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If you follow OT Potential, you know that I am a big fan of using MedBridge Education for my CEUs. I believe the platform provides the highest-quality CEUs for OT professionals. 

That being said, I realize MedBridge might not make sense for every single person out there—at least not 100% of the time. 

There are times when you’ve been to a conference or course and you need just two or three more hours of CEUs. You’ve already invested a lot of money in that event, and you don’t want to pay for a whole year of unlimited CEUs just to get those last few credits.

And I also recognize that there are times when money is tight. 

The cool thing is that there are quite a few FREE occupational therapy CEUs out there—and the even cooler part is that they’re not sketchy, fly-by-night courses. Many of these free OT CEUs are actually quite high quality and look great on your OT resume! I put this article together to help you save money without sacrificing your commitment to lifelong learning (or at least without sacrificing your required CEUs that you need to renew your license) :-) 

This article will be periodically updated, so if you hear of any additional free OT CEUs out there that I missed, please post them in the comments!

Nurse.com’s free OT CEU courses

Nurse.com might be geared toward our nursing counterparts, but it offers three free courses for us OTs, and they cover pretty interesting topics! All are taught by Deborah Davidson, PhD, OTR/L.

Transitioning into adulthood

This is a presentation that gives an overview of an organization called Bright Futures, and details how it delivers OT services to those needing assistance during that pivotal transition between adolescence and adulthood. 

AOTA’s free CEU webinars

Did you know that AOTA allows you to earn as many as 12 continuing education contact hours through their webinars? Now, you’ll still want to check with your state-specific rules to determine how many online CEUs count toward your license renewal, but if you’re simply out to learn as much as possible, you’ll want to take full advantage of these freebies!

Like I mentioned in the intro, these webinars are really interesting, and they’re on super cool topics! For example, there is one webinar about animal-assisted OT (and that means incorporating animals into your OT practice, not practicing OT on dogs). Other topics involve OT for refugees, as well as how to identify and prevent burnout in the OT world. Whether you wish to take a traditional or non-traditional OT path, you will find some really interesting free CEUs on the AOTA’s list of webinars. 

PHLC’s free OT courses

Phllips Learning Connection’s Online Learning Center (PHLC) is approved as an OT con-ed provider by the AOTA. The target audience for the free courses below is OT professionals, and the content level is considered intermediate. 

OccupationalTherapy.com’s free OT course

OccupationalTherapy.com is one member of the family of websites run by ContinuEd. While my CEU platform of choice for my own needs remains MedBridge, I do really appreciate and respect the offerings on OccupationalTherapy.com. I also applaud the fact that the site offers a free single CEU course so you can try the platform before you commit to joining for a full year. 

I will say, the courses are high quality, but there isn’t as much breadth or volume as you’ll find on MedBridge, which is why I ultimately have chosen to use the latter for my CEUs. However, if you’re looking for the least expensive option for unlimited CEUs, OccupationalTherapy.com is a really good pick. You can opt to use their 1 Free Course Offer: https://www.occupationaltherapy.com/free-ceu-course

ChiroCredit.com’s free OT course

Well! I bet you didn’t expect to see a chiropractor website on here, but here you go! ChiroCredit.com actually offers a surprisingly robust selection of OT courses, including outside-the-box topics like aquatic OT and medical errors in OT! ChiroCredit has a similar setup to OccupationalTherapy.com in that you receive a free introductory OT course when you register for free. The site states that you will receive access to your certificate of completion instantly upon completing the course, which is nice. 

Parkinson’s.org’s free OT course

If you work with older adults, I strongly recommend that you take this course. The price is (obviously) right, and the course was designed by OTs with lots of experience with Parkinson’s Disease (PD) to help other occupational therapists ensure best practice care for patients with PD. Plus, the curriculum was designed by the Parkinson’s Foundation in alongside the AOTA.

The course is four modules long, and provides very applicable recommendations for therapists working in home care, community rehabilitation, and long-term care care settings.

Conclusion

Let’s face it: the cost to become an occupational therapist can be prohibitive, and then life happens. There are some times when looking for free OT CEUs is just the way to go! Luckily, as you can see from this article, there are tons of great options out there for the financially savvy therapist looking to learn without breaking the bank! Know of any other free OT CEUs out there? If so, please let us know in the comments!

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If you are interested in starting out as a pediatric occupational therapist, switching practice areas to pediatrics, or simply thriving in your current pediatric OT career, this interview with Katie Caspero, OTR/L will give you some guidance!

I know that the process of getting into pediatric therapy can raise lots of questions, so if you have any unanswered questions after reading the article, be sure to ask them in the comments below.

OT Potential: Where did you go to OT school? (And, what should prospective students who are interested in pediatrics be looking for in a program?)

Katie: I went to OT School at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. I liked Duquesne because they had a lot of strong healthcare programs, and many of them were accelerated (e.g. five years to get your master’s or six years for a doctorate). The pediatric professor was really great, and she had been working there for a while and was really connected to the community. This allowed us a lot of hands-on pediatric experiences before our fieldwork.

I also liked that the school, in general, offered a lot of opportunities for us to engage in community service. This allowed me to gain leadership (and other) skills and other valuable experiences beyond the classroom. I apply such skills in my work as an OT, and I found the community service experience also provided me with a better understanding of people who are marginalized in our city, including people with disabilities. 

Did you seek out pediatric fieldwork assignments to help you prepare for this specialty?

Originally, I wanted to be a pediatric mental health OT, so I sought out a pediatric mental health-specific facility outside of the Pittsburgh area. It was a residential treatment facility and school for adolescents with mental health diagnoses. Looking back, I would encourage those in OT school to seek out pediatric placements in other cities, in order to increase their chances of getting a pediatric fieldwork placement at a credible site. 

Is there anything else you did above and beyond your OT degree to help you find a pediatric job?

I volunteered for a few different organizations that worked with kids. The most valuable was working for a respite care organization, where I would spend time with a child with disabilities while the family ran errands or spent time with their other children. This gave me a good insight into the family dynamics that occur when a child has special needs.  

During my first year of practice, I attended as many conferences that I could afford. My personal favorite, The SOS Approach to Feeding Training by the STAR Institute, provided tons of skills and information that I incorporate into my daily practice. 

When it was time to apply to jobs, I looked at the mission and values of each company. I sent resumes to companies whose values align with my own, even if they did not have any job postings at that time. Having a deep understanding of a company’s mission was really helpful during the interview process, as I could use that information to explain why I was drawn to that specific organization.

What questions would you be sure to ask when applying for a job in an OP pediatrics setting? 

I think a great question to get an understanding of the daily job activities is to ask, “What does a typical day look like?” This is not unlike what we would ask our clients! 

Another question I would ask is about the expected working hours. Usually, an outpatient center is open later into the evening compared to a typical 8-5 pm job. An early intervention therapist might have to create his or her own schedule. This is something that you should know ahead of time, which will allow you to determine whether that role is a good fit for you. Lastly, asking how the organization will support your professional development (e.g. continuing education) throughout the year will allow you to know whether it’s an organization that prioritizes staff development. 

How do you find that pediatric OT salaries compare to other OT salaries? Has this factored into your career decision making?

Depending on the area of the country you are in, this answer may or may not apply to you. However, I find a pediatric OT salary to be lower compared with other practice areas (e.g. inpatient rehabilitation or skilled nursing facilities).  An OT working as a contractor, independent consultant for schools, or early intervention provider might earn higher hourly rate—but it probably does not include benefits—so I have personally found the overall compensation for pediatric OTs is usually on the lower side. 

What is your favorite part about your work?

I love working with the whole family unit and seeing kids who have worked so hard on their goals finally meet them.  

I love to share in their joy and smiles when they say, “Ms., Katie, I can tie my shoes!” 

I also love how different every single hour of my day is. I could be spending the morning working on feeding with a kid with autism, then work with a child with cerebral palsy in the pool, and end the day working on dressing techniques with a child with a genetic disorder. It’s a great challenge and keeps things interesting!

What is your least favorite part about your work? 

My least favorite part about the job is the lack of time to complete necessary things like calls to schools. It can also be frustrating when a child does not receive the behavioral support that he or she needs.

The higher demand for productivity, similar to adult rehabilitation, can be a challenge, too. Working with stressed-out kids and families can definitely take its toll, and it can be difficult finding the work-life balance needed to prevent burnout.

What has been the most surprising part about your work?

I didn’t expect to be working on feeding therapy with kids as much as I do, but I love it! Also, there are many different rare diagnoses that I am learning about, due to working in a city campus of an outpatient center. 

How have you kept up on research and industry trends in pediatrics?

This is a hard one, as pediatric research is not as accessible compared to adult rehabilitation. 

I’ve continued to complete research with professors from school, and I make sure to maintain those networks and relationships. Also, having students both at the Level II fieldwork level and OTD level can allow for easier access and synthesis of research. I make a point to attend every meeting that has a presentation, which allows for easy learning over lunch!

Any books or movies that have inspired your practice?

Love Anthony by Lisa Genova is one of the best books I have read. It’s a mother sharing her story about her son who had autism. The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida is also so helpful in understanding the experience of autism from the perspective of a 13-year-old boy. 

What advice would you give to someone who has been working with adults as an OT, and is looking to switch to pediatrics?

I have inspired multiple friends to “make the switch,” so I spoke with my friend who recently switched from inpatient rehabilitation to pediatrics. I asked her what advice she would give and here was her answer:

“Start applying for jobs, even if they are not full-time. You might not get your dream peds job at first, but that’s how you start. If you don’t land your first interview, you at least learn what you need to know for the next one! One thing I said in my interview, when I transitioned from adults to pediatrics, was that I was ready to bring a fresh perspective to the peds clinic. I knew transfer techniques really well and I felt very comfortable working with patients with neurological disorders on sitting balance and adaptive ADL techniques. I found talking with peers, looking at pediatric facebook groups, having a mentor, referring back to textbooks, and completing continuing education were all very helpful for support and treatment advice.”
- Mary Rose Simmons, MS, OTR/L

What changes do you hope to see in pediatric occupational therapy over the next 10 years? 

I hope to see more support for working with kids past early intervention age in the natural setting (e.g. at home and in community spaces). 

I think it’s important to work with children in their natural contexts in order to really translate the work we do in OT into patients’ daily lives. Also, I hope that the caregivers’ and siblings’ needs are addressed during therapy in order to holistically support the child as well as possible.

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Nobody likes job interviews. Your nerves are off the charts, your palms are sweaty, you suddenly feel unrehearsed (regardless of how long you took to prepare), and you’re terrified you’ll freeze when it matters most.  

One of the reasons OT interviews are so stressful is that conveying your skillset, training, and passion in such a short time period feels incredibly daunting.

That’s why, as with anything else in life, preparation makes a HUGE difference.

Planning ahead is key to nailing that occupational therapy interview and landing your dream OT job or COTA job. Outfits should be planned a week ahead of time, cover letters and resumes should be updated, nails should be immaculate—the list goes on. But, as important as external preparation may be, preparing for the interview questions themselves is the true key to success.

Before you dare step into that office to meet with a potential employer, be sure to explore some of the questions you’ll likely need to answer during the interview.

Questions about problem-solving1. “How do you deal with a difficult patient (or family member)?”

This is probably the most frequently asked question—not just in OT interviews, but in all healthcare interviews.

Be sure to answer in a way that lets the hiring manager know that you’re capable of patiently allowing a distressed client to express his or her feelings as you calmly provide feedback. A relaxed patient is a happy patient. And the same goes for family members!

In some cases, you might not be able to get the family member to relinquish control, in which case, you might need to have some examples of how to gently ask him or her to stay quiet (or leave the room) during the treatment—or, perhaps, you can even get the family member involved in the treatment.

