Occupational Therapy Requirements: What it Takes to Be a Successful OT
In the United States today, there are approximately 111,791 practicing occupational therapists (OTs) according to Data USA. However, that number is expected to rise almost 24 percent over the next ten years, making this a great time to begin to pursue this oftentimes satisfying profession.
But how do you pursue it in a way where you’re not only qualified to work within the occupational therapy field, you actually excel, putting you in just the right position to enjoy a long, successful career helping others? Answering this question first requires knowing what it takes to get your education and, subsequently, your license.
OT Educational Requirements
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shares that most occupational therapists have a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Some even have their doctorate. Of course, before you can earn either, you have to first get your bachelor’s.
Regardless of where you are with regard to your education, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) offers an online search of all of the educational institutions which are ACOTE-accredited (ACOTE stands for Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education). You can search based on whether you want your bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate, enabling you to find a school that fits your educational needs.
It’s important to note that the AOTA reports that entry level online classes are not an option in the occupational therapy field with accredited institutions. So, prepare to spend some time on a college campus if becoming an OT is your goal.
OT Exam and Licensing
Regardless of which state you want to practice in, after graduating, you will need to obtain your license. However, this requires that you first pass the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).
In their Certification Exam Handbook, the NBCOT explains that, once you apply and your application is approved, you have 90 days to take the exam (although you can ask that this be extended). Additionally, the test can be taken online or in person at one of more than 8,000 test centers scattered across 160 different countries.
The exam itself changes as the profession changes, but it currently consists of three clinical simulation test items and 170 multiple choice questions, each designed to test your abilities in regard to:
- Selecting interventions for managing a client-centered plan (45 percent of the exam)
- Formulating conclusions regarding client needs and priorities (28 percent)
- Acquiring information regarding factors which influence performance (17 percent)
- Managing and directing OT services (10 percent)
Tips to Becoming a Successful OT
With your degree and license in hand, you’re now ready to pursue a career in occupational therapy. However, it does take more than just an education and a test to reach higher levels of success in this field. It also takes certain ‘soft skills.’
Advance Healthcare Network (AHN) explains that soft skills are essentially personality skills, but also that, in healthcare professions especially, your soft skills can really help you take your career to the next level. Which ones can potentially make the most impact?
- Effective communication skills. According to AHN, the ability to effectively communicate with those around you is, by and large, the most important skill you can have as a healthcare provider. This involves being able to explain yourself clearly, such as when sharing proper exercise form or stretching techniques, while also being a good listener so you thoroughly understand what your patients are telling you.
- Emotional factors. If your goal is to be successful as an OT, AHN suggests that you learn how to keep your personal emotions in check while also being able to express empathy for your patients and their individual situations. Also, when it comes to emotions, having a positive, enthusiastic attitude helps as this increases your ability to deliver higher quality patient care.
- Personal flexibility. As an OT, you may have patients who can only see you in the evenings, on weekends, or when they otherwise have more time in their schedules. Thus, AHN says that being flexible enables you to accommodate them based on their circumstances and needs, a factor which may potentially impact their willingness to stick to your recommended therapy plan.
AHN adds that there are a few additional skills that can make a huge impact for professionals working within the healthcare field. These include having a strong work ethic, being able to manage time, attention to detail, handling pressure effectively, and being able to deal with criticism. Exuding confidence helps as well because it reinforces patient trust.
On a basic level, becoming an OT requires that you earn your degree from an accredited institution and that you pass the occupational therapy exam. But becoming a successful OT involves developing and honing the soft skills necessary to make your patients feel safe, cared for, respected, and valued. Do all of these things and the occupational therapy profession is yours for the taking.