Hillary Mayes, Pre-Health Advisor
Missouri State University
901 South National Avenue
Springfield, Missouri 65897
Occupational therapists help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations) (AOTA, 2014). Common occupational therapy interventions include helping children with disabilities meet developmental milestones and to participate fully in school and social situations; helping people recovering from injury or illness to regain skills; addressing behavior and skill attainment for individuals with mental illness; and providing supports and adaptations for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.
Occupational therapy services may include comprehensive evaluations of the client’s home and other environments (e.g., workplace, school), recommendations for adaptive equipment and training in its use, and guidance and education for family members and caregivers. Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective where the focus is on adapting the environment to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team (http://www.aota.org/Consumers.aspx).
Occupational therapists practice in a variety of settings, such as general hospitals (from Intensive Care Unit to general medical and specialty floors), children’s hospitals, schools, early intervention centers, skilled nursing facilities, mental health facilities, community and government agencies, the armed forces, and research centers. A recent report published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that the median salary for occupational therapists in 2012 was $75,400. That same report predicts the field to grow 29% from 2012 to 2022, much faster than average overall job growth.
To work as an occupational therapist, one must hold a post-baccalaureate degree (either a master's or doctoral degree) and be certified as an occupational therapist. Certification involves taking the Occupational Therapist Registered OTR® examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT®).
An occupational therapist's education includes general college requirements, such as writing, communication, and mathematics; basic knowledge in the natural, physical, and social sciences; and professional education coursework consisting of health sciences, clinical sciences, and direct observation of the practice of occupational therapy.
Occupational therapy programs are competitive and have limited seats available in each entering class. Students wishing to pursue degrees in this area should have strong undergraduate GPAs, a solid background in the physical and nature sciences, and have several hours of practical and/or shadowing experience. Students can begin their preparation for these programs while in high school by completing four units of English; three units of mathematics, including geometry and algebra I and II; two units of foreign language; two units of natural science; two units of social sciences and one unit of speech.
Each OT program has a very specific list of prerequisites; therefore, students should contact the school at which they intend to apply for special course requirements. The following list of suggested courses are common requirements. Please consult the Missouri State Catalog online at www.missouristate.edu/catalog.
Students may pursue any major on campus in preparation for a career as an occupational therapist. For this reason, student schedules will vary greatly based upon the major selected and will not be provided here as examples. Students should work closely with their advisors to ensure they are aware of course sequencing and are completing prerequisites for OT programs in a timely fashion.