2. “Describe a situation where you did not agree with management—and how did you handle it?”

This question is hard because an ideal candidate probably would not be someone who could readily become confrontational with management directive :-)

However, the interviewer wants to know that you are able to stand up for what you know is right, but handle it in a positive way. If you have any examples of a time that a manager’s choice wasn’t in the best interest of the facility or a patient, and you requested a private meeting to express that you hoped their decision would be reconsidered (with some facts to back up your argument), that should do the trick.

3. “Tell me about a difficult situation and how you handled it.”

Generally speaking, a question like this is meant to see how you problem solve and handle conflict. A great example to discuss would be when two separate doctors gave conflicting orders and you had to figure out whose directions or protocol to follow.

The important thing to note is how you handled things without losing your cool, and your answer should prove that you were a stellar communicator in the process!

4. “What do you do when you get a patient who doesn’t speak English?”

In general, each facility likely has its own protocol for handling language barriers. Some facilities use those blue translation phones, while others use in-house translators or other solutions.

You can answer the question by explaining that you always adhere to the facility protocol, and that if you feel that there’s any sort of “lost in translation” issues or confusion, you always err on the side of caution, rather than assuming you “sort of understand” what the patient means. Safety first!

5. “Have you ever had a time when your ethics felt challenged? How did you handle it?”

Unfortunately, you can probably think of numerous times when you faced questionable ethics in the workplace.

It’s best to have an example in your back pocket for this question, just in case it’s asked. If you’re not prepared, you might inadvertently put your foot in your mouth or come across as “throwing someone under the bus” when trying to answer.

When you’re answering a question like this, the important part is staying composed and professional as you answer; the hiring manager is looking for your ability to stay poised under pressure (and to see if you are the type to talk smack about your former employer).

Questions about you6. “What do you like to do in your free time?”

After all that time we spend preparing for questions about the role or the organization, it’s kind of ridiculous that this question sometimes trips us up. But it does—surprisingly often!

Many of us have trouble thinking of something to say when placed on the spot, so have an answer prepared for this one in advance. Don’t be too honest if you spend five hours on Facebook or Instagram a day, but don’t be a liar and say you volunteer at soup kitchens when really you did that once five years ago.

This question is meant to unearth what you’re like outside of your professional role, and to gain some insight about your personality.

Maybe you are an avid golfer, spend weekends in the garden, love hunting for antiques, or even joyfully belt out karaoke every Friday night. Maybe you even wrote a rock opera about your cats! Think about it ahead of time and you’ll be fine.

7. “How would your friends describe you? How would your enemies describe you?”

This is a question that often pops up as “What is your biggest strength? and/or “What is your biggest weakness?”

It does require some preparation in advance. Obviously, your friends would say all your positive attributes. That one’s a no-brainer!

However, being able to take one of your biggest weaknesses and spin it into something beneficial is an art. Here’s an example of this art form: maybe your enemy would say you are obsessive compulsive—when, in fact, you just truly have a divine eye for detail.

8. “Why did you go into occupational therapy?”

This question is meant to unearth your passion (or lack thereof) for your profession. It’s no secret that productivity pushes and documentation woes are a sobering reality for therapists these days, and the hiring manager probably doesn’t want an embittered, burned out therapist joining the team. If you’re able to muster up true passion and answer this question with a compelling answer, you’ll light up the room.

9. “Tell me about a time when you felt proud to be an OT practitioner.”

This is another one that gauges your passion for the profession, and it is a great example to show that you can advocate for OT on the job.

Try to have an example on hand when you were able to educate another staff member and/or a patient or family member who initially didn’t see the value of OT services.

10. “What is the last book you read?”

If you’re not a big reader, no judgment here!

But you should still take note of the last book you read, who wrote it, and why you liked it. While this question only occasionally pops up in a traditional (clinical) OT job interview, you will often face something along these lines in interviews for non-traditional OT jobs (such as utilization review or rehab liaison).

11. “Why should we hire you?”

This question is almost always asked in any interview, regardless of the field. This question is a bit of a meatball; it provides a terrific opportunity to sell yourself—as long as you are able to tell them you are easily adaptable to the team/culture, and that you not only can perform the job, but will do it with spectacular results.

Questions about them

Questions about the role and facility are bound to pop up, and they’re generally very easy to prepare for in advance. Be sure you take some time before the interview to learn about the company, department, and management.

12. “What interests you most about this job?”

Maybe you’re interested in hand therapy, and this role involves some mentorship under a CHT.

Maybe the patient population is your absolute favorite.

Whatever it is, be sure to think about what makes you most excited for the role before you’re put on the spot to come up with an answer.

Don’t make a rookie mistake like citing the high pay or flexible hours as reasons why you want the role. The interviewer wants to hear that you’re passionate about the work itself.

13. “Tell us about our hospital/facility/etc.”

Oh, Nellie! This is what we call a “weed-out question.”

It’s meant to help the manager whittle down candidates easily by getting rid of the ones who didn’t take the time to learn about the company before an interview.

Before any interview, you should do your research, and keep in mind that flattery (without going overboard) will grant you some major brownie points. For example, tell them you learned about them being named the #1 rehabilitation facility in the region and would be honored to join such a winning team. Or, share a personal story about a friend or family member who got top-notch treatment there (if you honestly have a story like this).

They’ll love the connection you feel with them. Just don’t lie or don’t kiss their butt too much or you will come off as insincere. There’s a fine line there.

14. “Do you have any questions for us?”

A job interview should never be one-sided, where you feel like you’re being grilled endlessly without the chance to do a little interviewing of your own.

Job interviews should always allow you, the candidate, to ask questions about the management team, facility, other therapists, patient population and more. Here are some questions you can ask:

  • Can you describe a typical workday? If you leave an interview without having a good idea about what your day-to-day work responsibilities will look like, somebody dropped the ball!

  • What type of person is the ideal candidate for the role? This is a great way to find out what they want in a candidate and decide whether you’re a good match for the team.

  • What documentation system do you use? This is a great question to ask when you simply need to ask something :-)

  • What are some of the department’s biggest challenges, and what are you doing to solve them? This is a great way to get the manager to open up a bit about some of the struggles. If you really want to impress them, see if you have a suggestion at the time of the interview—or you can mention an idea in your follow-up thank-you note.

  • Why is this position open? I love to ask this one to find out why the last person left. Or maybe nobody left, and the department is simply growing! It’s another window into the department’s workings, which helps you determine whether you’re a good fit for the team.

I also have some setting-specific questions you can ask in your job interview:

Questions to ask in an acute care OT job interview:

These are derived from my interview with the pictured acute care OT team.

  • What opportunities for growth exist?

  • What is the staff tenure?

  • Is there organizational-funded continuing education?

  • Are there productivity requirements?

  • How does the rehab department fit into the economy of the organization?

  • How is the OT team regarded and viewed professionally within the rehab department—by the organization as a whole?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer:

  • How many major/minor holidays do you require? Do you offer an incentive for working holidays?

  • Are there weekend/evening differentials? (You're asking how much more per hour you'd make for weekends.)

Questions to ask in a SNF OT job interview:

These were suggested in my interview with Mandy Chamberlain, OTR/L.

  • Is the company providing OT services for an internal or an external company?

  • Do you encourage program development?

  • What are your work hours, and what happens if your census is low?

  • What type of documentation system do you use?

  • Will I be involved with care conferences with the patients and family members?

  • What is the percentage of long-term care residents versus short-term rehab residents?

  • What are the daily productivity standards? Is it possible to have a lower standard for the first few weeks until I’m familiar with the job?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer:

  • How much vacation time is offered?

  • Are there weekend/evening/holiday differentials?

Questions to ask in a home health OT job interview:

These were suggested in my interview with Monika Lukasiewicz, OTR/L.

  • What are at least two qualities that make a home health OT successful in this company?

  • What would it look like for an OT to be successful in this position? Please describe what it would look like from a management or team perspective.

  • Why did past OTs leave this company?

  • Please describe the documentation system/process for an average day (or at least for an average visit and an evaluation).

  • Where do you hope the OT department of this company will be in five years? What are you doing to make that happen?

  • What, if any, areas of expertise are either already present on the team—or are wanted on the team (i.e. lymphedema, cognition, vision, neuro, ortho, motivational interviewing)?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer:

  • How many patients will I be expected to treat each day?

  • Approximately how much mileage will I be expected to drive each week/day?

  • Is mileage reimbursed?

Questions to ask in a traveling OT job interview:

These are derived from my interview with Emily Butler, OTD, OTR/L. Traveling interviews are a bit different, so these questions should be asked to the recruiter, rather than the hiring manager.

  • Is medical coverage free for every placement? Also, how does medical coverage work between placements? For example, if I want to take off a week between placements, would I still have medical coverage?

  • Is there any life insurance offered?

  • Is there a meals and incidentals stipend?

  • As part of the travel expense allowance: is there ever the opportunity for car rental when placements are farther away?

  • How much is the CEU annual allowance?

  • Is there any opportunity for student loan repayment?

  • Are there any opportunities for PTO?

  • The website mentioned completion and renewal bonuses… could you elaborate on this?

  • Another OT and I are hoping to travel together. Is it always possible to get placements in or near the same place?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer for a specific facility:

  • How many patients will I be expected to treat each day?

  • Is documentation time built into the day?

  • (If the role is for a home health OT travel job) Approximately how much mileage will I be expected to drive each week/day? Is mileage reimbursed?

Questions to ask at a school-based OT job interview

These were suggested by Lauren Jones of the blog Gotta Be OT.

Is this position caseload-based or workload-based? (More information at AOTA website.)

  • What is the primary service delivery model in Example County Schools? (i.e. medical, educational, consultative, telehealth, etc.)

  • What is the age range of students I will be serving?

  • What does the new employee training look like? (i.e., number of months/weeks, over the phone, in person, frequency of meetings, etc.)

  • How many therapists are employed by Example County Schools?

  • How can I consult or connect with other therapists in Example County Schools?

  • How many special education cases in Example County Schools have gone to due process within the past year?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer:

  • What is the radius I will be expected to cover?

  • Is there reimbursement for mileage?

  • What type of equipment is available to me?

  • What will I have to pay for out of pocket?

Questions to ask at a PRN occupational therapy job interview
  • Who will be available for me to contact if I have a question while filling in for someone?

  • How will I be brought up to speed on my caseload before seeing patients?

  • What training will be required throughout the year to maintain my PRN status?

  • How will I be updated of changes in the department's policies and procedures?

Additional questions to ask before you accept an offer:

  • What is the minimum number of shifts/month required to maintain PRN status?

  • What are the productivity standards for PRN staff?

  • Can I be notified of my projected caseload a day prior to working? (You need to protect your time. You don't want to plan for a full day if there are only 1-2 patients to be seen.)

  • If the facility cancels last minute, can I..

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Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) have some of the most fulfilling roles in the healthcare world. Not only do OTAs enjoy careers devoted to helping others live their best lives, they can often make a pretty nice living in the process.

I created this article to provide an overview of OTA salaries in the US. Whether you’re still considering if a career as an OTA is right for you, you’re looking at options for your first job, or you’re simply curious about how your pay compares to the national average, this article aims to give you a better idea of how much money OTAs tend to make.

I do want to add that salary is not always a black-and-white topic; after all, the traditional medical model means much of an OTA’s pay is based on reimbursement and market saturation. That said, there has been increased focus on outcomes-based (versus fee-based) reimbursements, so I realize we’re in a time of flux in the occupational therapy world. So, don’t worry—I will continually be updating this article!

Average OTA Salary ($54,257) This average was calculated by OT Potential. We took the average from the above databases to create a master OTA salary average.

We, at OT Potential, have created this calculation, and we based it on an average of numerous reputable websites’ salary data for OTAs.

