To become an occupational therapist, you must pursue occupational therapy continuing education past the bachelor's level and earn a master's degree in occupational therapy.
Occupational therapy is a growing field, and getting into it early is a good idea if you're interested. Some may wonder how to continue their educations from the baccalaureate level, all the way into a career in occupational therapy. Others who are already in the occupational therapy field may wonder how exactly to continue their educations, improve their skills, and keep up to date on the latest techniques. Well, look no further for your answers!
How much education is necessary for an occupational therapist?
To become an occupational therapist, you must pursue occupational therapy continuing education past the bachelor's level and earn a master's degree in occupational therapy. Occupational therapists are required to have master's degrees, at minimum, due to state regulations regarding occupational therapists.
An occupational therapist assistant does not need any occupational therapy continuing education beyond his or her baccalaureate education. If an occupational therapist assistant would want to become a full occupational therapist, however, he or she would still have to pursue occupational therapy master's programs. Furthermore, an occupational therapist assistant is still likely to pursue additional educational opportunities while within the career, simply to keep abreast of best practices in occupational therapy.
The form of occupational therapy continuing education
Occupational therapy master's programs will often be attached to the science departments of the schools housing them. In some cases, they'll be attached to specific departments, such as the Department of Rehabilitation Sciences at Boston University, which houses that university's occupational therapy program.
Any occupational therapy master's programs must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. Any interested students should make sure that the occupational therapy programs they're looking into are accredited.
As of 2009, there were 150 accredited occupational therapy master's programs throughout the United States, some of which were combined bachelor's/master's programs that would take students all the way through baccalaureate studies to full master's degrees in occupational therapy.
Accredited occupational therapy continuing education programs require students to enter into 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork as part of the prerequisites they must meet in order to earn accreditation.
Getting into occupational therapy master's programs
Students can increase their chances of getting into occupational therapy continuing education programs by taking appropriate courses, such as courses in biology, chemistry, health, anatomy, and more. Experience in healthcare fields is also often helpful in getting into these programs.
Obviously, as with all graduate level programs, having good undergraduate grades along with pertinent extracurricular activities is also very helpful for getting in.
Becoming an occupational therapist after occupational therapist master's programs
Occupational therapy continuing education is capped off with the appropriate certification test. All students in occupational therapy master's programs must pass such certification tests before they can begin working as professional occupational therapists. Occupational therapists who have earned the necessary accredited degrees and who have passed the certification test are given the title of "Occupational Therapist Registered," or OTR.
The exams students have to take in order to become official occupational therapists will vary from state to state, depending upon each state's individual requirements. The National Board for Certifying Occupational Therapy offers a national certifying examination, but this examination is not always the state-required test.
Continuing education after occupational therapist master's programs
Occupational therapy continuing education opportunities abound for those who have already earned their master's degrees and wish to continue to hone their skills. In general, occupational therapists are expected to pursue such additional education in the field of occupational therapy, in order to remain aware of the most recent and significant developments in occupational therapy.
Some states have requirements that any practicing occupational therapists must take some minimum number of occupational therapy continuing education courses in order to continue to practice.
Occupational therapy continuing education programs online
Some schools have begun to offer an occupational therapy master's program online. In general, though, occupational therapy master's online programs are in the minority compared to brick and mortar occupational therapy master's programs. This is in no small part due to the advantages of hands-on learning in a field such as occupational therapy. To learn more about online occupational therapy master's degree programs, visit our article on online occupational therapy programs.