Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants

"Occupational therapy is the therapeutic use of self-care, work/productive activities, and play/leisure activities to increase independent function, enhance development, and prevent disability. It includes adapting tasks and the environment to maximize independence and quality of life. The term 'occupation' refers to the activities that are meaningful to the individual within the environment in which the person lives and functions." AOTA 1999.

Occupational therapists or OTs plan and direct treatment, educational, vocational, and social programs designed to help disabled people become self-sufficient. The treatment program consists of assisting patients with work-related movements, such as adapting their equipment or exercising muscles, and assisting patients in developing recreational skills. Occupational therapists assist individuals in work, play, social, self-care, and leisure activities. The mission of OTs is to help people with limitations fully participate in life at home, at school, at work, and at play.

Emerging hot practice areas in occupational therapy include: "aging in place" that assists older Americans to stay in their own homes rather than enter long-term care facilities; driver assessments and training programs that perform driver screenings, evaluations, and interventions so that older drivers do not injure themselves or others; community health and wellness programs that educate people who have had strokes about how to manage their condition and prevent recurrences so as to lead productive, independent lives; addressing the needs of children and youth that provide services for disabled students to enable them to enter special-education programs, and to create the proper learning and environmental conditions for children with conditions such as autism; ergonomic consulting that assists employers to develop strategies that support older workers' productivity and stepping in as injury-prevention and workplace-modification consultants as employers become more aware of the link between ergonomics and workplace injury; and technology and assistive-device development and consulting that recommend various technologies to help individuals compensate for cognitive, functional, or mobility limitations.

Occupational therapy assistants or OT assistants earn a 2-year associate's degree from an occupational therapy assistant technical program, usually at a community college. Under the supervision of occupational therapists, OT assistants provide hands-on services to children and adults who are learning new ways to succeed in the occupations of life. In addition to earning a degree OTs and OT assistants must complete supervised fieldwork, pass a national certifying examination, and become licensed, if applicable, in the state where they plan to work.

Occupational therapists practice in a variety of settings, such as private practice, home settings, specialized hospitals, general hospitals, nursing homes, schools, academic institutions, large corporations, rehabilitation centers, community centers, governmental agencies, research centers, and the armed forces. The three largest sites of practice are schools (34.4%), hospitals (24.3%), and nursing facilities (13.4%). Employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase faster than the average for all occupations through 2010. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment in occupational therapy to increase between 21% and 35% by 2010. In 2000, the average entry-level salary for occupational therapists was $37,243 and occupational therapy assistants was $24,876. The 2002 median income for occupational therapists was $51,990 and $36,660 for occupational therapy assistants. The total practitioner workforce in 2003 was 85,683 occupational therapists and 26,970 OT assistants. 92% of OT practitioners are female and 71% of the total are employed full time in the profession.

The practice of occupational therapy is regulated in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The most common and highest form of regulation is licensure. Licensure is required for occupational therapists in 49 jurisdictions and for occupational therapy assistants in 46 jurisdictions. Colorado and Hawaii regulate occupational therapists, but not occupational therapy assistants.

In the years after 1997, with the passage of the Balanced Budget Act there was a national decline in opportunities in occupational therapy. The 1997 Act placed a $1500 cap on out-patient services as well as caps on home care services. Medicare restrictions and other federal regulations also impacted professional practice. Job opportunities have declined significantly since 48% of all occupational therapists were working in skilled nursing facilities. Prior to and during the same period there has been a proliferation of new occupational therapy programs with shifts away from the medical model of practice. In 2005, ten schools offer the Ph.D. in occupational therapy, two schools offer a Science Doctorate (ScD), and five schools offer the clinical occupational doctorate (OTD). Currently there are 12,000 students in occupational therapy programs and 3,000 students in occupational therapy assistant programs.

Academic program

Before 2007, after obtaining a bachelor's degree with a major in occupational therapy, a student was eligible to take the American Occupational Therapy Association's (AOTA) National Registration Examination. After 2007 only graduates of master's programs (MOT) will be eligible. Successful completion of this examination entitles one to become a registered occupational therapist. An occupational therapist's education includes general college requirements, basic knowledge in the natural and social sciences, and professional education coursework consisting of health sciences, clinical sciences, and supervision of the practice of occupational therapy.