However, before we dive into the nitty gritty, I want to start out with discussing what the average OTA salary really is.

I include many sources in this article, and each salary resource collects its data using unique methods and looking at different factors. Here’s what this means:

  • Some websites break down salaries between states (or even cities)

  • Some websites break them down per experience level

  • Some websites present findings as means (averages) while others use medians (which I’ll explain more in depth in a moment)

In addition to these variables, each salary resource also has its own collection bias, which is based on who chooses to submit data, who uses the resource, and how the data itself is collected.

We have chosen to base calculations on an average of all the data we found, some of which is presented as median vs. mean findings. Let’s quickly cover the difference between the two.

Median vs. mean OTA salary

“Median” means when all the salaries collected by survey respondents are listed from lowest to highest, there is usually a hump or cluster where most salaries lie. At the very center of that hump is the median. There might be some outlier OTAs who make way more or less than that amount, but that data won’t skew the median.  

On the other hand, the “mean” (average) is calculated by adding up all of the salaries of survey respondents (including the outliers), then dividing them by the total number of responses. An outlier salary that is very low, or very high, can easily skew the mean—though an outlier’s impact is decreased when more salaries are included in the calculation. The impact of outliers on a mean is a very important in this consideration, though, as quite a few OTAs work part-time or PRN, and their annual salaries are lower, which could skew the mean results toward the lower end.

In any case, I have listed our sources below in alphabetical order, and will make a point to specify whether their data is listed as median or mean.  

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) salary info

The AOTA is the professional organization for the occupational therapy field. AOTA runs its own salary survey and updates it every few years. The last year it did so was 2015.

According to the AOTA, the median annual pay for OTAs in 2014 was $48,000.

However, experience does impact an OTA’s earning potential. For example, a brand-new OTA with under a year of experience will make a median salary of $39,000. An experienced OT with between six and nine years of experience will make a median salary of $48,000. Interestingly enough, additional experience beyond nine years doesn’t seem to make much difference per the AOTA’s findings; an OTA with 25+ years of experience will earn a median salary of $48,750. (Although, it’s important to note from the graphic below that this calculation itself might be considered an outlier; the same calculations indicate an average salary of $55,000 with 21.5-25 years of experience.)

Salary By Years of Experience

Data according to the AOTA Salary and Workforce Survey

Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) salary info

The BLS is part of the US Department of Labor, which is the federal agency that monitors the labor industry. The BLS is considered an independent statistical agency, and that’s why many institutions choose to rely on BLS data for their research. Generally speaking, the BLS will list data from approximately the past two years.

According to the BLS, the median* annual pay for OTAs in 2017 was $60,220 per year.

*Please note that the BLS uses median pay, while other sites report their findings as means.

Glassdoor salary info

Glassdoor is a highly regarded and quickly growing job platform where job seekers can search for employment and learn about various companies on the same website. Glassdoor is a great spot to research interview questions for specific jobs and organizations, too.

According to Glassdoor, the mean annual pay for OTAs as of 2019 is $58,336.

OTSalary.com salary info

OTSalary was created by Kate Washa Boyd. She is an OT with a passion for helping other OTs earn what they deserve, and her website collects data from visitors in an attempt to improve visibility into OT salaries.

This website is incredibly informative, as you can sort salary data by years of experience, job type, state, education level, etc. The best way to use the site is to download the information so you can sort it yourself!

We ran some numbers based on her spreadsheet. Keep in mind that data on OTSalary is self-selecting, meaning only people who know about her site know to submit their salary info.

According to OTSalary, the mean salary of OTAs who reported working full-time (40+ hours per week) is $54,269.

When employees working fewer hours than 40 per week were factored in, the number was $45,678.

Share Your OT/OTA Salary Info to Help Others

PayScale salary info

PayScale is one of my favorite sources of info because it is one of the very first salary websites, pioneering the use of big data in its calculations—plus, salary data is pretty much all it covers. Unlike some of the other salary websites out there, PayScale’s data tends to skew on the lower side—but its data is also close to the AOTA’s findings, so we find that it reflects the reality of OTA salaries pretty well.

According to PayScale, the average annual salary of an OTA is $46,798 per year.

Salary.com salary info

Salary is another established player in the salary game, but we’ve noticed that its numbers tend to skew higher than what we typically hear on an anecdotal basis. And this applies to all salaries, not just healthcare ones, so take its results with a grain of salt. That said, this number is closer to the median BLS findings, so don’t discount it altogether.

According to Salary, the average annual salary of an OTA is $57,920 per year.

Do OTAs make a lot of money?

Frankly, this is not an easy question to answer. According to the BLS, the median salary of all workers in the US is $37,690. According to our calculations and the BLS’ calculations, OTA salaries are certainly higher than the national average. So, one might say that OTAs do make a lot of money.

At the same time, you can always find professions with astronomically high salaries, such as anesthesiologists and radiologists, and OTAs seem to make very little in comparison.

All things considered, your salary as an OTA is only part of your bigger financial picture. Much of your overall financial health depends on additional factors, including (but not limited to):

  • Loans (including student loans, home loans, car loans, etc.)

  • Dependents (including children, pets, and aging parents, etc.)

  • Lifestyle expenses

  • Health and medical expenses

  • Overall cost of living (the Bay Area is much pricier than, say, Aurora, Nebraska!)

We also think it’s worth noting that OTAs do make a pretty nice salary compared to OTs, when you take student debt load into consideration. OTs do generally have a higher earning potential, as well as more autonomy, though, so it is likely a toss-up which is better for you.

How much can a new grad OTA make straight out of school?

It’s also a bit tough to provide a set number that an OTA can expect to make right out of school. Just a few of the factors that play into this number include:

  • Where you work (location)

  • Setting

  • Patient population

  • Schedule (the hours and days you work)

  • How much you negotiate

That said, according to the AOTA, a new grad OTA will earn a median salary of $39,000 per year.

Again, you can definitely make more money straight out of school if you choose certain locations, settings, and patient populations—and you’ll almost definitely earn a significantly higher salary if you opt to travel as a new grad OTA.

Can OTAs expect to have salary growth across their careers?

The short answer is, “not exactly.”

Unfortunately, after around 20-25 years of working as an OTA, you’re usually looking at about a $15,000-$20,000 difference in your annual salary. While that might sound like a nice pay bump, it’s more likely that your raises will simply keep up with the normal inflation rates in the US.

How have OTA salaries changed over the years?

We were able to manually extract data from BLS spanning the last 20 years. According to the BLS, in 1998, the median annual salary for an OT assistants was $29,710, and today it is $60,410.

Much like home values and the stock market, the median OTA salary certainly increased during the last 20 years. And, unlike OT salaries, which have largely stagnated over the last two decades, OTA salaries have seen significant growth per the BLS.

For example, the figure below shows that the inflation-adjusted rate for the 1998 median salary is $46,501.10, which is significantly lower than the $60,000 median OTA salary quoted by the BLS. This means there actually was an increase in median pay of OTAs over 20 years, which is not the case for OTs.

According to the AOTA, overall salaries for OTAs rose 9.1% since 2010. Differences by setting are similar for OTAs, with the only notable difference being in academia—in this setting, salaries rose 18% since 2010. On the other hand, salaries rose 8.2% for full-time OTs since 2010.

So, it’s probably safe to say that OTA salaries have grown more significantly than OT salaries in the last 10-20 years, though the actual growth rates for each depends on the source cited.

Where can I find more info on OTA salaries?

First of all, I recommend that you check out the sources I listed above. Many are continually collecting data, and some update their sites as frequently as once per year (if not more often).

Also, please take the time to submit your salary information to as many of the sources listed as possible. In order for these sources to report accurate data, they need people to submit their earnings.

How can I make more money as an OTA?

There are plenty of ways to increase your earning potential as an OTA. Here are just some of those ways:

Pick a high-paying setting

As is the case with OTs, the SNF (skilled nursing facility) and HHOT (home health occupational therapy) settings typically pay higher wages than schools and hospitals. Academia pays the best of all, with median pay for OTAs sitting at $61,500.

Median OTA Annual Salaries by Work Setting Move to Texas—I mean...work in one of the highest-paying states :-)

According to the BLS, Texas pays (by far) the highest annual mean (yes, wages are reported as means in this section of the BLS) wage to OTAs, at $74,650. This is on par with the average OT salary nationwide! New Jersey, Nevada, California, and Virginia are not far behind with OTA salaries, with all of them averaging over $65,000 annually.

I will mention that I’m often asked why certain states pay more than others, and it’s simply not an easy question to answer. Just a few factors that influence pay rates in any state include:

  • Reimbursement contract rates

  • Cost of living

  • Market saturation

  • Demand for care

Consider becoming a travel OTA

Travel OTA positions are not nearly as plentiful as travel OT positions, but they’re out there—and they almost always pay more than permanent roles. That said, the travel industry is notoriously shady, so I recommend that you work with Nomadicare so that you don’t get taken advantage of.

As an affiliate and a friend of Laura’s, I completely support and believe in the Nomadicare mission. Check out her site here!

Work PRN

If you’re looking to maximize your hourly pay, working PRN (or per diem) might be the answer. Employers tend to issue higher hourly rates to therapists who don’t receive PTO or other benefits, so if you don’t need health insurance through your employer, this could be a good route to explore.

The flip side is that PRN gigs typically offer no guarantee of hours; this means you might be called off at the last minute without pay.

Negotiate your OTA salary

I used to lose sleep worrying about negotiating my salary—but I truly believe negotiating for what you’re worth is essential to finding satisfaction in your OTA career.

Here are just a few reasons to negotiate your OTA salary:

  • You will be happier with an employment contract where you helped set the parameters

  • Negotiating will show you how the company treats its employees

  • Your skillset is worth it

My friend Emily always says, "Don't ask, don't get." I cannot agree more!

How to negotiate your OTA salary

Negotiating a proper OTA salary is not that hard. You simply need to state the facts—and have a solid rationale for requesting more pay.

A good salary negotiation is always founded in research.

First of all, you’ll want to gather as much information as you can about comparable positions. You might be the best OTA ever created, but you cannot earn more than what the market can support.

I also recommend that you explore the resources cited in this article; you can find much more nuanced data on salaries if you do some digging. When you’re doing your research, also consider the number of years you’ve been in practice, your chosen setting and patient population, and any specializations or certifications you might hold.

Sometimes, despite your best attempts at negotiation, a job simply won’t budge on salary. It’s frustrating, especially when you’re not being offered a salary commensurate with your value. The good news is you can often negotiate your overall compensation package in non-salary areas, including:

  • Additional PTO and/or unpaid leave for pre-planned trips

  • Continuing education allowances

  • A flexible schedule

  • AOTA and/or NBCOT membership

  • Loan repayment options

  • A mentorship plan

Additional negotiating resources

I provide additional details about my own negotiating experiences in my post, Occupational Therapy Job Negotiations. Also, I found the StoryBrand Podcast episode #26 - 5 Strategies That Will Make You a Strong Negotiator very helpful, as it helps to normalize the idea of negotiation.

Conclusion

I’ve given you the lay of the land in terms of what types of OTA salaries are out there, as well as roughly what you can expect to earn based on your unique circumstances.

However, I also want to mention that salary is only one of the many factors you should consider if you’re pursuing an OTA career. After all, the most important consideration is whether you would enjoy being an OTA in the first place.

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Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) have some of the most fulfilling roles in the healthcare world. Not only do OTAs enjoy careers devoted to helping others live their best lives, they can often make a pretty nice living in the process.

I created this article to provide an overview of OTA salaries in the US. Whether you’re still considering if a career as an OTA is right for you, you’re looking at options for your first job, or you’re simply curious about how your pay compares to the national average, this article aims to give you a better idea of how much money OTAs tend to make.

