FAQ: What Is the Highest Paying Occupational Therapy Specialty?
Updated January 3, 2023
Occupational therapists provide essential services to a wide range of patients and clients, helping them recover from physical injuries and assisting them with everyday activities. If you're hoping to pursue a specialization as an occupational therapist, it's important to understand some of the most common specialties individuals pursue and which ones offer the highest salary.
In this article, we discuss what the highest paying occupational therapy specialty is and answer other frequently asked questions about the occupational therapist career.
What are starting occupational therapy salaries?
The starting salary for occupational therapists can differ depending on an individual's skill level and place of employment. The national average salary for occupational therapists is $84,331 per year. However, some individuals, depending on their location and years of experience, can make over $100,000 or less than $80,000 per year. For example, the average pay in Chicago, Illinois is $101,097 per year, whereas the average pay in Fort Worth, Texas is $77,546 annually.
Occupational therapists can also receive helpful benefits depending on their chosen field or industry. Some of the most common benefits for occupational therapists include license reimbursement, 401(k) options and health insurance.
Read more: Learn About Being an Occupational Therapist
What type of occupational therapy specialties are there?
There are many different areas of practice that occupational therapists can specialize in and gain unique certifications, depending on their education and experience level. Most often, individuals receive their credentials from either the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NCBOT) or the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), which both offer a wide range of certifications and licenses for occupational therapists. Some of the most popular occupational therapy specialties are:
Physical rehabilitation specialists design and create evidence-based exercises and activities to help clients who have suffered from physical accidents or traumas. Unlike physical therapy, which uses biomechanics to assist patients, physical rehab focuses on strength training and movements to help patients recover from their injuries. The most common certification that occupational therapists receive for this specialization is the Board Certified in Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR) credential. Occupational therapists that choose this specialty can work in a variety of settings, including:
Long-term care facilities
Occupational therapists who specialize in geriatrics, sometimes referred to as gerontology, work with elderly people, helping them manage and recover from different illnesses and ailments, such as Alzheimer's disease, stroke recovery, arthritis and more. Therapists in this profession can work with patients in their homes, at work or in healthcare facilities, assisting them with special needs or daily activities. The AOTA offers the Board Certified in Gerontology (BCG) credential for occupational therapists to pursue. After obtaining their certification, geriatric therapists can work for hospitals, long-term care facilities and other healthcare organizations.
Pediatric specialists in the occupational therapy field work with children, helping them develop impressive social and motor skills. While working in pediatrics, occupational therapists can help children with motor tasks, such as walking, crawling and feeding, or assist them in developing skills to manage sensory disorders, like those found with children on the autism spectrum. Pediatric specialists can also help children who live with physical and mental disabilities, teaching them strategies and techniques to overcome certain daily challenges. The AOTA offers a Board Certified in Pediatrics (BCP) credential to occupational therapists who are most interested in this position.
Occupational therapists who specialize in mental health practice help patients and clients develop strategies to control emotions, make decisions and find solutions to unique problems and issues. They also help patients discover correlations between their mental conditions and daily challenges and teach the patients how to prevent them. Occupational therapists who pursue this specialty often obtain the Board Certified in Mental Health (BCMH) credential offered by the AOTA. After receiving their certification, individuals most often work in hospitals and home-care settings.
Occupational therapists who work in the low vision field help patients who struggle with vision impairment that can't be fixed through surgery or with glasses. The AOTA offers the Specialty Certified in Low Vision (SCLV) certification that individuals can receive after demonstrating their relevant experience in the field. Occupational therapists who specialize in low vision assist individuals by talking with optometrists and other vision professionals to determine the best way to help patients perform everyday activities, and possibly enhance their sight using optical devices and assistive technology. Low vision professionals most often assist clients in their own homes.
The AOTA offers a Speciality Certified in School Systems (SCSS) certification for occupational therapists who wish to assist students in a school setting. The occupational therapists in this setting help students, ranging from ages 3 to 21, develop skills and strategies to help them succeed in their daily schooling. School system specialists can work in a variety of school districts from preschool to high school. They can even work in a post-school environment, continuing to help individuals with their social skills and technical skills, like math, reading and writing.
What are the highest-paying occupational therapy specialty jobs?
The top-paying specialties for occupational therapists include:
Home health: Those working in home health settings often make 20.60% more than the average salary for occupational therapists.
Geriatrics: Occupational therapists who specialize in geriatrics make 17.73% more than the average base salary.
Pulmonology: Pulmonology is a medical specialty that works with individuals who have respiratory challenges or diseases. Occupational therapists who work in pulmonology can make 39.37% more than the career's normal average salary.
Physical rehabilitation: Individuals working in the physical rehabilitation field can make 12.32% more than the average base salary for occupational therapists.
Neurology: Neurology is a medical specialty that works with individuals who have issues or problems with their nervous system and need assistance. Occupational therapists who specialize in neurology can make 13.91% more than the average base salary.
What are the lowest-paying occupational therapy specialty jobs?
Though the information for lowest paying occupational therapy specialty jobs is difficult to find, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2020, the lowest 10% of occupational therapists still make an average of $57,330 per year, and the lowest 25% of occupational therapists make an average of $70,880 annually.
The BLS also estimates the job outlook for occupational therapists will increase by 16% between 2019 and 2029, creating an additional 22,700 jobs. They predict that long-term care facilities, schools and hospitals will continue to need occupational therapists to assist their members, students and patients over the decade.
Related: What Is a Good Salary for You?
What are the highest-paying industries for occupational therapists?
According to the BLS, as of May 2020, the highest-paying industries and their average salary for occupational therapists include:
Nursing care facilities: $92,260 per year
Home healthcare services: $91,830 per year
Hospitals: $86,910 per year
Offices: $86,830 per year
Elementary and secondary schools: $76,560 per year
What are the top-paying states for occupational therapists?
The states with the highest salaries for occupational therapists include:
Pennsylvania: 15% more than the average base salary
Vermont: 10% more than the average base salary
California: 10% more than the average base salary
Alaska: 9% more than the average base salary
Nevada: 7% more than the average base salary
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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