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Occupational Therapists

At a Glance

  • Help people with disabilities live independently
  • Keep detailed records
  • Have a master's degree
  • Need to be licensed, certified, or registered
  • Work closely with patients and health care workers
  • May work part time or full time (most work full time)

Career summary

Occupational therapists help people learn or regain daily living or work skills.

Occupational therapists (OTs) help people who have mental, physical, or developmental disabilities. These disabilities are caused by birth defects, injuries, illnesses, or aging. Therapists help people develop, recover, or maintain their living and work skills.

When they get new patients, therapists read their medical charts to learn about their disability or illness. They meet with patients and observe their skills and abilities.

Occupational therapists write treatment plans that set specific goals for patients. They discuss their plans with other workers such as doctors, physical therapists, or social workers. They also train nurses and other health care staff in therapy techniques so they can help with the therapy.

Before therapy sessions, therapists gather and lay out the materials they will use. They may use items such as puzzles, scissors, or eating utensils. After sessions, they clean and repair the materials. If they need new or additional materials, therapists order them.

Therapists conduct many different activities with their patients. Some activities are designed to improve physical strength and coordination. Other activities are designed to improve vision, memory, or reasoning.

They teach some patients to use wheelchairs and other physical aids. Therapists may design or make special equipment that patients need at work or home. They also recommend ways for patients to change their homes to meet their needs.

Therapists may specialize in working with patients of a certain age or specific disability. This includes:

Some therapists help patients find and keep jobs. They arrange jobs, plan work activities, and follow patients' progress.

Therapists must keep accurate records of patient activities and progress. These records are needed for evaluating patients, billing, and reporting to doctors.

Occupational therapists often lead programs in schools, hospitals, community settings, and other institutions. Often these programs are designed to promote health and awareness of disabilities.

Occupational therapists are similar to physical therapists in that both types of workers are concerned with physical movement. However, occupational therapists are also concerned with psychological and social factors. They also work with people who have mental illnesses.

Related careers

This career is part of the Health Science cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to occupational therapists.

Common work activities

Occupational therapists perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, occupational therapists:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Occupational therapists frequently:

It is important for occupational therapists to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for occupational therapists to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Occupational therapists need to:


Reason and problem solve

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as an occupational therapist, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Occupational therapists are required to have a master's degree. Thus, you must complete a four-year bachelor's degree program and a two-year master's degree program. Your undergraduate degree does not have to be in occupational therapy. Many occupational therapists have a bachelor's degree in biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, or anatomy.

In these programs, you study anatomy, physiology, and medical terminology. You also learn occupational therapy skills. You also spend six months working with patients. An experienced occupational therapist supervises your work.

Work experience

Volunteer experience in hospitals or nursing homes is helpful when applying to college.

On-the-job training

Many employers offer short-term, on-the-job training to orient you to procedures and policies. This training usually lasts a month or less.

Military training

The military does not provide the initial training for occupational therapists. However, it can provide work experience.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum may be different from your state's graduation requirements.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers look for applicants who have patience and strong interpersonal skills. Patience is important because many clients may not show rapid progress. Therapists must be prepared for that challenge. In addition, therapists need understanding and compassion when dealing with clients facing health problems. Employers also look for creativity and imagination. They prefer applicants who can inspire trust and respect in their patients. Occupational therapists must be able to develop new activities to meet patient needs.


Volunteer work with the physically, emotionally, and mentally handicapped or elderly, especially in an occupational therapy clinic, is an excellent way to more fully understand the job's duties and responsibilities. Make arrangements to observe an occupational therapist where he or she works. Try to visit therapists in different work settings. Volunteer in an occupational therapy office as a receptionist to see what type of patients therapists see. Non-traditional settings may offer better job opportunities. Flexibility and the willingness to work on-call are important for workers new to the field.

Costs to workers

Most therapists join professional associations and pay annual dues.


Occupational therapists must be licensed by the Washington State Department of Health. Licensing requirements include:

For more information, contact:

Washington State Department of Health
Occupational Therapy Practice Board (external link)

PO Box 47877
Olympia, WA 98504-7865


Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


Statewide, occupational therapists working for public school districts average $56,246 per school year.

#Public school therapist is not a 12-month position.

#Updated DOP wage 08.16 sd; OSPI 4/11/16 lh & 4/3/17, 4/8/19 cj.