I do want to add that salary is not always a black-and-white topic; after all, the traditional medical model means much of an OTA’s pay is based on reimbursement and market saturation. That said, there has been increased focus on outcomes-based (versus fee-based) reimbursements, so I realize we’re in a time of flux in the occupational therapy world. So, don’t worry—I will continually be updating this article!

Average OTA Salary ($54,257) This average was calculated by OT Potential. We took the average from the above databases to create a master OTA salary average.

We, at OT Potential, have created this calculation, and we based it on an average of numerous reputable websites’ salary data for OTAs.

However, before we dive into the nitty gritty, I want to start out with discussing what the average OTA salary really is.

I include many sources in this article, and each salary resource collects its data using unique methods and looking at different factors. Here’s what this means:

  • Some websites break down salaries between states (or even cities)

  • Some websites break them down per experience level

  • Some websites present findings as means (averages) while others use medians (which I’ll explain more in depth in a moment)

In addition to these variables, each salary resource also has its own collection bias, which is based on who chooses to submit data, who uses the resource, and how the data itself is collected.

We have chosen to base calculations on an average of all the data we found, some of which is presented as median vs. mean findings. Let’s quickly cover the difference between the two.

Median vs. mean OTA salary

“Median” means when all the salaries collected by survey respondents are listed from lowest to highest, there is usually a hump or cluster where most salaries lie. At the very center of that hump is the median. There might be some outlier OTAs who make way more or less than that amount, but that data won’t skew the median.  

On the other hand, the “mean” (average) is calculated by adding up all of the salaries of survey respondents (including the outliers), then dividing them by the total number of responses. An outlier salary that is very low, or very high, can easily skew the mean—though an outlier’s impact is decreased when more salaries are included in the calculation. The impact of outliers on a mean is a very important in this consideration, though, as quite a few OTAs work part-time or PRN, and their annual salaries are lower, which could skew the mean results toward the lower end.

In any case, I have listed our sources below in alphabetical order, and will make a point to specify whether their data is listed as median or mean.  

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) salary info

The AOTA is the professional organization for the occupational therapy field. AOTA runs its own salary survey and updates it every few years. The last year it did so was 2015.

According to the AOTA, the median annual pay for OTAs in 2014 was $48,000.

However, experience does impact an OTA’s earning potential. For example, a brand-new OTA with under a year of experience will make a median salary of $39,000. An experienced OT with between six and nine years of experience will make a median salary of $48,000. Interestingly enough, additional experience beyond nine years doesn’t seem to make much difference per the AOTA’s findings; an OTA with 25+ years of experience will earn a median salary of $48,750. (Although, it’s important to note from the graphic below that this calculation itself might be considered an outlier; the same calculations indicate an average salary of $55,000 with 21.5-25 years of experience.)

Salary By Years of Experience

Data according to the AOTA Salary and Workforce Survey

Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) salary info

The BLS is part of the US Department of Labor, which is the federal agency that monitors the labor industry. The BLS is considered an independent statistical agency, and that’s why many institutions choose to rely on BLS data for their research. Generally speaking, the BLS will list data from approximately the past two years.

According to the BLS, the median* annual pay for OTAs in 2017 was $60,220 per year.

*Please note that the BLS uses median pay, while other sites report their findings as means.

Glassdoor salary info

Glassdoor is a highly regarded and quickly growing job platform where job seekers can search for employment and learn about various companies on the same website. Glassdoor is a great spot to research interview questions for specific jobs and organizations, too.

According to Glassdoor, the mean annual pay for OTAs as of 2019 is $58,336.

OTSalary.com salary info

OTSalary was created by Kate Washa Boyd. She is an OT with a passion for helping other OTs earn what they deserve, and her website collects data from visitors in an attempt to improve visibility into OT salaries.

This website is incredibly informative, as you can sort salary data by years of experience, job type, state, education level, etc. The best way to use the site is to download the information so you can sort it yourself!

We ran some numbers based on her spreadsheet. Keep in mind that data on OTSalary is self-selecting, meaning only people who know about her site know to submit their salary info.

According to OTSalary, the mean salary of OTAs who reported working full-time (40+ hours per week) is $54,269.

When employees working fewer hours than 40 per week were factored in, the number was $45,678.

Share Your OT/OTA Salary Info to Help Others

PayScale salary info

PayScale is one of my favorite sources of info because it is one of the very first salary websites, pioneering the use of big data in its calculations—plus, salary data is pretty much all it covers. Unlike some of the other salary websites out there, PayScale’s data tends to skew on the lower side—but its data is also close to the AOTA’s findings, so we find that it reflects the reality of OTA salaries pretty well.

According to PayScale, the average annual salary of an OTA is $46,798 per year.

Salary.com salary info

Salary is another established player in the salary game, but we’ve noticed that its numbers tend to skew higher than what we typically hear on an anecdotal basis. And this applies to all salaries, not just healthcare ones, so take its results with a grain of salt. That said, this number is closer to the median BLS findings, so don’t discount it altogether.

According to Salary, the average annual salary of an OTA is $57,920 per year.

Do OTAs make a lot of money?

Frankly, this is not an easy question to answer. According to the BLS, the median salary of all workers in the US is $37,690. According to our calculations and the BLS’ calculations, OTA salaries are certainly higher than the national average. So, one might say that OTAs do make a lot of money.

At the same time, you can always find professions with astronomically high salaries, such as anesthesiologists and radiologists, and OTAs seem to make very little in comparison.

All things considered, your salary as an OTA is only part of your bigger financial picture. Much of your overall financial health depends on additional factors, including (but not limited to):

  • Loans (including student loans, home loans, car loans, etc.)

  • Dependents (including children, pets, and aging parents, etc.)

  • Lifestyle expenses

  • Health and medical expenses

  • Overall cost of living (the Bay Area is much pricier than, say, Aurora, Nebraska!)

We also think it’s worth noting that OTAs do make a pretty nice salary compared to OTs, when you take student debt load into consideration. OTs do generally have a higher earning potential, as well as more autonomy, though, so it is likely a toss-up which is better for you.

How much can a new grad OTA make straight out of school?

It’s also a bit tough to provide a set number that an OTA can expect to make right out of school. Just a few of the factors that play into this number include:

  • Where you work (location)

  • Setting

  • Patient population

  • Schedule (the hours and days you work)

  • How much you negotiate

That said, according to the AOTA, a new grad OTA will earn a median salary of $39,000 per year.

Again, you can definitely make more money straight out of school if you choose certain locations, settings, and patient populations—and you’ll almost definitely earn a significantly higher salary if you opt to travel as a new grad OTA.

Can OTAs expect to have salary growth across their careers?

The short answer is, “not exactly.”

Unfortunately, after around 20-25 years of working as an OTA, you’re usually looking at about a $15,000-$20,000 difference in your annual salary. While that might sound like a nice pay bump, it’s more likely that your raises will simply keep up with the normal inflation rates in the US.

How have OTA salaries changed over the years?

We were able to manually extract data from BLS spanning the last 20 years. According to the BLS, in 1998, the median annual salary for an OT assistants was $29,710, and today it is $60,410.

Much like home values and the stock market, the median OTA salary certainly increased during the last 20 years. And, unlike OT salaries, which have largely stagnated over the last two decades, OTA salaries have seen significant growth per the BLS.

For example, the figure below shows that the inflation-adjusted rate for the 1998 median salary is $46,501.10, which is significantly lower than the $60,000 median OTA salary quoted by the BLS. This means there actually was an increase in median pay of OTAs over 20 years, which is not the case for OTs.

According to the AOTA, overall salaries for OTAs rose 9.1% since 2010. Differences by setting are similar for OTAs, with the only notable difference being in academia—in this setting, salaries rose 18% since 2010. On the other hand, salaries rose 8.2% for full-time OTs since 2010.

So, it’s probably safe to say that OTA salaries have grown more significantly than OT salaries in the last 10-20 years, though the actual growth rates for each depends on the source cited.

Where can I find more info on OTA salaries?

First of all, I recommend that you check out the sources I listed above. Many are continually collecting data, and some update their sites as frequently as once per year (if not more often).

Also, please take the time to submit your salary information to as many of the sources listed as possible. In order for these sources to report accurate data, they need people to submit their earnings.

How can I make more money as an OTA?

There are plenty of ways to increase your earning potential as an OTA. Here are just some of those ways:

Pick a high-paying setting

As is the case with OTs, the SNF (skilled nursing facility) and HHOT (home health occupational therapy) settings typically pay higher wages than schools and hospitals. Academia pays the best of all, with median pay for OTAs sitting at $61,500.

Median OTA Annual Salaries by Work Setting Move to Texas—I mean...work in one of the highest-paying states :-)

According to the BLS, Texas pays (by far) the highest annual mean (yes, wages are reported as means in this section of the BLS) wage to OTAs, at $74,650. This is on par with the average OT salary nationwide! New Jersey, Nevada, California, and Virginia are not far behind with OTA salaries, with all of them averaging over $65,000 annually.

I will mention that I’m often asked why certain states pay more than others, and it’s simply not an easy question to answer. Just a few factors that influence pay rates in any state include:

  • Reimbursement contract rates

  • Cost of living

  • Market saturation

  • Demand for care

Consider becoming a travel OTA

Travel OTA positions are not nearly as plentiful as travel OT positions, but they’re out there—and they almost always pay more than permanent roles. That said, the travel industry is notoriously shady, so I recommend that you work with Nomadicare so that you don’t get taken advantage of.

As an affiliate and a friend of Laura’s, I completely support and believe in the Nomadicare mission. Check out her site here!

Work PRN

If you’re looking to maximize your hourly pay, working PRN (or per diem) might be the answer. Employers tend to issue higher hourly rates to therapists who don’t receive PTO or other benefits, so if you don’t need health insurance through your employer, this could be a good route to explore.

The flip side is that PRN gigs typically offer no guarantee of hours; this means you might be called off at the last minute without pay.

Negotiate your OTA salary

I used to lose sleep worrying about negotiating my salary—but I truly believe negotiating for what you’re worth is essential to finding satisfaction in your OTA career.

Here are just a few reasons to negotiate your OTA salary:

  • You will be happier with an employment contract where you helped set the parameters

  • Negotiating will show you how the company treats its employees

  • Your skillset is worth it

My friend Emily always says, "Don't ask, don't get." I cannot agree more!

How to negotiate your OTA salary

Negotiating a proper OTA salary is not that hard. You simply need to state the facts—and have a solid rationale for requesting more pay.

A good salary negotiation is always founded in research.

First of all, you’ll want to gather as much information as you can about comparable positions. You might be the best OTA ever created, but you cannot earn more than what the market can support.

I also recommend that you explore the resources cited in this article; you can find much more nuanced data on salaries if you do some digging. When you’re doing your research, also consider the number of years you’ve been in practice, your chosen setting and patient population, and any specializations or certifications you might hold.

Sometimes, despite your best attempts at negotiation, a job simply won’t budge on salary. It’s frustrating, especially when you’re not being offered a salary commensurate with your value. The good news is you can often negotiate your overall compensation package in non-salary areas, including:

  • Additional PTO and/or unpaid leave for pre-planned trips

  • Continuing education allowances

  • A flexible schedule

  • AOTA and/or NBCOT membership

  • Loan repayment options

  • A mentorship plan

Additional negotiating resources

I provide additional details about my own negotiating experiences in my post, Occupational Therapy Job Negotiations. Also, I found the StoryBrand Podcast episode #26 - 5 Strategies That Will Make You a Strong Negotiator very helpful, as it helps to normalize the idea of negotiation.

Conclusion

I’ve given you the lay of the land in terms of what types of OTA salaries are out there, as well as roughly what you can expect to earn based on your unique circumstances.

