An occupational therapist's work can change from day to day and always depends on each client’s specific needs. For example, one client might’ve had a recent wrist injury and needs to learn how to put on their clothes or cook a meal with minimal pain. Another might need help with memory and organizational skills after a traumatic brain injury. In addition to the physical aspects of the job, an OT also has to keep meticulous records and provide guidance and education for their patients’ loved ones.
That’s a pretty long list of tasks to perform, but that’s also why OTs enjoy higher compensation than some other healthcare professions. (In fact, OTs took the #10 spot on Monster.com’s list of the 10 highest-paying healthcare jobs out there.) On top of that, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is predicting solid job growth numbers for OTs between now and 2026 — meaning that you can feel more secure knowing that your skills and expertise will continue to be in demand going forward.
But don’t just take our word for it: Let’s take a look at the data to see what they say about the earning potential and job outlook for OTs.
What’s the Typical Occupational Therapy Starting Salary?
The average entry-level OT salary is about $65,185 a year. However, that number can increase or decrease, depending on a number of different factors like:
- Specialty Area
- Education Level & Certifications
- Work Setting (e.g., hospital, school, research)
- Physical Location of Employment (e.g., city, state)
For example, OTs working in either consulting services or education and instructional positions typically make about $10,000 more per year than the average OT. And an entry-level OT in Los Angeles can make an average of $68,857 per year, whereas one in Birmingham, Alabama, makes about $60,516 per year.
How Much Does an Occupational Therapist Make an Hour?
According to the BLS, the average hourly rate for OTs is about $41.04 per hour. We’ll discuss how hourly wages can vary by specialty and location in more detail later.
How Much Does an Occupational Therapist Make a Year?
When it comes to determining what your potential annual salary could be, it’s important to look at both average and median salary figures. (As a refresher, the median is the number that’s right smack in the middle of a range of values. In this instance, it would be the salary that’s right in the middle of the salary range for OTs.) This information will help give you a more realistic idea of how much you could expect to make in this role.
Average Occupational Therapist Salary
According to the BLS, the average annual salary for OTs is about $85,350 per year. This number includes a cumulative average of all OT salaries in the U.S. and can be skewed by much higher- or lower-paying positions.
Occupational Therapy Median Salary
The BLS data also shows that the median annual salary for an OT is $84,270 a year. In other words, half of all OTs in the U.S. earned more than this figure — and half earned less. For some additional perspective, it appears that OTs in the top 10 percent of the salary range tend to make around $120,750 a year, while those in the bottom 10 percent make about $55,490 a year.
How Much Does an Occupational Therapist Make in Different Work Settings?
One of the factors that can have the greatest impact on salaries is the type of work environment an OT is in. As you’ll see in the data below, an OT who works in consulting services can make $10,000 more than the average OT salary. According to BLS data, here are the top five industries that offer OTs the highest annual salaries:
The 5 Highest-Paying Work Settings for OTs
|Rank||Industry||Average Hourly Rate for OTs||Average Annual Salary for OTs|
|1||Management of Companies & Enterprises||$45.27||$94,170|
|2||Child Day Care Services||$45.06||$93,720|
|3||Management, Scientific, & Technical Consulting Services||$44.89||$93,370|
|4||Retirement & Assisted Living Facilities||$44.18||$91,900|
|5||Skilled Nursing Facilities||$43.34||$90,150|
How Much Does an Occupational Therapist Make in Each State?
Another factor that can significantly influence an OT’s salary is where they live. Typically, states that have a higher cost of living, as well as higher demand for the particular profession, tend to offer higher salaries. This rule appears to hold true for the OT field as well.
Take a look at the infographic below to find out which five states offer OTs the highest salaries — and which offer the lowest.
Didn’t see your state on that list? Here’s a table with the full set of BLS data on OT salaries by state and includes figures for the District of Columbia as well:
How Much Money Occupational Therapists Make by State
|State||Average Hourly Rate for OTs||Average Annual Salary for OTs|
|District of Columbia||$45.36||$94,360|
Overview of Occupational Therapy Job Outlook
As you well know, OTs are part of a burgeoning field, one that the BLS predicts will enjoy about 24 percent job growth between 2016 and 2026. (This translates to about 31,000 new jobs that will be created over this time period.) This should help you feel more confident that not only will you be able to make a very decent living off of this line of work, but that your skills and expertise will continue to be in demand for a good amount of time.
Need to know how to get started? The general path to a position as an OT involves:
Getting a relevant bachelor’s degree.
Getting a Masters of Occupational Therapy
OR Having worked a specified number of years in the field.
Passing the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam.
Getting state licensure to practice.
Here’s some more good news: In its 2015 Salary and Workforce Survey, the AOTA surveyed recent graduates and asked them how long it took for them to get their first OT job. Most said it took less than three months, while almost 40 percent said that they received an offer within a month after graduation.
After graduation, there are always continued education courses and certifications to earn throughout your career, like specialty certifications from the American Occupational Therapy Association. But getting this far can be costly, in terms of education debt. In fact, the website Student Loan Planner helps students with their finances and found that the average OT student graduated with about $190,000 in loan debt. But by their calculations, in the long-run, becoming an OT is still worth the cost.
Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy Salary: What’s the Difference?
The first major difference between OTs and PTs is the kind of work they do. At a high level, OTs treat clients by providing therapy for their everyday activities. On the other hand, physical therapists treat their patients by helping them improve their mobility and manage pain.
The second major difference is the level of education both need in order to work in their field. OTs need a master’s degree in order to practice as an OT; on the other hand, PTs are required to earn a doctorate before they can start officially working with patients.
When it comes to salary, the difference between OTs and PTs is pretty minimal, though PTs appear to make slightly more. Below, you’ll find a comparison table that provides the hourly and yearly earnings for both OTs and PTs:
Salary Differences Between OTs & PTs
|Occupational Therapists||Physical Therapists|
|Average Hourly Rate||$41.04||$42.73|
|Median Hourly Rate||$40.51||$42.27|
|Average Annual Salary||$85,350||$88,880|
|Median Annual Salary||$84,270||$87,930|
Additionally, OTs and PTs should expect to see similar increases in demand for their skills between 2016 and 2026. The BLS predicts that PTs will see about 28 percent job growth, while OTs will see about 24 percent job growth.