American Occupational Therapy Association "Centennial Vision"

We envision that occupational therapy is a powerful, widely recognized, science-driven, and evidence-based profession with a globally connected and diverse workforce meeting society's occupational needs.

Occupational therapy programs

The following programs in occupational therapy are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) in Missouri and surrounding states along with a telephone number for program inquiries:

Maryville University in St. Louis, MO, (314) 529-9515, offers a four-year masters-level program that will accept students without the bachelors degree.

Rockhurst University in Kansas City, MO, (816) 501-4225 or (816) 501-4174, offers a masters-level program.

St. Louis University in St. Louis, MO, (314) 577-8514, offers a masters-level program.

University of Missouri-Columbia, (573) 882-3988, should be contacted for program inquiries. The University of Missouri at Columbia offers a bachelors degree in occupational therapy, but the latest information is that this program is in transition to the masters level.

Washington University in St. Louis, MO, (314) 286-1600, offers both the masters-level and entry level doctoral program.

University of Central Arkansas in Conway, AR, (501) 450-3192, offers a masters-level and combined baccalaureate-masters level program.

Saint Ambrose University in Davenport, IA, (563) 333-6277, offers a masters-level program.

Newman University in Wichita, KS, (316) 942-4291 x238, should be contacted for program inquiries.

University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, KS, (913) 588-7174, has a combined bachelors-masters-level program.

Creighton University in Omaha, NE, (800) 325-2830, offers at doctoral program.

University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City and Tulsa, (405) 271-2411, offer a masters-level program.

Unlike the past, students should plan to earn an undergraduate degree if planning to go into occupational therapy. If you are an undergraduate student at Missouri State University you should plan to earn your bachelor's degree here before beginning a master's program in occupational therapy.

During high school, students interested in careers in occupational therapy should get in on the pre-college track. A "B" average is the minimum in college work and required courses cannot be taken pass-fail. The number of students accepted into occupational therapy programs is limited; therefore, there is considerable competition for each position available and minimum requirements may not be competitive in admissions.

Suggested courses and required experiences

A more standard recommended curriculum for pre-occupational therapy students is expected to emerge over the next several years. The types of classes expected of an applicant to existing bachelor's-level is given below as a general guide. Students should make sure that their course selections below are appropriate to fulfilling the requirements of a planned academic major and minor, and plan to earn a bachelor's degree here. Since many majors in the science areas have more stringent requirements in the sciences, the student must plan accordingly. For example, it might be important to plan to take CHM 160 rather than CHM 105, and PHY 123 rather than PHY 100.

BMS 110 Concepts in the Biomedical Sciences or BIO 121 General Biology I
MTH 135 College Algebra
ART 100 Two-Dimensional Design
CHM 105 Fundamentals of Chemistry or CHM 160 General Chemistry I
BMS 307 Human Anatomy
BMS 308 Human Physiology
HEC 155 Principles of Human Development or PSY 331 Psychology of the Child
PSY 121 General Psychology
PSY 304 Abnormal Psychology
MTH 340 Statistical Methods or PSY 200 Psychological Statistical Methods
SOC 150 Principles of Sociology
PSY 365 Aging and Adjustment or SOC 375 Sociology of Aging
PHY 100 Survey of Physics with Laboratory or PHY 123 and PHY 124.
KIN 360 Kinesiology (kinesiology or biomechanics often substituted for the physics)

Several occupational therapy programs require applicants to have had some prior experiences. Students should consult individual programs for such requirements. Several programs also offer options for both occupational therapy and physical therapy dual degrees. Many occupational therapy programs are shifting away from the medical model. At Missouri State University, a major in psychology and a minor in the biomedical sciences fulfills most of the requirements for admission to master's-level entry programs. Other combinations of an academic major and minor are also possible.

Advisement and more information

In addition to your academic advisor, the following pre-professional advisors will provide assistance to students in pre-occupational therapy.

If you are pre-occupational therapy and are majoring in psychology or the social sciences, contact Dr. Carol Shoptaugh, 417-836-5788, Hill Hall, Room 214A.

If you are pre-occupational therapy and are majoring in one of the sciences, contact Hillary Mayes, 417-836-4176, Professional Bldg., Room 110 C.

Department of Biomedical Sciences
Missouri State University
Springfield, Missouri 65897