However, I also want to mention that salary is only one of the many factors you should consider if you’re pursuing an OTA career. After all, the most important consideration is whether you would enjoy being an OTA in the first place.

Find the best OTA jobs
  • Show original
  • .
  • Share
  • .
  • Favorite
  • .
  • Email
  • .
  • Add Tags 

Occupational therapy is considered one of the most fulfilling and flexible careers within healthcare. Not only do OTs help dramatically improve the overall quality of patients’ lives, we also earn a pretty solid income in the process!

As much as we pride ourselves on being a client-focused field, we do need to consider our own health, though—and that includes our financial health—in order to provide the best possible care.

I wrote this article to provide an overview of salaries in the OT world, so that you can get a better lay of the land. Whether you’re still looking into OT as a profession, considering options for your first job, or simply searching for insight as to how your pay stacks up, this article aims to give you an idea of how the occupational therapy profession pays.

Salary can be a very complicated topic, especially with much of our pay being dictated by reimbursement and market saturation. With increased focus on outcomes-based (rather than fee-based) reimbursements, I recognize that we’re in a time of flux. So don’t worry—I will be regularly updating this article!

Average OT Salary ($76,448) This average was calculated by OT Potential. We took the average from the above databases to create a master OT salary average. Average OT salary (2019)

We have calculated the average OT salary in 2019 to be $76,448.

This is our own calculation, and we based it on an average of multiple reputable sites’ findings, which we will discuss below.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s start with what the average OT salary really is. I’m going to be including many sources in this article. That’s because each salary resource collects its data using its own methods. Each resource also looks at different factors. For example, some websites might break down salaries between states (or even cities), while others break them down per region or per experience level. Other sites focus more on experience level or other factors.

Keep in mind, as well, that each source has its own collection bias, based on who chooses to submit data, who uses the resource, and how the data itself is collected. And we have based our calculations on an average of all the data we found, some of which is presented as median vs. mean findings.

Median vs. mean OT salary

Before we dive into the data, I also want to note that “median salary” is different from “mean salary” (also known as “average salary”).

A median salary means that, when all the salaries are laid out from lowest to highest, there is usually a cluster where most salaries lie. At the center of that cluster lies the median—or middle—of that list of salaries. You might have some outliers that make a ton or very little, but they won’t skew the median.  

The mean (average) literally takes all of the salaries, adds them up, then divides them by the total number of responses. That means that those outliers (meaning the very low, or very high, salaries) could very easily skew the mean. And this is important to consider, because there are quite a few OTs who only work part-time or PRN, and their annual salaries are lower for that reason alone, not because they’re making a terrible hourly wage.

With that out of the way, here are what various resources list as the average (or median, in some cases) salaries for OTs. I have listed sources in alphabetical order.  

The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)

The AOTA is the professional organization for the OT field. AOTA runs its own salary survey and updates it every few years. The last year it did so was 2015.

According to the AOTA, the median annual pay for OTs in 2015 was $70,000.

However, the findings reveal that experience is a big factor in how much you can earn as an OT. For example, a brand-new OT with under a year of experience will make a median salary of $59,000. An experienced OT with six to nine years of experience will make a median salary of $69,000. And an OT with 25+ years of experience will earn a median salary of $80,000.

Salary By Years of Experience

The graphic above shows that, according to the The AOTA Salary and Workforce Survey, occupational therapists (OTs) earn a median salary of $59,000 right out of school. After just 6 years in the field, OTs see a $10,000 increase.

Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS)

The BLS is a subset of the US Department of Labor. That’s the federal agency that keeps tabs on the labor industry. It’s considered an independent statistical agency, which is why many people choose to use its data as their primary reference for salaries. The BLS does collect data fairly regularly, so you can usually find accurate data from within the last two years or so.

According to the BLS, the median annual pay for OTs in 2017 was $83,200* per year.

*Despite the calculation being median vs. mean, it’s close enough to other sites’ calculations for means. So I decided to include it in our calculation.

Glassdoor

Glassdoor is a reputable career platform where job seekers can learn about various companies, read and write reviews for facilities, research interview questions for specific jobs and organizations, and search for jobs.

According to Glassdoor, the mean annual pay for OTs as of 2019 is $80,782.

OT Salary.com

OTSalary.com was created by Kate Washa Boyd, an OT with a passion for helping other OTs earn what they deserve. Her website collects data from visitors (so it’s obviously skewed data reflecting only people who have been to her site) in an attempt to improve visibility into OT salaries.

This website is a standout because you can sort the data by years of experience, job type, state, education level, etc. The best way to use it is to download the information so you can sort it yourself!

We ran some numbers based on her spreadsheet. Here’s what it looks like:

According to OTSalary.com, the mean salary of OTs who reported working full-time (40+ hours per week) is $70,860.

When employees working fewer hours than 40 per week were factored in, the number was closer to $65,000.

Share Your OT/OTA Salary Info to Help Others

PayScale.com

Personally, I recommend that you pay close attention to the data yielded by PayScale. This site is one of the earliest salary-oriented websites, and it pioneered the use of big data and unique matching algorithms to clarify the waters in the compensation world.

Please note PayScale gives lower median annual salaries for full-time OT practitioners, but the salaries are calculated based on respondents to a PayScale survey, which I assume is a smaller pool.

What is particularly helpful on this page is an overview of salaries from some of the big employers like Rehab Care, Aegis, Fox Rehab, etc.

According to PayScale, the average annual salary of an occupational therapist (OT) is $65,418 per year.

Salary.com

Salary.com is another older player in the compensation game, but we’ve noticed that it always tends to give higher numbers than we hear anecdotally. And this is across the board, not just for occupational therapy, so I recommend you take this number with a rather large grain of salt.

According to Salary.com, the average OT salary in the United States is $86,326 as of March 28, 2019.

I do like that the site gives a clear caveat, noting that pay rates can vary widely based on things like education, certifications, additional skills, and years of experience in the profession.  

UpDocMedia

I checked UpDocMedia, a website known in the PT world for having very accurate data about physical therapy salaries in its Pulse publication. The Pulse has a more modest representation of pay for OTs, but its numbers are most definitely in line with the findings of other sites.

   

As you can see, the sample size is pretty low, but OTs on average came out to earn $75,000, which is in line with other sites’ findings, as well as quite close to our own calculation!

You can contribute your own salary information to UpDocMedia by using this form.

WebPT

Lastly, I downloaded WebPT’s OT Salary Guide, and found that they report OT salaries as an average.

According to WebPT, OTs in April, 2016 made a mean annual wage of $80,000.

Do OTs make a lot of money?

The term “a lot of money” is relative, and it certainly is based on your frame of reference. For example, according to BLS, in May 2017, the median annual wage for all workers was $37,690. OT salaries, according to our calculations and BLS’ calculations, are more than double that rate.

That said, when you compare OT salaries to those of radiologists or software engineers, we don’t make a lot of money.

Keep in mind that your salary as an OT is only part of the big financial picture. What might feel like a lot of money to someone with no debt might feel like very little when you have over 200k in loans to pay back.

Generally speaking, OTs do make a lot of money as new graduates, but income doesn’t tend to climb as much, nor as rapidly, as it does in other industries.

How much can a new grad OT make straight out of school?

It’s not easy to give a simple answer of what a new OT can make right out of grad school. Depending on where you work, the setting you choose, the patient population you treat, the hours and days you work, and how much you negotiate, you can make wildly different salaries.

According to the AOTA, a new grad OT will earn a median salary of $59,000 per year.

However, you can certainly make more if you choose a setting like SNF or Home Health, or especially if you opt to spend some time as a travel OT, which we’ll discuss more below.

Highest paying OT jobs

Many new OTs are saddled with increasing debt, so it’s no surprise when people are curious to learn about the OT jobs with the highest salaries.

According to WebPT’s OT Salary Guide, research and development (which can be considered non-clinical), home health, and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) offer the highest pay to OTs.

Keep in mind that patient population (and their respective payers) will also factor in; for example, Medicare reimbursements rates tend to be higher than Medicaid rates.

Lowest paying OT jobs

Similarly, it’s always wise to know which settings and patient populations pay the least. While this data was harder to pin down, I have heard anecdotally that settings such as mental health and adult day care tend to offer the lowest compensation.

Keep in mind, though, that these settings tend to be highly fulfilling and often lack the productivity pushes you’ll find in other settings.

Can OTs expect to have salary growth across their careers?

The short answer is, “sort of.”

While OTs are often pleased by their higher-than-average starting salaries (compared to peers at the same age), they’re sometimes dismayed by unimpressive raises—or no raises at all. This can be very frustrating for OTs with high debt burdens, especially as they watch their friends who didn’t go to graduate school surpass their earnings in several years.

How have OT salaries changed over the years?

We were able to manually extract data from BLS spanning the last 21 years. Incidentally, you can see that the data is a bit all over the map. Salaries initially climbed a bit, then tanked around 2006, then climbed again, had a brief dip, and then continued to climb.

Much like home values, the stock market, or anything else one might monitor for years, the median OT salary certainly increased during the last 20-plus years, rising from $52,458 to $83,200 in that time. However, if you consider the increase in terms of inflation, there has not been significant growth.

For example, the figure below shows that the inflation-adjusted rate for the 1998 median salary is $80,813, which is only around three thousand dollars less than the current rate.

So, it’s probably safe to say that OT salaries have remained stable over the years.

$52,458 in 1998 ➡ $80,813.27 in 2018 Average OT Salary How do OT salaries compare to PT salaries?

If you’re trying to decide between physical and occupational therapy as a profession, don’t stress too much. We did the same calculation based on data below, and we determined that the average PT salary is $79,900. Let’s look at where we found that data. As with OT salaries, we created an average of the available data from the following sources:

American Physical Therapy Association (APTA)

The APTA is the professional organization for physical therapy practitioners. According to its data, the median salary for a physical therapist is $85,000.

Salaries vary based on position, years of experience, degree of education, geographic location, and practice setting.

The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS)

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for physical therapists was $86,850 in May 2017.

Glassdoor

According to Glassdoor, the average salary of a physical therapist in 2019 is $70,982.

PayScale

According to PayScale, the average pay for a PT is $69,981 per year.

Salary.com

According to Salary.com, the average pay for a PT in the US as of March, 2019 is $85,643.

UpDocMedia

According to UpDocMedia, the average physical therapist salary is $73,623.

WebPT

According to WebPT, the average physical therapist salary is $87,220.

Again, physical therapists really only earn about $3,000 more per year than OTs, on average. Thus, I highly recommend that you pursue the profession that appeals to you the most, especially since factors like educational level, geographic location, and experience level can also impact your earning potential.

How can I make more money as an OT?

One of the reasons you might have come upon this article was to make more money. There are plenty of ways to increase your earning potential as an OT. Let’s explore some of them.

Pick a high-paying setting

Generally speaking, SNF (skilled nursing facility) and HHOT (home health occupational therapy) settings pay higher than schools and hospitals.

In May 2017, the median annual wages for occupational therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Median OT Salaries by Industry

• SNF = Nursing care facilities

• Home Health = Home healthcare services

• Offices = Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists

• Hospitals = Hospitals; state, local, and private

• Schools = Elementary and secondary schools; state, locals, and private

Specialize

It’s not a guarantee, but some hospitals do pay more for more specialties. However, most hospitals tend to base it more on experience. You might be able to negotiate with smaller facilities. (CHT, etc.)

Here is a comprehensive list of specialities and certifications available to OTs.

Work in one of the highest-paying states

According to the BLS, Nevada, New Jersey, California, Arizona, and Washington, D.C. are great pics. Keep in mind, though, that Nevada and Arizona have much lower cost of living (overall) than California and Washington D.C.

