Occupational Therapist Job Description: Top Duties and Qualifications

Last updated: June 22, 2022

An Occupational Therapist, or OTR, is responsible for providing patients with treatment to help them develop and improve their ability to complete everyday tasks related to their job and daily life. Their duties include performing initial patient assessments, teaching patients to use adaptive technology and coaching them through therapeutic activities.

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Occupational Therapist duties and responsibilities

An Occupational Therapist must excel at a variety of duties and responsibilities, such as:

  • Assessing the patient’s physical, communication and cognitive skills to develop a treatment plan 
  • Giving advice and providing support for family members and Carers
  • Assessing the home, school and work environments of the patient
  • Installing the necessary equipment in the classroom for children with disabilities and teaching them how to use the equipment
  • Helping children and adult patients to take part in everyday activities based on their unique circumstances
  • Assisting patients’ exercise for pain relief
  • Reviewing the patient’s progress and adapting the treatment accordingly
  • Performing administrative tasks such as keeping records, writing reports and making telephone calls
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What does an Occupational Therapist do?

Occupational Therapists work at physical therapy clinics, occupational therapy offices, hospitals, assisted living centers and other healthcare environments to evaluate and treat patients struggling with motor skills and cognitive issues. They guide patients through intake and learn about their medical history, including past injuries and conditions that influence their ability to complete everyday tasks. After assessing a client’s condition, Occupational Therapists develop treatment plans using exercise, movements to develop muscle memory, sensory feedback and practice performing the tasks they perform at work and home. They create a plan to discharge patients and help them transition back to their life.

Occupational Therapist skills and qualifications

A good Occupational Therapist should have the following skills:

  • Patience
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Communication and interpersonal skills
  • Observational and analytical skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Teamwork skills

Occupational Therapist salary expectations

The average salary for an Occupational Therapist is 1,623 per week. Salaries may vary based on location, the specific responsibilities of the role and the candidate’s experience or education level.

Occupational Therapist education and training requirements

Typically, an Occupational Therapist will need a relevant bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Since 2007, all states except Colorado require a professional Occupational Therapist to have at least a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. Along with classroom learning, the master’s program includes extensive work in hospitals, residential centers, rehabilitation facilities or clinics.

Licensing requirements vary from state to state, but all states require an Occupational Therapist to pass the national examination from the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. To maintain their certification once an Occupational Therapist is licensed, they need to complete continuing education credits. 

Occupational Therapist experience requirements

Occupational Therapists need a minimum of 1 year of recent work experience as an Occupational Therapist. They can earn this experience through work in any setting, but it could be helpful for their experience to line up with the setting in which the job will take place. For example, if the position is for an Occupational Therapist in a hospital, an applicant with experience in home care might not be as competitive as an applicant with experience in a hospital setting.

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Frequently asked questions about Occupational Therapists


What is the difference between an Occupational Therapist and a Physical Therapist?

Occupational Therapists and Physical Therapists both help clients improve their physical capabilities, but their therapeutic treatments have different goals in terms of a patient’s rehabilitation. Physical Therapists specifically address the physical movement and strength of the body, while Occupational Therapists help patients learn how to accomplish daily tasks as they regain physical strength and movement. For example, a Physical Therapist might help a patient recovering from a stroke strengthen their joints and muscles after bed rest, while an Occupational Therapist would help them practice using fine motor skills to eat, write and get dressed.


What are the qualities of a good Occupational Therapist?

Occupational Therapists frequently work with patients who suddenly had to cope with having a disability or injury, so they need to be highly patient, understanding and compassionate. Good Occupational Therapists are natural leaders who can encourage and motivate patients according to their unique values, ability and mindset. They celebrate small wins for their patients to keep them in good spirits and focused on their recovery. Successful Occupational Therapists are also good teachers who can describe the best way to use assistive tools and technology that make a patient’s lifestyle more accessible based on their physical capabilities.


What are the daily duties of an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational Therapists start the day by confirming treatment schedules and preparing the treatment area with essential tools. They review a patient’s information and create benchmarks for success they hope to meet during the session. They guide their patients through activities of daily living, also known as ADLs, like using the bathroom, moving around in a wheelchair, eating with utensils and upkeeping personal grooming. Occupational Therapists also supervise treatments like assisted stretching, aquatic therapy, behavioral assistance and practice with social skills. Occupational Therapists record a patient’s progress and give them the skills to apply their rehabilitation once they leave treatment.


What are the different types of Occupational Therapist?

Occupational Therapists can choose to specialize and work with a sub-section of patients or administer a specific type of rehabilitation program. Gerontology is one of the most common specialties for Occupational Therapists and involves treating elderly patients with issues like Alzheimer’s, stroke recovery, vision loss and surgery recovery. Other specialties within occupational therapy include pediatrics, driving and mobility, environmental modification, brain injuries, lymphedema, anxiety disorders and neurodevelopmental treatment. Some Occupational Therapists incorporate multiple specialties into their practice.

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