Heather Ruthrauff, the clinical practice coordinator for occupational therapy at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia,
gets is required to spend time in the swimming pool. For work. As in, splashing around with kids is among Ruthrauff’s many job responsibilities as co-leader of the Trisomy 21 Program’s Pool Group, one of the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital’s therapeutic interventions for children with Down syndrome.
Last summer she could be found in the pool with two-year-old patients with sensory problems and hypotonia, a condition that causes low muscle mass. In the Pool Group, children build muscle tone, grow comfortable with being in the water, and gain social confidence.
The program also helps their parents, not least because of the expert support provided by Ruthrauff and her colleague, physical therapist Helen Milligan.
“Talking with Helen and Heather and listening to their perspective on my daughter’s progress has helped me to be a better and more informed advocate for my daughter when I talk with her Early Intervention team,” says Lynne Eddis, a parent whose child participates in the group.
Ruthrauff’s training at Ithaca College’s Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MOT) program makes it possible for her to take on the dynamic work of helping kids and their parents with daily life.
Beyond satisfaction, those working in occupational therapy (OT) also benefit from high compensation, flexibility, and job security. U.S. News & World Report calls occupational therapy one of “the best medical jobs that don’t require medical school” and ranks it 13th among the 100 Best Jobs. But those are just a few reasons to pursue a Master of Occupational Therapy degree.
An occupational therapy masters program trains students to work as occupational therapists as they gain skills that can be applied in a range of roles across healthcare, from mental health to rehabilitation. MOT courses include human anatomy and development, research, and therapeutic activities, among others, as well as a professional practicum to gain hands-on experience.
Successful completion of an OT graduate degree program is required to gain licensure in many states. The degree typically takes two years to complete, and may be earned through a part online, part on-campus format.
It’s important to find an MOT degree at a university that is certified by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), which ensures the program has met certain standards touching the admissions process, facility reputation, and overall educational quality. Graduates of accredited programs are also more likely to have theirs degrees recognized by employers.
An OT master’s program is a good choice for those who want to be involved in treating patients in a clinical environment but choose not to pursue a medical or nursing degree. Many who enter MOT programs have an educational or professional background in related fields like rehabilitation, physical therapy, or physical education.
MOT programs require applicants to have at least a baccalaureate degree from a reputable university. Along with a bachelor’s degree, some schools require a GRE score, OT work experience, and/or the completion of (an extensive) list of college-level prerequisite courses in statistics, psychology, and human anatomy, among other subjects.
With the health and wellness job market of growing by the day, occupational therapy careers are growing in number—and variety. Here’s what you can do with this degree:
Occupational therapist: Occupational therapists work with patients of all ages suffering from injury or disease to establish or restore daily functions, like eating, getting dressed, or walking. Professionals in this role must become certified through an examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). Those looking to gain more experience for this position are likely to first spend time in an occupational therapy assistant role.
Occupational therapists are well-paid, with a median salary clocking in around $84,270 per year for those with national certification. The field is growing quickly, with the number of professional OTs increasing 24 percent between 2016 and 2026, more than three times as fast as the typical U.S. occupation.
Occupational therapy recruiter: Given the occupational therapy training that comes with MOT programs, degree holders fully understand the skill set needed for a position in occupational therapy, as well as how those skills can be applied to a variety of situations on the job. OT recruiters typically spend their days designing job descriptions, talking with candidates, and consulting with healthcare institutions about potential hires. It’s an OT-oriented role that’s ideal for those who aren’t interested in clinical practice but who still want to make a positive impact in the field of wellness rehabilitation.
OT recruiters fall into the category of human resource specialists, an occupation with a median salary of $60,880 per year. It’s a category that’s growing at a rate on par with average U.S. job markets, likely to increase 7 percent between 2016 and 2026.
Health educator or wellness coach: MOT programs delve into many areas of health and well-being, preparing graduates to design careers focused on helping others live healthier, happier lives. Health educators work in a variety of environments, from government agencies to healthcare institutions. Wellness coaches, on the other hand, may find work in corporate wellness programs or open private practices with individual clients.
Health educators take home a median annual sum of $54,220, and up to $100,000 in certain circumstances. Wellness coaches earn an average of $18 an hour, though the earning potential can increase with bonuses, profit sharing, or work with private clients.
Usability specialist: OTs are experts at helping disabled or ill people perform everyday tasks as independently as possible. They’re likely to succeed in a variety of consulting roles advising on issues of issues of occupational performance, workplace safety, usability, and accessibility within public space. One of the most prominent career paths within this specialization is user experience/user interface (UX/UI) design for computer applications. These professionals may work on staff for organizations, as part of a consulting group, or on their own as a private consultant.
Usability specialists can expect an average salary of $70,654 per year. OTs who want to work in UX/UI for tech will likely need extra web design training. But the incentive is there. With the rapid growth of the tech industry, web designers—including UX specialists—are in high demand.
Rehab liaison: Also known as as intake coordinators or intake liaisons, rehab liaisons use their OT skills and hands-on training to consult with and assess the needs of patients and from there, matching each with the most suitable inpatient rehab facilities.
It’s a role that pulls in almost $60,000 a year on average, which may increase with bonuses and profit-sharing. The job outlook for medical and health services managers, the umbrella grouping for such medical administration work, is very strong. The field is slated to grow 20 percent between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average occupation.
While an MOT degree opens doors to work as a clinical occupational therapist, and includes certification prep, it also sets you up to pursue job options in areas ranging from human resources to administration, and even web design. Think of it as the foundation for a career spent impacting people every day—and improving their quality of life in the most basic and fundamental way.
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