
  • Those in schools may participate in meetings and other activities during and after the school day.
  • Occupational Therapists also work part time.
  • May become supervisors of occupational therapy in hospitals or other health facilities.
  • Those with an advanced degree may teach occupational therapy education, conduct research, or enter private practice.