Occupational therapy is an area of healthcare concerned with helping people of all ages participate more fully in everyday activities of daily life despite having a limiting condition, injury, or illness. Common occupational therapist responsibilities include helping disabled children participate in school, helping injured adults regain everyday function, and helping elderly adults maximize their ability to function despite having physical or cognitive limitations, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).
Occupational therapy is a good fit for compassionate individuals who enjoy working with people and have a great deal of patience, as clients with severe limitations may progress slowly toward goals. Traditionally, occupational therapists have learned the profession through on-campus course work, but individuals now have the option of online degree programs for occupational therapy that allow them to complete the majority of their course work from the comfort of their homes. The best online degree programs in occupational therapy will be accredited by AOTA’s Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).
Online Associate Degree Programs for Occupational Therapy
While one cannot become an occupational therapist with only an associate degree, an online degree program at the associate degree level can prepare students for careers as occupational therapy assistants. Such programs are not commonly offered fully online, but may offer a limited number of courses in online format. Students take courses that introduce them to the OT profession and their potential role as an assistant, as well as courses in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, neurological disorders, musculoskeletal disorders, psychiatric disorders, and assessment skills. Students complete all lab requirements on campus, and conclude the program with a significant amount of field work to improve their hands-on skills in occupational therapy assisting.
Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs for Occupational Therapy
Online bachelor degree programs in occupational therapy are also uncommon, as most programs are offered in a traditional, campus-based format. However, some programs do offer a limited amount of courses online for added flexibility. Since one must have a master’s degree to become an occupational therapist, many students choose programs that allow them to earn a combined B.S./M.S. in Occupational Therapy, shortening the amount of time it takes to complete the education necessary to advance their career. Since a student’s undergraduate degree does not necessarily have to be in occupational therapy, students may major in a related area such as health sciences or psychology. The undergraduate courses in such programs emphasize the natural sciences, human sciences, psychology, liberal arts, and humanities, and provide a solid foundation for future graduate study in occupational therapy.
Online Master’s Degree Programs for Occupational Therapy
The master’s degree is the minimum degree level required to be an occupational therapist, and online masters degree programs in occupational therapy are available. As with most programs that train people to work with patients, the master’s in occupational therapy is delivered in hybrid format, requiring students to complete most of their course work online while requiring their occasional presence on campus, as well as their presence at approved OT sites for field work. For example, Shenandoah University’s hybrid program requires students to report to campus only one day each week for face-to-face interaction with their instructors. Courses in the university’s OT program include: Therapeutic Occupation, Occupation and Movement, Analysis of Health and Occupation, OT in Mental Health Practice, OT in Biomechanical and Neurological Practice, Scholarly Inquiry, Policy and Advocacy, and more. All master’s programs in occupational therapy will include field work where students get to shadow licensed occupational therapists and learn how to perform OT assessments and interventions in diverse settings.
Online Doctoral Degree Programs for Occupational Therapy
Online doctoral degrees in occupational therapy are considered post-professional degrees, and are a good fit for experienced occupational therapists who wish to transition into occupational therapy management or into careers as college professors, researchers, scholarly writers, or consultants. At the doctoral level, online college degree programs in occupational therapy are focused on cultivating skills in OT theory, research, and leadership. Course work varies by university, but as an example, Virginia Commonwealth University’s online occupational therapy doctorate includes courses like Evidence Bases for Occupational Therapy Practice, Advanced Theory in Occupational Therapy, Program Development and Evaluation, Leadership Applications for Occupational Therapists, and more. Students typically conclude such programs with a capstone project that incorporates a clinical practicum experience.
Online Degree Programs in Occupational Therapy in the Work Place
Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, including educational facilities, mental health facilities, hospitals, physician’s offices, and more, and may specialize in working with certain types of patients, such as children, the elderly, people with developmental disabilities, or the mentally ill, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Students must have a minimum of a master’s degree to be an occupational therapist, and must also become licensed in their state of practice, a process that requires completing an accredited education program and passing an exam. Occupational therapists reported a median yearly salary of $72,320 in May 2010, although those in specific industries, such as home health care services and nursing care facilities, had higher median wages, at $79,570 and $78,410, respectively, according to the BLS, although these figures are not indicative of starting salaries, and vary substantially based on country of residence, individual experience, and by employer.
Occupational therapists can expect rapid job growth throughout this decade. In fact, 33% employment growth is expected for occupational therapists between 2010 and 2010, which is much faster than average for other careers. Much of this growth will be linked to the aging of the baby boom population, who are expected to place more of a demand on the healthcare system as a whole, including occupational therapy services. Occupational therapists will continue to be in high demand helping older adults cope with osteoarthritis, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s, which are associated with aging, the BLS explained.