By Diane Turner
An occupational therapist is responsible for treating any disabilities, illnesses or injuries that will impair a patient’s ability to perform everyday activities. They will help the patient recover from these issues and develop or improve their skills so they can live and work in an environment that is as normal as possible.
Occupational therapists are responsible for observing the patient performing tasks, reviewing the patient’s medical history and asking the patient questions to help determine the best course of treatment. They will then create a unique treatment plan for the patient that includes specific goals that must be reached and in some cases a deadline for reaching them. Those that provide home care will help these individuals perform difficult tasks. They may demonstrate stretches or other exercise that can help those with chronic conditions or pain relief some of their discomfort.
The salary for an occupational therapist may be higher due to the increased responsibility here. These individuals will be responsible for identifying how these areas can be altered to better suit the patient’s needs. They can recommend equipment such as wheelchairs or specialized keyboards that can be used to help the patient adjust. The therapist will then evaluate the patient’s progress with these tools and report progress to their regular physician so appropriate follow-up care can be administered as necessary.
The average salary of an occupational therapist tends to be larger than similar occupations given the advanced educational levels necessary to enter the field. Most positions require these individuals to earn a master’s degree. Programs in occupational therapy are available in many schools. Some also offer doctoral programs in this science. In addition to this coursework, individuals that are working in this field will also need to pass an exam from the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists. They will then need to follow up with any licensing procedures that are necessary to enter the field in their state.
Occupational Therapist Average Salary
The average physical therapist salary is $76,400, but a wide variety of factors may influence what an individual in this field will make. Experience, specialty of their degree, the area where they work and the industry where they are employed can all have a distinct effect on the final salary an occupational therapist can expect to earn.
Occupational Therapist Salary Factors and Influences
One of the biggest influences on the salary of an occupational therapist is the industry where these professionals are employed. Areas that receive more funding tend to offer more competitive salaries than those that are working on a tighter budget. Notice the trend in the highest employers of occupational therapists below.
Offices of Other Health Practitioners Average Salary: $77,570
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals Average Salary: $75,510
Elementary and Secondary Schools Average Salary: $68,440
Nursing Care Facilities Average Salary: $83,180
Home Health Care Services Average Salary: $86,850
Most of these institutions are required by federal law to offer occupational therapy to their patients or students. This means they are more likely to have a larger staff of these individuals at their disposal, which can drive down the salary. Fortunately, these areas also receive a healthy budget from the government to cover these needs, so in most cases wages will actually hold steady. Now, let’s compare these salaries to the salary for an occupational therapist in areas with the highest wages in the industry.
Home Health Care Services Average Salary: $86,850
Nursing Care Facilities Average Salary: $83,180
Management, Scientific and Technical Consulting Services Average Salary: $83,050
Employment Services Average Salary: $81,830
Insurance Carriers Average Salary: $79,560
While there is some overlap, these industries tend to be based more in offering therapy to employees rather than students or those with a medical need. These industries are not so much concerned with providing mandatory care but with providing care that will get their employees back to work as quickly as possible, making the industry a higher profit.
The area where the therapist is employed will also play a large role in the occupational therapist average salary. Several metropolitan areas are known for being the highest paying in the industry.
Las Vegas-Paradise, NV Average Salary: $109,880
Elizabethtown, KY Average Salary: $109,150
Sherman-Denison, TX Average Salary: $99,860
Stockton, CA Average Salary: $99,190
Carson City, NV Average Salary: $98,690
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL Average Salary: $96,800
Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX Average Salary: $92,810
Tampa St.-Petersburg-Clearwater, FL Average Salary: $91,820
Huntington-Ashland, WV Average Salary: $91,750
Visalia-Porterville, CA Average Salary: $91,510
These areas tend to be centered in states that are known for providing larger wages for the industry as a whole. These areas have a high demand for health care, either due to the increased risk of injury at employment venues or the advanced age of their population.
Unlike many other careers in the medical industry, the average occupational therapist salary does not see a drastic decrease when moving out into the nonmetropolitan sector. These industries have a high demand due to the increasing age of the population, which makes it imperative that many communities have access to the type of care that will help manage these issues. For the sake of comparison, note the salaries offered by the top paying nonmetropolitan areas in the country.
Northeast Florida Average Salary: $99,310
Eastern New Mexico Average Salary: $96,470
Northwestern Texas Average Salary: $96,460
Southwestern Oklahoma Average Salary: $93,750
Southside Virginia Average Salary: $89,680
Occupational Therapist Salary Compared To Related Fields
An occupational therapist can expect to earn a higher salary than many other similar fields that teach patients physical skills.
Average Salary for an Occupational Therapist:$76,400
Average Salary for Recreational Therapists: $39,410
Average Salary for Physical Therapists: $76,310
Average Salary for Athletic Trainers: $41,600
Average Salary for Respiratory Therapists: $54,280
Much of what drives up the value of an occupational therapist’s salary is the advanced education associated with this field. Many other fields that help patients learn physical skills require an associate’s or master’s degree. Physical therapists and occupational therapists, on the other hand, require a very specialized degree, making these positions more valuable.
