Occupational Therapist Job Descriptions: What You Need to Know

Jun 7, 2019
12 min read
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What do occupational therapists do? What's included in an OT's job description? Here's everything you need to know about the role of an OT.

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Occupational therapist job descriptions are difficult to write. Non-OT administrators and managers don’t always have a complete understanding of the role of occupational therapy, and even OT practitioners can have a difficult time quantifying their job.

This is largely because occupational therapy job descriptions vary greatly from setting to setting. Even in one setting, an OT can evaluate and treat a variety of health conditions and symptoms. OTs work with patients of all ages, from newborns to hospice care, and are trained in mental health, pediatrics, neuroscience, orthopedics, and beyond.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports form 2016-2026, the profession will grow by 24%. Much of this has to do with advocacy and awareness of how occupational therapists can help those with disability or illness, but many of the changes can also be attributed to an ever-growing elderly population.

What does an occupational therapist do?

So, what do occupational therapists do? According to the AOTA, occupational therapy services generally include:

  • an individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals,
  • customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals, and
  • an outcomes evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and/or make changes to the intervention plan.
“Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective, in which the focus is on adapting the environment and/or task to fit the person, and the person is an integral part of the therapy team. It is an evidence-based practice deeply rooted in science.”

The good news is, even with all the variances, the goals and outcomes are still the same. The core goal for any OT is to help individuals remain healthy and independent in their everyday activities, regardless of age or ability.

We want to clearly define the profession for anyone interested in learning more or sharing their OT experience with the world. If you’re looking to hire a new OT for your team, you will also learn how to write the most effective occupational therapy job description to attract the right fit for your company or clinic. We will cover OTs that treat everyone, from pediatrics to adults, from school-based to home health!

Are you ready to hire a new OT for your practice? Use the job description template at the end of this article to get your search started!

What schooling is required to be an occupational therapist?

Currently, there are two entry-level degrees for occupational therapists. One option is a Master’s degree (MOT or MSOT). The other is the relatively new, entry-level Doctorate program (OTD) which many schools now offer.

After graduation, OT practitioners have to take the NBCOT before they can be registered and begin work. Depending on the state, some new grads can apply for a provisional license to practice before passing the test. Allowing an OT to practice with a provisional license is entirely up to the hiring manager and staff.

This is currently still a hot button issue in OT world. If you feel like reading more, you can simply Google it or just out some of our other resources.

As an employer, it is important for you to recognize that in terms of insurance reimbursement, your job candidate’s degree won’t matter. As a business owner, they will bring in the same amount of money.

Are you thinking about bringing on a new team member? Here are 9 Reason to Hire a New Grad for your practice!

However, someone with an entry-level OTD may have increased knowledge of research, leadership, or clinical care based on their education!

When hiring an occupational therapist, the most important credential to consider after their name is “OTR”. This designates they are “Registered” and have passed the NBCOT. After that, they will have an “L” after their name which represents the state license.

For example, I sign my name as “Dominic Lloyd-Randolfi, OTD, OTR/L.” My full title shows my degree level, and that I am both registered and licensed to work in my state.

Beyond graduation, occupational therapists can continue to earn new credentials by focusing their career into a more niche specialty! Adding a BCP to their title means an OT has received a certification in pediatrics; a BCRP means they’ve specialized in physical rehabilitation. The talents and credentials are nearly as diverse as OTs themselves!

Occupational therapist job description

Let’s get the mechanical stuff out of the way: is the position full-time or part-time? Maybe it’s PRN? You may not have to talk about salary in the job description, but offering some insight and listing the benefits you offer can be insightful for interested candidates and help you to ensure you’re on the same page. This can make a great first impression for any prospective OT.

Before you get into the details of the role, you’re also going to want to show off a bit! Don’t be afraid to talk about your company! Share your mission; talk about why the candidate should join your team. Every clinic’s needs are different, and in combination with the specific needs of the role, you can paint a complete picture of what the person can expect from the position.

No two positions will be the same, so it’s important to learn how to you can best articulate what makes this role unique! One of the most important ways you can do that is to clearly define the setting that the position will work in!

What are common settings to practice occupational therapy in?

Pediatric Occupational Therapist Job Description

This position is popular with pre-OT and OT students. It is a fast-paced setting involving lots of play with children, and most facilities have a gym available for the patients to play in. Planning and quick thinking are vital to keeping up with young, high-energy patients. A pediatric OT is responsible for:

  • Completing appropriate evaluations and treatments.
  • Coordinating care with other disciplines in the office (SLP, ABA, and/or PT) for early-intervention
  • Collaborating with parents or guardians to manage care in and out of the clinic.
  • Completing relevant documentation in an appropriate time frame for reimbursement

Certifications relevant to this setting include:

  • AOTA board certification in Pediatrics (BCP) or Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing (SCFES)
  • Sensory Integration and the Sensory Integration Praxis Test (SIPT)

The average OT in the US makes 84,270. According to the 2015 Salary and Workforce Survey, the pay range for freestanding outpatient OT is 60,000 - 80,000. Insurance payments and funding sources for this setting tend to be lower, thus the lower salaries.

OTs working in pediatrics are invaluable, but it can be difficult to see that value without knowing exactly what an OT does. Read this open letter to patients' parents to hear more about the value of OT straight from the source.