 

I am frequently asked why certain states pay more than others. That’s not an easy question to answer, but the general consensus seems to be a combination of reimbursement contract rates being higher, cost of living being higher, and market saturation of OTs being lower.

Consider non-clinical OT work

Non-clinical occupational therapy jobs are all the rage these days, and that’s partly because they tend to pay better than clinical work. For example, according to AOTA, academia pays even better than SNFs and home health, and WebPT reports that going into research and development settings also trumps the HHOT and SNF settings.

  Median OT Annual Salaries by Work Setting

Keep in mind this is not a hard-and-fast rule; plenty of non-clinical roles pay less than clinical ones. But, I’ve listed a few below that tend to pay more than clinical work, so feel free to explore these if you’d like to up your earning potential!

  • Sales - OTs can work as clinical educators, clinical specialists, account managers, and sales representatives.

  • Recruiting - OTs (particularly ones with a background in travel OT) can become recruiters, earning high commissions from successful placements.

  • Rehab Liaison - While OTs will generally earn about what they would in a clinical role as a liaison, these roles sometimes offer bonuses and performance incentives that boost base pay.

Consider travel OT

Travel OT positions are almost always going to pay more than permanent roles. However, the travel industry is shady, so I recommend that you work with Nomadicare so that you don’t get taken advantage of. Laura Latimer, founder of Nomadicare, is an OT who was sick of being exploited by the slimy travel world. She came up with a really cool platform that vets recruiters and matches them with travelers.

Her platform helps you to make the most amount of money possible as a traveler. As an affiliate and a friend of Laura’s, I completely support her and believe in what she is doing with Nomadicare. Check out her site here!

Work PRN

Working PRN (or per diem) can certainly help to boost your pay, as employers tend to issue higher hourly rates to therapists who don’t receive PTO or other benefits. If you’re crafty and don’t need health insurance through your employer, you can often make quite a bit more per hour by accepting a PRN role.

The caveat, of course, is that there is no guarantee of hours; many PRN jobs are notorious for calling therapists off at the last minute.

Negotiate your OT salary

I’ve lost so much sleep over negotiating my salary, but I truly believe negotiating for what you’re worth is essential to finding satisfaction in your OT career.

Here are just a few reasons to negotiate your OT salary:

  • You will be happier with a contract in which you helped to set the parameters.

  • You will quickly learn invaluable information about how the company treats employees.

  • Your skillset is worth it!

In the end, it's like my friend Emily says, "Don't ask, don't get."

Before we get into the nitty gritty of negotiation, I want to show you a quick success story. If you have a success story from negotiating your salary, I would love to hear it in the comments!

How to negotiate your OT salary

Negotiating a proper salary is not that hard. You simply need to state the facts and have a solid position for asking for more money.

A good salary negotiation is founded in research.

Gather as much information as you can about comparable positions. Unfortunately, many cities are saturated with OTs, and other locations simply don’t have that many OT jobs. You might be the best OT on earth, but you cannot earn more than what the market can support.

I recommend that you use the resources we cited in this article to help you with negotiation. Other factors to consider include years in practice, setting and patient population, and where you live.

Sometimes, a job simply won’t budge on salary. It can be frustrating, especially when you feel that you’re not being offered a salary commensurate with your value, and you might think that means you have to accept an offer that’s not ideal. Don’t despair—you can often negotiate in non-salary areas, including:

  • Unpaid leave for already scheduled trips

  • Mutually beneficial continuing education

  • The ideal schedule

  • AOTA and NBCOT membership

  • Loan repayment options

  • A mentorship plan

Additional negotiating resources

I found the StoryBrand Podcast Episode #26 - 5 Strategies That Will Make You a Strong Negotiator extremely helpful in normalizing the act of negotiation.

I also give more details about my own negotiating experiences in my post,

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I always love seeing the flutter of activity that occurs when it’s time to celebrate occupational therapy!

Let’s be real: the holistic lens that OTs bring to healthcare is desperately needed—and that’s why it’s always worth shouting occupational therapy’s benefits from the roof tops.

Our profession’s excellence aside, our clients’ own accomplishments are nothing short of miraculous—and these achievements also deserve to be celebrated.

There are so many reasons to get excited about OT Month, and that’s why I wrote this article! :-)

I’ve put together 11 ideas below, and you can use them as inspiration to celebrate OT Month in the ways that matter to you most. Whether you look at it as a time of reflection, a time for fostering collaboration with colleagues, or a time to celebrate our clients’ progress, there’s simply no excuse not to celebrate OT Month!

Wait? When, exactly, is OT Month?

For OTs in the United States, OT Month occurs during April. But, OT celebrations take place throughout the year around the globe. If I am missing the celebration in your country or region, please let me me know!

  • World Occupational Therapy Day- October 27th

  • Canada: Occupational Therapy Month- October

  • UK: Occupational Therapy Week- The first week of November

  • Argentina: Occupational Therapy Day- September 10th

  • Mexico: Occupational Therapy Day- July 5th

  • US: Occupational Therapy Month- April

  • Australia: OT Week- Starts the 3rd Sunday in October

11 ideas for celebrating OT! 1.) Spread the word about what we do!!

OT Month is the perfect time to share information about our profession with your friends, family, and colleagues. Here are some resources we’ve created over the years; they were specifically crafted for you to help inform others about what we do in our wonderful profession:

The Complete Guide to Occupational Therapy (blog post)

The “What is OT?” Guide was crafted specifically with clients and prospective OTs in mind! It is an overarching resource for people who are curious about who we are, what we do, how we’re educated, the scope of our profession, and the rationale behind our interventions.

An Explanation of OT (video)

This short video was created to help illustrate the how, the what, and the why of occupational therapy. Feel free to share it with your friends, family, and even patients!

What is Occupational Therapy (OT)?: An explanation of a wonderful profession - YouTube
2.) Share OT inspiration

OT Month is a great time to share inspiration with clients and fellow colleagues! These quotes were formatted for use on Instagram—feel free to share them!




3.) Share information about OT history

I am a big believer in the value of taking time to learn from history. Set time aside this month to learn more about our profession. If you need a starting point, here are 10 of my favorite moments from OT history


4.) Write thank you notes

I’m sure you can think of at least one coworker who contributes to your ability to provide occupational therapy services.

It could be another OT practitioner, a tech, someone from the front or back office, or even a stranger who smiles at you in the halls each day.

However that person brings light into your practice, OT Month is a wonderful time to thank him or her (or them) with a brief note of gratitude.

5.) Reflect on what you’ve learned this past year

I once worked under a general practice doctor; each New Year's Eve, he would sit down and write out the names of the patients he had lost during that year.

Is this weighty?

Yes.

Is this also a beautiful tribute to human life?

Absolutely.

While we do not deal with this type of loss as frequently in the therapy setting, we occasionally have patients in our care who do pass away. We also see patients whose conditions dramatically worsen, as well as those whose circumstances pull heavily on our heartstrings.

OT Month provides the perfect excuse to take a few moments to honor the patients who have touched our lives. We can learn so much from them.

What have you learned both as a therapist, and as a human being, from working with these patients?

I’m not usually one to journal, but on April 1st, I am going to start listing some of the patients who have touched my life during the past year.

6.) Set client-facing goals

Keeping New Year’s goals is challenging enough!

That’s why combining your personal goals and your professional goals can inadvertently set you up for failure.

Consider making it a habit to set patient-related goals at the start of OT Month each year.

What are three measurable goals you that you could set to provide more value to your clients?

7.) Set professional goals

You can also use OT Month as a time to look at your profession from your own holistic lens. You can set short-term goals and long-term goals, and make achievable milestones that provide you with agency over your own career path!

Perhaps you would like to earn a new OT certification or start your own OT business?

8.) Host an OT get-together

I have been lucky enough to work with some really fantastic teams over the years.

Something I have noticed is that the most dynamic teams had a habit of getting together outside of work.

Hosting a get-together could be as simple as picking a time and restaurant where you meet with other OTs for a quick happy hour. You could also consider having coworkers over for dinner or brunch.

It’s tempting to go crazy with creative crafting ideas to bring out the best in your OT friends––but, really, no agenda is necessary. Simply create a space to relax and enjoy each others’ company without the pressure of productivity!

If you are looking for some inspiration in this area, check out the PT Pub Night website!

9.) Decorate your workspace

There’s a reason why people go crazy with decorations during Christmas and Halloween.

The right decor can truly warm up a room and bring a smile to everyone’s face.

Why not do that for your workspace to honor OT Month?

Whether you are looking at permanent decorations, or you just want to take five minutes to draw on a white board, any environment can benefit from some OT-related cheer!

If you are looking for some items to decorate your doors (or use as handouts), check out the OT Month Toolkit in our OT Marketplace. We had a a ton of fun creating these designs to help brighten your space!

Buy the OT Month Toolkit 10.) Use snacks as bait :-)

Let’s be honest, snacks are probably one of the best ways to draw people in to your wonderful OT space.

Invite your colleagues to stop by during lunch (or on a specific afternoon), share some yummy OT treats with them, and take advantage of a captive audience!

You can make their stomachs happy while you distribute information about your occupational therapy offerings! 




11) Host a Lunch and Learn

It's funny how rarely I actually see the doctors who approve my plans of care and send referrals.

I've only done a Lunch and Learn once for the doctors at my clinic, but one of the main benefits was simply connecting in person.

My presentation had about six slides––and it focused on services we offered, but were underutilized. I noticed an instant uptick in referrals after this. 

Conclusion

There are countless ways to honor the occupational therapy profession during OT Month. This article features some of my favorites, but I’m sure many of you have your own ideas and traditions. Please share your ideas in the comments below; we would love to learn additional ways to spread the joy of the best profession on earth! :-)

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We become occupational therapists so we can provide holistic care to our clients.

We want to flex our creative muscles and exercise our compassion. We want to work alongside patients, sharing their joy and their pain—serving as guides as they reclaim their lives.

But for all the “softer” reasons that draw us to the profession, we OTs also have a strong analytical side.

We choose our career, on some level, for love of the science that holds it all together.

I say this because I want you to dive into this article with true love for OT in your heart. With a deep commitment to why we fell in love with our profession in the first place, and why it is vital that we stay current with research, even when we feel pulled in 10 different directions in a single day.

But let me step back for a moment, and let you know why I’m writing this article :-)

Why keeping up with medical developments is the biggest challenge of our OT generation

It’s no secret that medical professionals are having a tough time these days.

We shuttle from patient to patient, focused more on billable units and clunky EMRs than actual therapy.

And when we feel this way for too long, our thirst for new knowledge dies down.

We stop thinking about research as a method to further improve our patients’ lives, and instead consider it just another task to be completed. And, sadly, it’s a task that keeps getting pushed to the side as we focus on slogging through our days.

We OTs are affected each day by decreasing reimbursement and stagnating salaries—not to mention increased productivity expectations—and there’s no secret about it.

At least we’re talking about it, which is great.

However, the focus on burnout, productivity, and EMR headaches has masked an even more massive shift––and this might be the most troubling one at all. In fact, I will go so far as to say this will be the true challenge of our generation of occupational therapists:

We are not keeping up with medical advancements.

Recent years have shown an exponential growth of medical knowledge and discoveries—but we’re doing a TERRIBLE job of keeping up with these advances.

Here’s what I mean.

Consider this excerpt from a medical journal, where the authors are discussing the rapid advancement of medical knowledge (discoveries, advancements, research, etc.):  

It is estimated that the doubling time of medical knowledge in 1950 was 50 years; in 1980, 7 years; and in 2010, 3.5 years. In 2020 it is projected to be 0.2 years—just 73 days. Students who began medical school in the autumn of 2010 will experience approximately three doublings in knowledge by the time they complete the minimum length of training (7 years) needed to practice medicine. Students who graduate in 2020 will experience four doublings in knowledge. What was learned in the first 3 years of medical school will be just 6% of what is known at the end of the decade from 2010 to 2020.

