One Step at a Time: 9 Reasons to Earn Your Master's in Occupational Therapy
March 10, 2021
Change lives, take names.
Ninety-year-old Barbara Beskind is the oldest employee at IDEO, the company famous for creating Apple’s first mouse. But that doesn’t mean she isn’t an innovator like the rest of the firm’s forward-looking employees. Drawing on her long career in occupational therapy, Beskind helps younger designers understand the usability issues that new inventions might present to older users, who have less flexibility in their joints and less experience manipulating electronics.
As is the case with Beskind’s role at IDEO, a career in occupational therapy (OT) draws on extensive knowledge of physical and mental functions to help people in new and interesting ways. Occupational therapists are dedicated to assisting patients with injuries, illnesses, disabilities, and other physical challenges gain the strength and dexterity they need to live full lives. And their focus on usability puts them in a good position to advise companies and organizations on products and services that are accessible to people with limitations and differences of all kinds.
But the satisfaction of helping people isn’t the only appealing things about this work. OT careers offer flexibility, faster-than-average employment growth, and good compensation. It’s no surprise that U.S. News & World Report places occupational therapist at #13 in its 100 Best Jobs ranking and includes it in its list of "the best medical jobs that don't require medical school."
There are plenty of good reasons to pursue a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) degree in graduate school. Here are 9 of the best ones.
1. If you want to become licensed, you need this degree. In many states, becoming a licensed OT requires the completion of an MOT. While occupational therapy assistants can enter the field with only associate’s or bachelor's degrees, you'll need to complete a master's degree program and a certification examination in order to take charge of the therapeutic process.
2. An MOT will prepare you for an in-demand career. With 4 million new jobs anticipated by 2026, healthcare is a fast growing field. As a specialty within the healthcare arena, occupational therapy is growing even faster. Job prospects in OT are expected to increase by 24 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is well above the 7 percent average growth for all jobs in the country. Occupational therapy services are in high demand; with an MOT, you'll be prepared to advance within this allied health profession.
3. You'll gain valuable real-world experience in a graduate OT program. Before entering the workforce as a licensed professional, you will need to take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam. Your MOT will prepare you to excel on the NBCOT-OTR exam by combining academic study of anatomy and physiology with evidence-based practice and clinical experience. Your master's will include fieldwork requirements, and hands-on learning will be at the core of many of your courses. By the end of your degree, you will have the practical knowledge to build a bridge into the profession.
4. Occupational therapy students can look forward to good earnings after school. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, median pay for licensed occupational therapists is $84,270 per year, which equates to roughly $40 per hour. If you take on overtime, or extra work on holidays, the hourly rate may be almost double your regular pay. MOT courses are challenging, and the required NBCOT exam is rigorous, but the return on investment is strong for occupational therapy professionals.
5. With a master's in this field, you can find work in many different settings. The hands-on experience of your occupational therapy program will prepare you to contribute to health and well-being in a range of institutions and environments, including in hospitals, schools, rehabilitation centers, physicians’ offices, long-term care facilities, and even patients' residences. You may also find work in government, medical administration, or academia.
6. No matter where you live, you can benefit from a degree in occupational therapy. OT jobs are so plentiful that you probably won’t need to relocate to find employment after earning your master's. But if you’re interested in traveling or living somewhere new, you'll have plenty of opportunities. Occupational therapists are needed everywhere; there's even a specific subset of OT—known as travel occupational therapy—in which therapists move around the country doing contracted work for a few months at a time.
7. As an occupational therapist, you'll have some control over your time. In many allied health professions, work-life balance is a bit of a unicorn. Not so for occupational therapy. Depending on where you work—in a hospital, clinic, long-term care facility, or private practice—there may be some flexibility built into your schedule. Part-time work may also be an option for you in the OT field, with many companies offering hourly pay rather than a salary.
8. There are many paths you can take after earning your licensure. Occupational therapists work in many different areas, from mental health services to providing for those with physical disabilities. Your job might involve helping children or geriatric patients, working with injured athletes, or assisting quadruple amputees. You can design your career to serve the population or challenge that is most interesting to you.
9. You'll spend your career helping people and making a long-term difference in their lives. Occupational therapists have a profound impact on their patients. Oftentimes, the work they perform will shape what a person is able to do for the rest of their lives. Whether you are re-teaching someone how to walk after they lost mobility in an accident, or helping design devices that will improve the lives of senior citizens, you will know that you are doing work that truly matters.
Like many other careers in the health sciences, occupational therapy is a vocation. If you've heard the call to this line of work, a master's will prepare you to become licensed, find a job, and start making a difference in people's lives. And if you are considering earning your master's, it's important to choose a program that has received a thumbs-up from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). This is a prerequisite to national certification through the NBCOT examination. To get started searching for schools, we recommend going to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) website. In addition to listing useful information about the industry, AOTA offers a school finder to help prospective MOTs select accredited programs.
As an entry-level credential in OT, an MOT is a must-have for a career in this field. You’ll learn essential skills, gain experience, and become qualified for high-paying and flexible jobs where you can spend your days helping others live their best lives.
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