Occupational Therapist Salary Guide
Every year, the U.S. News & World Report releases their list of the 100 best jobs. In order to make the cut, the job category must pay well, be continuously challenging yet low in stress, offer the ability for advancement, and provide some semblance of work-life balance. In 2018, the position of occupational therapist (OT) made number 11 on this list, ranking even higher (number 9) in best health care jobs specifically.
So, what kind of pay helps put OT jobs not only on the list, but so high up that it’s just one number away from being in the top 10? Let’s look at the numbers.
Average OT Salary
According to the U.S. News & World Report list, the median salary for an OT is $81,910 per year. However, data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that it may be a just a little higher—or closer to $83,200 annually—an amount that equates to roughly $40 per hour.
This is more than $25,500 per year over the median household income in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It is also more than the median annual salary for a number of other health care roles, with the BLS reporting that, on average, audiologists, chiropractors, dental hygienists, paramedics, and many other medical professionals typically make less than OTs.
The field doesn’t appear to be slowing either as the BLS adds that occupational therapy jobs are growing at a rate of 24 percent, when the average growth rate across all jobs is only 7 percent. This means that approximately 31,000 more OT jobs are expected to be added by the year 2026.
OT Salary by Industry
Though these numbers are averages, it’s important to realize that they can also vary based on the industry, or area in which you work. For instance, the BLS reports that OTs working within elementary and secondary school settings typically make around $75,140 per year whereas those working in home health care services often make closer to $90,890 annually.
Additionally, OTs who choose to work in some type of management, scientific, or technical consulting role generally make the most with a mean annual income of $95,280. That isn’t to say that one area of occupational therapy is better than or more superior to another, just that some industries tend to pay more and others typically pay a little less.
How Location Impacts OT Pay
Another consideration when it comes to OT salary medians is your physical location. According to the BLS, the top-paying states for those working in occupational therapy are: Nevada ($103,280), Texas ($94,530), New Jersey ($94,100), District of Columbia ($93,110), and Connecticut ($90,760).
That being said, the states that employ the most OTs are California, Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida; with all but Pennsylvania paying more than the average annual income for this profession ($79,860). On the surface, this may make it seem like OTs should avoid practicing in states like Pennsylvania if they want to make a good salary, but that isn’t necessarily true.
Cost of living is often lower than average in lower-paying states, helping to make up the difference. For instance, the Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development reports that, while the median home value in the U.S. is $189,400, in Pennsylvania it is $155,500, or more than $30,000 less. Plus, the average pay in the state is only $53,599, so OTs generally make much more, or almost $25,000 above that amount.
Metropolitan vs. Non-Metropolitan Areas and OT Salary
You can break location down even further into certain areas within a state if you want a more accurate picture of what OTs make based on whether they practice in metropolitan or non-metropolitan areas. Here are some of the top paying metropolitan areas according to BLS data:
- Peabody, Massachusetts (and surrounding areas)
- Longview, Lubbock, Beaumont, Tyler, and Waco, Texas
- Las Vegas, Nevada (and surrounding areas)
- Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Vallejo, California (and surrounding areas)
- Hammond, Louisiana
The top paying non-metropolitan regions of the U.S. include the Big Thicket region of Texas (which is in the southeast portion of the state), west Tennessee, northeast Florida, central Louisiana, and northeast Oklahoma.
OT Skills and Experience: How They Affect Pay
When trying to calculate how much you can potentially earn as an OT, you also want to think about your skillset. In other words, are there any areas of occupational therapy where you are more proficient or have more experience?
PayScale conducted a survey on this very issue and learned that individuals with skillsets that can be applied in long term care and home health care tended to have pay “significantly above average.” Other skillsets that were popular yet didn’t pay as much included those related to geriatrics, acute care, pediatrics, and rehabilitation.
PayScale also discovered that experience plays a role in salary pay as well. Specifically, an entry level OT with less than five years’ experience earns an average of $66,000, whereas those with 5-10 years of OT-related work earned closer to $76,000, or $10,000 more. Of course, late career OTs, those with 20 or more years of experience in the OT field make the most, with salaries around $86,000 annually, another $10,000 jump.
Putting It All Together
Overall, being an OT pays well above the national average. That being said, factors such as location, skillset, and experience can impact your wages too. Knowing this up front makes it easier to plan not only where you want to work (though pay shouldn’t be your only consideration), but is also helpful when budgeting for your work-related expenses.
For instance, if you plan on moving around, whether working as a travel OT or simply testing new geographic areas until you find your desired niche (and pay), it’s beneficial to purchase OT liability insurance that covers you wherever you are in the U.S. My OT Insurance is one company that offers this option, giving you the peace of knowing you’re taken care of, regardless of where you choose to work.
As you can see, determining pay as an OT is a somewhat complex issue. However, now you know what to look for and how to start, so you’re well on your way to sorting it out in a way that will work best for you.