Occupational therapists (SOC 29-1122)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $26.38 $32.48 $38.61 $46.06 $53.24
Monthly $4,572 $5,629 $6,691 $7,982 $9,226
Yearly $54,880 $67,560 $80,300 $95,810 $110,740
    Bellingham Hourly $24.80 $32.41 $39.03 $48.92 $58.16
Monthly $4,298 $5,617 $6,764 $8,478 $10,079
Yearly $51,585 $67,419 $81,176 $101,751 $120,970
    Bremerton-Silverdale Hourly $27.36 $32.74 $39.60 $46.79 $51.78
Monthly $4,741 $5,674 $6,863 $8,109 $8,973
Yearly $56,899 $68,095 $82,369 $97,329 $107,705
    Clarkston-Lewiston Hourly $21.64 $24.96 $37.01 $45.45 $51.34
Monthly $3,750 $4,326 $6,414 $7,876 $8,897
Yearly $45,015 $51,908 $76,998 $94,523 $106,780
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $29.04 $34.15 $43.17 $52.90 $59.67
Monthly $5,033 $5,918 $7,481 $9,168 $10,341
Yearly $60,395 $71,039 $89,794 $110,021 $124,113
    Longview Hourly $28.13 $34.30 $41.92 $48.37 $55.44
Monthly $4,875 $5,944 $7,265 $8,383 $9,608
Yearly $58,504 $71,346 $87,188 $100,615 $115,314
    Mount Vernon-Anacortes Hourly $28.99 $35.83 $43.29 $49.33 $58.21
Monthly $5,024 $6,209 $7,502 $8,549 $10,088
Yearly $60,293 $74,534 $90,042 $102,608 $121,076
    Olympia-Tumwater Hourly $28.58 $36.10 $42.94 $47.57 $50.47
Monthly $4,953 $6,256 $7,442 $8,244 $8,746
Yearly $59,436 $75,091 $89,323 $98,958 $104,980
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $27.85 $33.59 $39.37 $46.81 $54.21
Monthly $4,826 $5,821 $6,823 $8,112 $9,395
Yearly $57,915 $69,879 $81,893 $97,358 $112,747
    Spokane-Spokane Valley Hourly $23.87 $28.99 $35.18 $40.97 $48.71
Monthly $4,137 $5,024 $6,097 $7,100 $8,441
Yearly $49,637 $60,299 $73,171 $85,209 $101,329
    Vancouver Hourly $32.56 $38.12 $44.84 $50.56 $58.90
Monthly $5,643 $6,606 $7,771 $8,762 $10,207
Yearly $67,726 $79,298 $93,258 $105,150 $122,515
    Wenatchee Hourly $32.23 $37.62 $44.40 $50.20 $57.88
Monthly $5,585 $6,520 $7,695 $8,700 $10,031
Yearly $67,031 $78,249 $92,359 $104,408 $120,384
    Yakima Hourly $19.22 $34.04 $43.28 $51.38 $59.24
Monthly $3,331 $5,899 $7,500 $8,904 $10,266
Yearly $39,985 $70,809 $90,020 $106,865 $123,220
United States Hourly $26.68 $33.06 $40.51 $48.50 $58.05
Monthly $4,624 $5,729 $7,020 $8,405 $10,060
Yearly $55,490 $68,760 $84,270 $100,890 $120,750

Pay varies by area of the country and by employer. Areas of the country with higher living costs usually pay higher salaries than other areas. Wages are also higher for therapists who work for nursing facilities than for those who work for hospitals or schools.

Occupational therapists who work full time usually receive benefits. These may include medical insurance, paid vacation, and sick leave.

Employment and outlook

State Outlook

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Occupational Therapists (SOC 29-1122)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 3,327 30.6% 16.1% 389
    Adams, Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan Counties 91 26.4% 13.4% 10
    Asotin, Columbia, Ferry, Garfield, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Walla Walla, and Whitman Counties 72 12.5% 8.6% 5
    Benton and Franklin Counties 57 21.1% 15.0% 5
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 97 15.5% 11.9% 8
    Clark, Cowlitz, and Wahkiakum Counties 177 15.3% 15.2% 14
    Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason, Pacific, and Thurston Counties 93 25.8% 14.1% 10
    Island, San Juan, Skagit, and Whatcom Counties 113 15.9% 14.6% 9
    King County 1,298 32.0% 19.6% 156
    Kittitas, Klickitat, Skamania, and Yakima Counties 58 22.4% 13.8% 6
    Pierce County 322 25.2% 15.2% 33
    Snohomish County 648 40.9% 12.4% 90
    Spokane County 293 20.1% 13.9% 27
United States 133,000 17.9% 5.2% 10,500

National employment

Occupational therapists who work in hospitals often work in rehabilitation departments.

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation will grow significantly. This is due to the increase in the aging population. Doctors can also save more seriously injured people, and these patients usually need extensive therapy. New federal health care laws will mean that more people have access to health care service such as occupational therapy.

Job prospects will be best in occupation therapy offices and other health care settings.

Other resources

National Association for Home Care & Hospice (external link)
228 Seventh Street SE
Washington, DC 20003
National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (external link)
One Bank Street, Suite 300
Gaithersburg, MD 20878
The Washington Occupational Therapy Association (external link)
1402 Auburn Way N, Suite 236
Auburn, WA 98002


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster