Occupational Therapy Business Tips

What To Know Before Becoming an Occupational Therapist

updated on

April 26, 2024

What To Know Before Becoming An Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapy offers a rewarding life for both patients and practitioners. With highly tailored interventions, OT changes people for the better, enhancing their quality of life and daily aspirations. In this article, we will discuss the importance of occupational therapy, what a career in OT looks like, and how to become an occupational therapist.

What Does an Occupational Therapist (OT) Do?

Before we discuss how to become an occupational therapist, let’s describe what they do. Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals who provide interventions rooted in occupational sciences. They use holistic interventions to restore function and help people participate in essential or desired daily activities after illness or injury. 

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Students can take two paths to becoming an occupational therapist. 1.) An occupational therapist pursues at least a master’s degree from an accredited graduate school after completing prerequisites and a bachelor’s degree in a closely related field. 2.) For a certified occupational therapy assistant, students complete an accredited 2-year program. 

What Do OTs Need To Do Before Applying For School?

To become an occupational therapist, prospective students should research potential accredited programs to determine what prerequisite classes they need to complete and if a GRE (graduate record examination) score is required. Additionally, each program requires students to collect volunteer hours shadowing at least two licensed OTs in separate healthcare settings.

How Long OTs Go To School

OTs who pursue a master’s degree have to complete about 7 years of school: 3-4 years of undergraduate and 3 years of graduate school. Certified occupational therapists, on the other hand, need 2-4 years of college work after high school, including the certification program and prerequisites, to qualify. 

What Degree OTs Need

In the United States, OTs require at least a master’s degree to practice, while OT assistants need to complete an accredited COTA program. OTs are welcome to complete a PhD or clinical doctorate to further their careers, especially in academics and research.

What License Do OT’s Need

Upon completion of an accredited OT program, students need to pass the NBCOT (National Board for certification in Occupational Therapy) examination. Once approved, students apply to their state occupational therapy licensure division and pay a fee (usually annually) for clinical practice. 

How Many Clinical Hours Are Needed

On average, students require between 40-60 observation hours to qualify for OT school. During OT school, students complete a required number of clinical hours through part-time and full-time fieldwork opportunities. Students must earn a passing grade in every fieldwork to qualify for graduation. 

When Should You Choose A Specialty

Becoming an entry-level occupational therapist is generally the first priority for practitioners. Once graduated, OTs often select occupational therapy specialties based on their individual interests. Examples include geriatrics, pediatrics, orthopedics, assistive technology, hand therapy, and so much more. Some specialties require additional school work and clinical hours. 

What To Know Before Becoming An Occupational Therapist

Soft And Hard Skills An Occupational Therapist Should Have

Becoming an occupational therapist requires honing a specific skill set through academic and clinical experiences; however, many OT students bring these skills to the table through innate personality traits that can be magnified with practice throughout the span of their careers.

Common soft and hard skills in the OT world include the following: 


Humans and the healthcare world are unpredictable, which means OTs need to think on their feet and adapt their approach and practice on a moment’s notice. This could mean adapting interventions, but also expectations for their clients and fellow coworkers. 

Excellent Communication

In OT speak, “therapeutic use of self” proposes that each practitioner uses their own strengths and personality traits to optimize communication with their patients and develop healthy rapport.  


Having a career in occupational therapy means meeting a wide variety of people from diverse backgrounds and with different cognitive capacities and emotional regulation. This means that the OT has to exercise a consistent display of patience to keep the clinical process running smoothly.


Patients or clients come with their own unique personal baggage, which includes physical ailments, mental illness, and varying socioeconomic statuses. An occupational therapist laced with a heavy dose of compassion fosters productive intervention and helps individuals meet their therapy goals. 

Good Listener

In the healthcare world, patients are more likely going to be having a much worse day than the therapist, which means they will need a listening ear. Additionally, an occupational therapist who is a good listener will pick up on details that are key to intervention. 


A detail-oriented therapist will tune into things that may be brushed off by others. Even the slightest detail can make a difference in therapy interventions, whether it’s for clinical work or if it needs to be documented for other therapists for future use. 


When transitioning from patient to patient, documenting assessments and treatment notes, and juggling meetings with coworkers, organizational skills are strongly recommended. This makes the day easier to manage for both the occupational therapist and the client or patient.  


Flexibility is a skill that comes in handy when an intervention doesn’t go as planned, a coworker needs accommodations in the schedule, or a client decides to take a different path. Flexibility helps occupational therapists remain open-minded when things get tight, but intervention needs to progress anyway. 

What To Know Before Becoming An Occupational Therapist


Each patient or client comes to therapy expecting to be provided with tools and techniques to improve their daily lives. An occupational therapist problem-solves regularly, using a trained eye, to restore or modify ways to participate in meaningful activities. 


Oftentimes, occupational therapists need to work with other healthcare disciplines to move a patient’s goals forward. This may include working with other therapists (physical therapy, speech, respiratory, etc.) or medical personnel, including nursing staff and physicians, via team meetings. 

Interpersonal Skills

Therapy is a reciprocal process, and often, the occupational therapist is the one who needs to propel the conversation forward in a thoughtful and engaging manner. Being able to read people and their emotional state while actively listening helps the therapist determine where the conversation should go for the patient’s benefit. 

Energy And Enthusiasm

By deciding to become an occupational therapist, a prospective student may already come with eagerness, energy, and enthusiasm. Once the student becomes a therapist, they quickly have to learn how to curb their enthusiasm to encourage patients to actively engage in therapy. 

What Is The Career Path For An Occupational Therapist?

After a student becomes an occupational therapist who practices in the clinical world, there are several career paths to choose from, depending on the specialties they want to pursue. These could include getting a doctorate, attending academics/research, transitioning into management or administration, opening a private practice, or pursuing additional certifications.

Why Become An Occupational Therapist

Becoming an occupational therapist means joining a rehabilitative community that deeply cares about patients on a holistic level. OT offers flexible career paths in a multitude of settings, rewarding clinical experiences, long-lasting friendships, and financial stability for many years to come. 

What Tools Can You Use To Grow Your OT Business? 

Using efficient software is one key factor in becoming a successful occupational therapist and growing your OT business. Technology occupational therapists' needs include proper documentation, SOAP notes, caseload scheduling, client management, online booking, and communication tools designed to streamline processes and enhance clinical outcomes. 

ClinicSense offers such technology systems, including notable occupational therapy SOAP notes. You can try this reliable software for occupational therapists by starting a free trial.

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