Inpatient Rehab Occupational Therapist Job Description

Occupational therapists working in inpatient rehab often have a very rewarding career. They frequently see patients who start with many functional limitations and progress to much more independence before being discharged. OTs in this setting must have a passion for neurological impairments and high complexity cases. Often clients in this setting are younger and highly motivated; OTs may work with patients for a full three hours of therapy per day. This setting can also involve quite a bit of technology such as virtual reality or robotic-assisted therapy.

  • Coordinate frequently with physical therapy colleagues and other members of the interdisciplinary team to progress goals
  • Applicable knowledge of electrical modalities to improve neurological function
  • Basic knowledge of upper extremity orthoses fabrication
  • Evaluate and assess wheelchair positioning to optimize function

Certifications relevant to this setting include:

  • AOTA Board Certified in Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)
  • Assistive Technology Professional (ATP)
  • Seating and Mobility Specialist (ATP/SMS)
  • Neuro-Developmental Treatment Certification (C/NDT)
  • Certified Brain Injury Specialist (CBIS)
  • Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CRDS)

Do you want to learn everything you can about the good and bad of acute inpatient rehab? Look no further!

SNF Occupational Therapist Job Description

Geriatric occupational therapists make up a significant percentage of the workforce. Older adults who are admitted to the hospital may be medically stable but not safe to return home. OTs work in this setting in order to help older adults increase their strength and endurance so that they can complete their everyday activities and return home safely.

  • Complete relevant evaluations and interventions for common geriatric conditions
  • Follow Medicare documentation guidelines including daily, weekly, monthly, and discharge summaries
  • Collaborate with essential members of the interdisciplinary team to ensure safe and timely return to home

Certifications relevant to this setting include:

  • Board Certified in Gerontology (BCG)
  • Certified Lympedema Therapist
  • Certified Low Vision Therapist (CLVT)

This setting can be a lot of fun as therapists tend to make lasting relationships with their patients. The length of stay for clients being anywhere from one to four weeks. SNFs tend to be on the higher paying scale for occupational therapists. The range for median salaries of geriatric occupational therapists is $69,000 - $84,000. However, it comes with high productivity demands and a lot of paperwork.

There are tons of pros to working in a SNF, but it isn't perfect. We've highlighted the good and bad of skilled nursing; being aware of scares people away from the setting can help you to attract the right person!

School Based Occupational Therapist Job Description

This position is very unique and they can be hard to come by as they are competitive. OTs in this setting are employed by a school district to help students as needed. It can be a stressful job due to high caseloads, the need to travel between schools, and tedious documentation. However, this does mean OTs only work when the schools are open which means extended holidays and summer vacations!

  • Collaboration with teachers is crucial to identify student needs and follow through with interventions.
  • Participate in and complete IEPs
  • Provide transition services for students graduating out of the school system

Certifications relevant to this setting include:

  • AOTA Board Certified in School Systems (SCSS)
  • Certified Autism Specialist (CAS)

According to the 2015 Salary and Workforce Survey, the pay range for school-based OT is $53,000 - $70,000. This setting is funded by school districts and not through insurance, so compensation is generally on the low end.

Home Health Occupational Therapist Job Description

Home health occupational therapists have an interesting job where they travel to clients and provide services in the home. Typically, these clients are considered “homebound” and are not able to leave the house. This is to ensure they aren’t receiving both outpatient and in-home services simultaneously. Often, this job attracts more introverted OTs as there is little teamwork involved in working one on one with their clients. A successful candidate is confident in their abilities and is an independent problem solver.

A home health OT needs to be confident in

  • Evaluations and assessments of fall risk
  • Assessing the home and recommending necessary DME for safety with ADLs
  • Prescribing home exercise programs
  • Discussing needs with family and educating/training caregivers

Certifications relevant to this setting include:

  • LSVT-BIG for Parkinsons
  • Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS)

In terms of salary, home health occupational therapists are at the higher end of the spectrum. According to the previously mentioned survey of 2015, the average home health OT makes $76,000 - $80,000.

If you're ready to bring on a new home health OT, you have to know the ins, outs, ups, and downs that might impact their decision. Check out this piece on the Good and Bad of Home Health.

Hospital Occupational Therapy Job Description

Also known as acute care, hospital-based OTs are slowly growing in numbers. Hospital administrators are able to see how cost effective OTs are. While OTs in the hospital provide rehab for nearly every condition imaginable, their primary role is to evaluate and assist with discharge planning. And if an OT can help discharge a client quicker (and safely), that is money saved for the hospital.

Common requirements for hospital occupational therapists include:

  • Knowledge of medical conditions and lab values
  • Communication with doctors, nurses, social workers, and other rehab staff
  • Make appropriate recommendations for adaptive devices and equipment
  • Provide insight to patient’s functional status and suggestions for discharge planning

Hospital occupational therapists are middle of the pack in terms of compensation. The trade-off is a flexible schedule and perks of working in a large hospital system. The range of average salaries is $68,000 - $80,000

The demand for OTs has never been higher, and it’s important to take the time now to attract the best talent. Having a clear understanding of the requirements of OTs in a variety of settings, including the principles that drive occupational therapy, their daily duties, and their focuses means that you can send candidates a clear message: “I understand who you are and what you’re looking for. You’ll fit in here. You’ll make a difference here.”

About Dominic Lloyd-Randolfi

Dominic is a practicing OT and the Occupational Therapy Publication Director for CovalentCareers Resources.