Occupational Therapist Salary by State
The average salary for an occupational therapist can vary greatly from state to state. Knowing these differences before beginning the educational process can help those working in this field find an appropriate location to begin work. To start, take note of the highest paying states that offer positions to occupational therapists.
Occupational Therapist Salary in Nevada: $105,290
Occupational Therapist Salary in New Jersey: $86,680
Occupational Therapist Salary in California: $86,380
Occupational Therapist Salary in District of Colombia: $85,260
Occupational Therapist Salary in Texas: $84,810
These states vary in size, but generally offer higher employment in health-related fields. The age and overall health of the citizens in these areas will play a large role in the type of employment available for those working in this industry. To compare, note the occupational therapist salary by state associated with areas that have the highest concentration of occupational therapists.
Average Salary in Maine: $66,370
Average Salary in Massachusetts: $74,450
Average Salary in Colorado: $75,680
Average Salary in Connecticut: $83,640
Average Salary in New Hampshire: $65,980
These states noticeably have a smaller population than those that are listed above. These states also have populations that tend to be centered on a few large cities with smaller pockets of their population spread through the remainder of the state. The average occupational therapist salary in areas with a high concentration of people tends to be lower because there is increased competition for those working in the field.
Occupational Therapist Types of Salaries
Occupational Therapist:Average Salary: $76,004
An occupational therapist is responsible for planning and implementing occupational therapy programs that will help patients regain, maintain or develop the necessary skills to perform regular daily activities. They may be asked to teach certain skills or help patients develop new techniques that will make it easier for them to participate in daily life. They will also be responsible for recording the patient’s activities and their progress for others in their life so therapy can continue in a variety of settings.
Home Care Occupational Therapist: Average Salary: $69,785
Occupational therapists working in a patient’s home will evaluate the environment and help the patient develop a personalized treatment plan that will allow them to regain, maintain or develop the ability to perform regular daily activities in this space. This may include teaching the patient new technique or how to use specific equipment that will assist with these activities. The therapist will also evaluate and record the patient’s activities and progress for other medical professionals.
Nursing Home Occupational Therapist:Average Salary: $71,721
Occupational therapists in a nursing home setting will plan and conduct personalized therapy programs that will help individual patients maintain their quality of life and perform daily activities to the best of their ability. This may include teaching techniques or skills or helping patients learn to use equipment that will help them manage their lives more efficiently. Throughout the process the therapist will record the patient’s progress and activities while evaluating their success.
Certified Nursing Home Occupational Therapist Assistant: Average Salary: $52,593
Occupational therapy assistants working in a nursing home setting will help the occupational therapist with any rehabilitative duties necessary to help with their emotional and physical impairments. They must be equipped to perform any necessary clerical duties that the department may require as well. These positions require individuals to earn an associate’s degree and pass the national Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant exam.
Occupational Medicine Director:Average Salary: $95,824
The director will be in charge of all staff and the occupational medical programs for the department. This will include introducing and developing any guidelines or standards that occupational medicine programs will need to follow. They will maintain an active relationship with any necessary local industries to ensure that the program has access to any necessary tools to continue applying therapy as needed.
Occupational Therapy Supervisor:Average Salary: $84,830
Supervisors will be called on to deliver programs on occupational therapy to patient. This will include both providing guidance and evaluating the performance of the staff in a particular facility. This position requires individuals to earn a bachelor’s degree as well as 3-5 years of experience in this or a related field.
History of Occupational Therapists
Occupational therapy has been considered a profession since 1917 when the Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy was founded. Today this organization is known as The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. This society was founded to help support institutions that managed mental illness throughout the United States and to help manage outbreaks of major diseases such as polio, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS that had a dramatic impact on the lives and functionality of those that were exposed to them.
A notable increase in the availability of occupational therapists was seen in 1975 when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act was passed, requiring all public schools to provide therapy for students with disabilities. At the time these individuals were only required to hold a bachelor’s degree to work in the field. By the 1990s this requirement was expanded to a master’s degree as well as accreditation from The Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. Master’s programs specifically teaching occupational science are now available to help those interested in the program help prepare for the challenges ahead.
Occupational Therapist Salary Outlook – Conclusion
The occupational therapist average salary is expected to increase in upcoming years. The field in general is expected to see a 33 percent increase by the year 2020. By comparison, the health diagnosing and treatment field in general is expected to see a 26 percent increase. This means that as many as 36,400 new jobs are expected to become available throughout this time period. Most of these positions will be in hospital or rehabilitation facilities. Those with a specialized education are expected to see more profit from this increase in position availability than those with a more generalized degree.
As the baby boomer population continues to age, they are more likely to develop conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or injuries that will make it necessary to receive occupational therapy. This may include learning to manage in a residential care facility or receiving the necessary training to continue to function in their home. The salary for an occupational therapist is continuing to increase as this demand increases. As this demand continues to grow, the availability of employment for individuals new to this field is expected to grow as well, with plenty of entry-level positions readily available.