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O is for Occupational Therapist

by Chloe Campbell
October 2016

What do Occupational Therapists Do?

Occupational Therapists “enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life” ( Accidents, disease, and physical, emotional, and/or mental disabilities can make it hard for people to perform daily tasks and interactions. These daily tasks can range from bathing, dressing, and putting on shoes, to taking care of a pet, cooking dinner, or interacting with friends and family to getting a job, going to work, or volunteering. Working with individuals at all stages of life, Occupational Therapists assess, plan, organize, and create rehabilitative programs that help build or restore a person’s ability to participate positively in everyday life.

Brief History of the Occupational Therapy Profession

2017 will be the 100 year anniversary of the founding of the National Society for the Promotion of Occupational Therapy. By 1923 the association had changed its name to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), had established a national registry of Occupational Therapists, and developed educational standards. In 1964 the National Commission on Accrediting recognized the several decades old AOTA and the American Medical Association (AMA) partnership. In 1975 the federal Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted. This bill required public schools to evaluate and create educational plans for handicapped students that closely emulated non-disabled students. This bill and the HIV/Aids epidemic contributed to employment growth. Since the 1990s, 197 Occupational Therapy programs have been recognized by the non-governmental agency responsible for accreditation, the Council on Higher Education Accreditation. The profession has continued to grow and now has nine specialty certification areas: Pediatrics, Mental Health, Low Vision, School Systems, Gerontology, Driving and Community Mobility, Environmental Modification, Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing, and Physical Rehabilitation.

The Occupational Therapy Profession Today

According to the most recent Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Data, there are 114,660 people working as Occupational Therapists in the United States and 2,200 of those are in Minnesota. The median wage nationally for an Occupational Therapist is $38.85/hr. In Minnesota the median wage is $34.67/hr. Table 1 provides a breakdown of wages by region in Minnesota.

Table 1. Wages by Region
Region Employment Median Hourly Wage Median Annual Wage
U. S. 114,660 $38.85 $80,795
Minnesota 2,200 $34.67 $72,106
Central Minnesota 280 $34.64 $72,054
Northeast Minnesota 140 $32.73 $68,078
Northwest Minnesota 220 $32.42 $67,433
Southeast Minnesota 210 $36.87 $76,692
Southwest Minnesota 110 $32.56 $67,724
Seven County Metro 1,310 $34.98 $72,760

Educational Requirements

Beginning in 2007 all Occupational Therapists are now required to have a master's (MA, MS, or MOT) or professional doctoral degree (OTD). Nationally there are over 150 accredited Occupational Therapy master's and doctoral programs. In Minnesota four schools offer master's degrees in Occupational Therapy: College of St. Scholastica, Duluth; St. Catherine University, St. Paul; University of Minnesota, Minneapolis; and University of Minnesota, Rochester.

Economic and Growth Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth for Occupational Therapists is expected to be faster than average from 2014-2024. The projected growth nationally is 27 percent. Continued demand in the field will drive growth. Occupational Therapists are important partners in treating people with a variety of illnesses and disabilities including Alzheimer's, loss of a limb, and autism. Current projections released by the Department of Employment and Economic Development predict a 15 percent statewide growth in the Occupational Therapy profession by 2024. All regions except Northeast Minnesota are projected to have double digit growth. Table 2 provides a breakdown of growth by region.

Table 2. Projected Employment Growth by Region
Region OES Employment Median Wage Projections % Change 2014 - 2024
Minnesota 2,200 $34.67/hr 15.0%
Seven County Metro 1,310 $34.98/hr 15.0%
Central Minnesota 280 $34.64/hr 30.2%
Northwest Minnesota 220 $32.42/hr 10.5%
Southeast Minnesota 210 $36.87/hr 12.2%
Northeast Minnesota 140 $32.73/hr 5.6%
Southwest Minnesota 110 $32.56/hr 11.9%


Occupational Therapists play an important role in helping people with injuries, disease, and physical, emotional, and/or mental disabilities perform their daily occupations. This career is personally and professionally rewarding. The profession has evolved over the last 100 years and continues to explore new practice areas that include working with refugees, children experiencing obesity, and people experiencing homelessness. Higher than average wages and strong growth outlook make this a good choice for someone looking for a health care career.

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