That’s a lot of numbers, and I had to read it about ten times to really absorb what it meant, and how profound its implications are. The gist is that we’re making insanely huge medical advancements and discoveries, but the info just isn’t being delivered to the actual clinicians for integration into our practice.

To quote the author:

“Knowledge is expanding faster than our ability to assimilate and apply it effectively; and this is as true in education and patient care as it is in research.”

Yes, it’s scary, but we OTs are hardly alone; this phenomenon is a problem throughout the medical field.

But, that does not let us as OTs off the hook.

I created this platform in 2012 with a simple mission: to share what is (and isn't) working in our OT practice.

Recently, my heart has really been pushing me to undertake the issue of evidence-based practice. I am so eager to help fight this information underload problem in our profession and help point you in the direction of resources that can elevate your profession—and are backed by science.

Will we be able to do it perfectly?

No.

Will it be a huge learning curve?

Yes.

But here’s to trying...together.

With that said, I’d like to share:

The 50 most-cited OT articles from the past five years

Just looking at this title makes my blood pump a little faster. Sifting through mountains of articles just to get to the top 50 articles is a lot of work, and when I started researching for this article, it felt overwhelming.

Luckily, I was able to team up with a research librarian to make this article happen.

I wanted to begin by looking at which articles were having the biggest impact throughout the medical community, and also mentioned OT.

Here are the articles, ranked by the number of times they were cited throughout medical literature:

  1. An integrated palliative and respiratory care service for patients with advanced disease and refractory breathlessness: A randomised controlled trial (2014) The Lancet Respiratory Medicine

  2. Interdisciplinary chronic pain management (2014) American Psychologist

  3. Increased hospital-based physical rehabilitation and information provision after intensive care unit discharge: The RECOVER randomized clinical trial (2015) JAMA Internal Medicine

  4. Stem cells as an emerging paradigm in stroke 3 enhancing the development of clinical trials (2014) Stroke

  5. Effect of a task-oriented rehabilitation program on upper extremity recovery following motor stroke the ICARE randomized clinical trial (2016) JAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association

  6. Is a specialist breathlessness service more effective and cost-effective for patients with advanced cancer and their carers than standard care? Findings of a mixed-method randomised controlled trial (2014) BMC Medicine

  7. Efficacy of occupational therapy for patients with Parkinson's disease: A randomised controlled trial (2014) The Lancet Neurology

  8. An intervention for sensory difficulties in children with autism: A randomized trial (2014) Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders

  9. Geriatric assessment-guided care processes for older adults: A Delphi consensus of geriatric oncology experts (2015) JNCCN Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network

  10. Feasibility and safety of early combined cognitive and physical therapy for critically ill medical and surgical patients: The Activity and Cognitive Therapy in ICU (ACT-ICU) trial (2014) Intensive Care Medicine

  11. Rehabilitation of motor function after stroke: A multiple systematic review focused on techniques to stimulate upper extremity recovery (2016) Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

  12. Universal newborn screening for congenital CMV infection: What is the evidence of potential benefit? (2014) Reviews in Medical Virology

  13. Feasibility of articulated arm mounted oculus rift virtual reality goggles for adjunctive pain control during occupational therapy in pediatric burn patients (2014) Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking

  14. 2016 update of the EULAR recommendations for the management of early arthritis (2017) Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases

  15. An International Definition for "Nursing Home" (2015) Journal of the American Medical Directors Association

  16. Screening for autism spectrum disorder in young children US preventive services task force recommendation statement (2016) JAMA - Journal of the American Medical Association

  17. A task-specific interactive game-based virtual reality rehabilitation system for patients with stroke: A usability test and two clinical experiments (2014) Journal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation

  18. Rehabilitation for Parkinson's disease: Current outlook and future challenges (2016) Parkinsonism and Related Disorders

  19. Connectivity measures are robust biomarkers of cortical function and plasticity after stroke (2015) Brain

  20. A perioperative cost analysis comparing single-level minimally invasive and open transforaminal lumbar interbody fusion (2014) Spine Journal

  21. Complex regional pain syndrome : An optimistic perspective (2015) Neurology

  22. Occupational therapy code of ethics (2015) American Journal of Occupational Therapy

  23. Cognitive symptom management and rehabilitation therapy (CogSMART) for veterans with traumatic brain injury: Pilot randomized controlled trial (2014) Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development

  24. Intravenous Bisphosphonate Therapy of Young Children with Osteogenesis Imperfecta: Skeletal Findings during Follow Up Throughout the Growing Years (2015) Journal of Bone and Mineral Research

  25. Work-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy and individual job support to increase work participation in common mental disorders: A randomised controlled multicentre trial (2015) Occupational and Environmental Medicine

  26. Weekly variation in health-care quality by day and time of admission: a nationwide, registry-based, prospective cohort study of acute stroke care (2016) The Lancet

  27. Priority setting partnership to identify the top 10 research priorities for the management of parkinson's disease (2015) BMJ Open

  28. PLAY project home consultation intervention program for young children with autism spectrum disorders: A randomized controlled trial (2014) Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics

  29. Cortical changes underlying balance recovery in patients with hemiplegic stroke (2014) NeuroImage

  30. Belonging, occupation, and human well-being: An exploration (2014) Canadian Journal of Occupational Therapy

  31. Feasibility of high-repetition, task-specific training for individuals with upper-extremity paresis (2014) American Journal of Occupational Therapy

  32. Virtual reality for upper extremity rehabilitation in early stroke: A pilot randomized controlled trial (2014) Clinical Rehabilitation

  33. Upper limb robot-assisted therapy in cerebral palsy: A single-blind randomized controlled trial (2015) Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair

  34. Locomotion improvement using a hybrid assistive limb in recovery phase stroke patients: A randomized controlled pilot study (2014) Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

  35. EFNS/ENS Consensus on the diagnosis and management of chronic ataxias in adulthood (2014) European Journal of Neurology

  36. Burnout among physicians (2014) Libyan Journal of Medicine

  37. Effect of early rehabilitation during intensive care unit stay on functional status: Systematic review and meta-analysis (2015) PLoS ONE

  38. Improving functional disability and cognition in parkinson disease randomized controlled trial (2014) Neurology

  39. The prevalence of potentially modifiable functional deficits and the subsequent use of occupational and physical therapy by older adults with cancer (2015) Journal of Geriatric Oncology

  40. Extended roles for allied health professionals: An updated systematic review of the evidence (2014) Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare

  41. A qualitative study exploring the usability of nintendo wii fit among persons with multiple sclerosis (2014) Occupational Therapy International

  42. Physiotherapy and Occupational Therapy vs No Therapy in mild to moderate Parkinson disease (2016) JAMA Neurology

  43. An environmental scan for early mobilization practices in U.S. ICUs (2015) Critical Care Medicine

  44. Impact of early mobilization on glycemic control and ICU-acquired weakness in critically ill patients who are mechanically ventilated (2014) Chest

  45. Patterns of sensory processing in children with an autism spectrum disorder (2014) Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders

  46. Translating knowledge in rehabilitation: Systematic review (2015) Physical Therapy

  47. Collaborative approach in the development of high-performance brain-computer interfaces for a neuroprosthetic arm: Translation from animal models to human control (2014) Clinical and Translational Science

  48. Structural white matter changes in descending motor tracts correlate with improvements in motor impairment after undergoing a treatment course of tDCS and physical therapy (2015) Frontiers in Human Neuroscience

  49. Professional perspectives on service user and carer involvement in mental health care planning: A qualitative study (2015) International Journal of Nursing Studies

  50. The effect of multidisciplinary rehabilitation on brain structure and cognition in Huntington's disease: An exploratory study (2015) Brain and Behavior

Conclusion

I’m so grateful to have this list and, starting around mid-March, we are going to be having weekly discussions on the articles below, on my soon-to-be launched The OT Potential Club.

To stay tuned on updates, please join my mailing list:

Join OT Potenial! Join OT Potential Mailing List! Name * Name First Name Last Name Email Address *

Thank you!

Hopefully, some of the topics speak directly to your practice. But, even if they don’t, I hope you consider joining in the discussion.

Because, the heart of the conversation I want to be having is this:

How do we keep up with and incorporate best practices into our treatments and notes?

And how in the world do we stay focused on patients in the midst of all this change?

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Documentation is a huge part of our role as OT practitioners.

It’s a way to keep track of our patients’ progress, communicate with other healthcare providers, and defend our rationale for our treatment choices. Documentation is essential, and it’s a key factor in our patients’ well-being during their continuum of care.

But it can also take FOREVER.

And we might not have the time we need to do it justice.

We are constantly grappling between wanting to write the perfect OT note—you know, the one that succinctly says exactly what we did and why we did it, and also provides goals and rationale to support our interventions—and flying through charting as quickly as possible.

My vision (and I’ll admit it’s a grand one) is to help you create the type of notes that clearly communicate your treatment assessments and plans, without making you lose your mind in the process.

That said, keep in mind that this is a process for all of us.

Many of us aren’t paid for our documentation time, and our sloppy notes reflect this fact. And many of us work in settings where we are constantly having to over-document to avoid denial of reimbursements.

Plus, the time we spend documenting generally does not count toward our productivity, which means the longer we spend typing our notes, the less productive we appear to be in management’s eyes.

It’s frustrating and unfair, but there has to be a solution.

I am hopeful that providing this article will be the first step in illuminating what constitutes a really solid OT note—as well as how much time and effort goes into writing defensible documentation that can be deciphered by those reading it.

And while my OT note example is as succinct as possible, and I point you toward some shortcuts and hacks that can help you cut your documentation time, the fact of the matter is that good OT notes take time.

As you can see, that puts us in a tough position.

We need to document thoroughly to do right by our patients, insurance payers, and other clinicians––but we are punished when we take the time to do so.

That’s why I truly believe that the OT burnout crisis we’re facing (and the general healthcare burnout crisis at large, for that matter) stems in large part from the unrealistic documentation demands we face as clinicians—not to mention the bloated, inefficient tools we’re expected to use to document in the first place.

But I’ll hop off my soapbox for now, and give you what you came for. Let’s discuss what you’ll find in this article :-)

We’ll start with some do’s and don'ts of documentation, and I’ve also included a sample OT evaluation at the end of the article.

A note of thanks: I also collaborated with The Note Ninjas, Brittany Ferri, an OT clinical reviewer, as well as Hoangyen Tran, a CHT, to create them.

Subjective (S)DO use the subjective part of the note to open your story

Each note should tell a story about your patient, and your subjective portion should set the stage.

Try to open your note with feedback from the patient about what is and isn't working about their therapy sessions and home exercise program. For example, you can say any of the following to get your note started:

  • “Patient states she was excited about ____.”

  • “Patient reports he is frustrated he still can’t do ____.”

  • “Patient had a setback this past weekend because ____.”

By sentence one, you’ve already begun to justify why you're there!

DON’T go overboard with unnecessary details

Let’s admit it: we are storytellers, and we like to add details. But, we must admit we’ve all seen notes with information that is simply unnecessary. Here are a few things you can generally leave out of your notes:

  • “Patient was seated in chair on arrival.”

  • “Patient let me into her home.”

  • “Patient requested that nursing clean his room.”

Details are great, because they help preserve the humanity of our patients, but it’s really not necessary to waste your precious time typing out details like these.

Keep in mind that the exception to the above rule is that if a patient is mistrustful of you in any way, adding key details about being let into his or her home might be very relevant!

Channel your inner English major. If a detail does not contribute to the story you are telling––or, in OT terms, contribute to improving a patient’s function––you probably don’t need to include it :-)

Objective (O)DO go into detail about your observations and interventions

The objective section of your evaluation and/or SOAP note is often the longest. This is almost certainly the case in an evaluation.

The objective section should contain objective measurements, observations, and results from tests that you perform. Here are a few of the examples of what you should include:

  • Manual muscle tests (MMTs)

  • Range of motion measurements (AAROM, AROM, PROM, etc.)

  • Level of independence (CGA, MIN A, etc.)

  • Functional reporting measures (DASH screen, etc.)

  • Wound healing details (for post-op patients)

  • Objective measures from assessments related to the diagnosis

For a comprehensive list of objective measurements that you can include in this section, here’s a great resource:

Assessment (A)DO show clinical reasoning and expertise

The assessment section of your OT note is what justifies your involvement in this patient’s care.

What you’re doing in this section is synthesizing how the story the patient tells combines with the objective measurements you took (and overall observations you made) during today’s treatment session.

The assessment answers the questions:

  • How does all of this information fit together?

  • Where (in your professional opinion) should the patient go from here?

  • Where does OT fit into the picture for the patient’s plan?

DON’T skimp on the assessment section

The assessment section is your place to shine! All of your education and experience should really drive this one paragraph.

And yet….

We tend to just write: “Patient tolerated therapy well.” Or copy and paste (guilty) a generic sentence like this: “Patient continues to require verbal cueing and will benefit from continued therapy.”

Lack of pizazz aside, that’s not enough to really represent all that education you have, nor all that high-level thinking you do during your treatments.

Consider something like:

“Patient’s reported improvements in tolerance to toileting activities demonstrate effectiveness of energy conservation techniques she has learned during OT sessions. Improved range of motion and stability of her right arm confirms that her use of shoulder home exercise plan is improving her ability to use her right upper extremity to gain independence with self care. ”

Plan (P)DON’T get lazy

I recently went to a live CEU course on note-writing, and the course was geared toward PTs.

It felt to me like most of the hour was spent talking about how important it is to make their goals functional. But we OTs already know this; function is our bread and butter.

So why do so many OTs write “Continue plan of care as tolerated.”??

Not only do insurance reviewers hate that type of generic language, it again robs us of the ability to demonstrate our clinical reasoning and treatment rationale!

DO show proper strategic planning of patients’ care

This section isn’t rocket science. You don’t have to write a novel. But you do need to show that you’re thinking ahead and considering how your patients’ care plans will change as they progress through treatment.

Consider something like this:

“Continue working with patient on toileting, while gradually decreasing verbal and tactile cues, enabling patient to become more confident and independent. Add stability exercises to home exercise program to stabilize patient’s right upper extremity in the new range. Decrease OT frequency from 3x/week to 2x/week as tolerated.”

Short, sweet, and meaningful.

General DO’s and DON’TS for documentation

Your patient is the protagonist—and you are the guide. In every good story, there is a hero figure and a guide figure. Both are indispensable.

I think as therapists, we tend to document only one part of the story.

For example, we focus on the patient’s role: “Patient did such and such.”

Or we focus on our skilled intervention: “Therapist downgraded, corrected, guided.”

But, a really good note—a perfect note—shows how the two interact.

If your patient tells you in the subjective that they are not progressing as quickly as they would like, what did you do as the therapist to upgrade their intervention? Your notes should make it apparent that you are working together as a team.

Let’s look at a few examples:

  • “Patient reported illness over the weekend; thus activities and exercises were downgraded today. Plan to increase intensity when patient feels fully recovered.”

  • “Patient has been making good progress towards goals, and is eager for more home exercises. Plan to add additional stability work at next visit.”

DO be very careful with abbreviations

While I was creating this blog post, I read every piece of advice I could find on documentation—and I had to chuckle because there was simply no consensus on abbreviations.

Abbreviations are obviously great because they save time—but they can make our notes cryptic (useless) to others.

In the ideal world, we type the abbreviation and our smartie computer fills in the full word or phrase for us. And, for those of us who use an EMR on Google Chrome, this is exactly what can happen. I also know that WebPT allows this integration.

If you don’t already use keyboard shortcuts, contact your IT department and see if there are any options within your EMR. If there aren’t ways to implement these shortcuts, I highly recommend that you request them!

I’ve got an article about OT documentation hacks that delves more into the topics of text expanders and abbreviations!

After all of this, I bet you’re ready to see an OT evaluation in action. You’re in luck because I have an example for you below!

Example OT evaluationOutpatient occupational therapy evaluation

Name: Phillip Peppercorn

MRN: 555556

DOB: 05/07/1976                              

Evaluation date: 12/10/18

Diagnoses: G56.01, M19.041

Treatment diagnoses: M62.81, R27, M79.641

Referring physician: Dr. Balsamic                   

Payer: Anthem

Visits used this year: 0                         

Frequency: 1x/week

Subjective

Patient is right-handed male software engineer who states he had a severe increase in pain and tingling in right hand, which led to right carpal tunnel release surgery 11/30/18. He presents to OT with complaints of pain and residual stiffness while performing typing movements, stating “I’m supposed to go back to work in three weeks and I don’t know how I will be able to function with this pain.”

Post surgery, patient complains of 2/10 pain at rest and 7/10 shooting pain at palmar region extending to second and third digits of right hand when working at his computer for extended periods of time, as well as doing basic household chores that involve carrying heavy objects, like laundry and groceries. The numbness and tingling he was feeling prior to surgery has resolved dramatically.

Past medical/surgical history: anemia, diabetes, right open carpal tunnel release surgery on 11/30/18

Hand dominance: right dominant

IADLs: independent, reports difficulty typing on phone and laptop, and with opening and closing his laptop computer since surgery

ADLs: opening drawers at work, opening door handles at office building

Living environment: lives alone in single-level apartment

Prior level of functioning: independent in work duties, activities of daily living, and instrumental activities of daily living.

Occupational function: works a job as a software engineer; begins light-duty work with no typing on 12/20, MD cleared for 4 initial weeks

Objective

Range of motion and strength:

Left upper extremity: range of motion within functional limits at all joints and on all planes.

Right shoulder, elbow, forearm, digit range of motion all within normal limits on all planes.

Strength         AROM PROM

Right Wrist

Flexion/extension 4/5                50/50       60/60

Radial/ulnar deviation 4/5          WNL      NT    

Standardized assessments:

Dynamometer

Right hand 45/40/40

Left hand 65/60/70

Boston Carpal Tunnel Outcomes Questionnaire (BTCOQ)

Symptom Score = 2.7

Functional Score = 2.4

Sutures were removed, and wound is healing well with some edema and surgical glue and scabbing remaining.

Patient was provided education regarding ergonomic setup at work and home, along with home exercise program, including active digital flexor tendon gliding, wrist flexion and extension active range of motion, active thumb opposition, active isolated flexor pollicis longus glide, and passive wrist extension for completion 4-6x/day each day at 5-10 repetitions.

He was able to verbally repeat the home exercise program and demonstrate for therapist, and was given handout.

Patient was also given verbal and written instruction in scar management techniques and scar mobilization massage (3x/day for 3-5 minutes.) Patient was also issued a scar pad to be worn overnight, along with tubular compression sleeve.

Assessment

Mr. Peppercorn is a 46 year old male, who presents with decreased right grip strength and range of motion, as well as persistent pain, following carpal tunnel release surgery. These deficits have a negative impact on patient’s ability to write, type, and open his laptop and door handles. Anticipate patient may progress more slowly due to diabetes in initial weeks, but BCTOQ reflects that patient is not progressing as fast as normal, and is at risk of falling into to projected 10-30% of patients that do not have positive outcomes following carpal tunnel release. Patient will benefit from skilled OT in order to address these deficits, adhere to post op treatment, protocol and return to work on light duty for initial four weeks.

Plan of care

Recommend skilled OT services 1x/week consisting of therapeutic exercises, therapeutic activities, ultrasound, phonophoresis, e-stim, hot/cold therapy, and manual techniques. Services will address deficits in the areas of grip strength and range of motion, as well as right hand pain. Plan of care will address patient’s difficulty with writing, typing, and opening and closing his laptop and door handles.

Short Term Goals (2 weeks)

  1. Patient will increase dynamometer score in bilateral hands to 75 lb in order to do laundry.

  2. Patient will increase right digit strength to 3+/5 in order to open door handles without using left hand for support.

Long Term Goals (6 weeks)

  1. Patient will increase right wrist strength to 5/5 to carry groceries into his apartment.

  2. Patent will increase active range of motion in wrist to within normal limits in order to open and close his laptop and use door handles without increased pain.

  3. Patient will increase dynamometer score in bilateral hands to 90 lb in order to return to recreational activities.  

  4. Patient’s Boston Carpal Tunnel Outcomes Questionnaire score will decrease to less than 1.7 on symptoms and function to return to return to work without restrictions and social activities.

Signed,

O. Therapist, OTR/L

97165 - occupational therapy  evaluation - 1 unit

97530 - therapeutic activities - 1 unit (15 min)

97110 - therapeutic exercises - 2 unit (30 min)

Well! This was certainly involved, but the experts tell me that the above evaluation represents what needs to be documented to satisfy insurance companies. I spelled out lots of areas where you might normally use abbreviations, but I wanted any medical professional—as well as the patient himself—to have a clear understanding of what our treatments are, and why we use them.

And keep in mind that there’s really no such thing as a “perfect” OT note, despite what I’m calling this article. Every patient presentation will warrant its own treatment approach, and the best thing we can do is document our clinical reasoning to support why we use the interventions we choose.

More resources for improving your documentation

I recognize that defensible documentation is an ever-evolving art and science, and have come across many useful resources that will help you keep your notes complete, yet concise. I highly recommend the following:

Conclusion

Documentation can get a bad rap, but I believe that as OTs, we are uniquely poised to write notes that are meaningful to other healthcare practitioners and our patients.

It seems inevitable that our patients will gain easier access to their notes over the next decade, and when they do, I want our documentation to stand out as relevant and useful.

This article is meant to evolve over time, so I’d love to know the types of notes you’d like me to provide article. Is there any way you would improve upon the example I’ve provided? Please let me know in the comments!

A special thanks to:

The Note Ninjas

The Note Ninjas was founded by Nicole Trubin, MS, OTR/L and Stephanie Mayer, PT, DPT.  They created their Instagram account and website as a resource center to other clinicians and students. Their focus is to provide skilled treatment ideas and show how to support this skill in your documentation. Documentation plays a vital role in patient care and can be complex. Their mission is to teach others how to continue to show skilled services and how to progress skilled intervention to avoid discharging a patient too early.

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Complex regional pain syndrome: Practical diagnostic and treatment guidelines is the most cited journal article about CRPS containing information and occupational therapy from the past 5 years.

The article appeared in the Journal of Pain Medicine in 2013.

This article is a great read for any therapists who work with CRPS or anyone who has the condition and is interested in treatment options.

Initial treatment recommendations from this article:

  • Mirror Visual Feedback

  • Graded Motor Imagery

  • Desensitization

  • Exposure Therapy

Please see page 8 of the article for a complete diagram of treatment recommendations.

Option for referencing CRPS best practices in your documentation:

The journal article “Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: Practical Diagnostic and Treatment Guidelines” (Pain Medicine, 2013) indicates that the best known treatment, at this time, for CRPS is interdisciplinary pain management techniques emphasizing functional restoration. Skilled occupational therapy is required for our holistic approach to pain management. OT interventions can range from desensitization techniques to understanding and assessing personal factors such as support system and environment. As the journal articles states: “obsessing with only the biomedical sphere dooms the clinician and patient to failure.”

To discuss this article and see documentation and assessment tips related to OT and CRPS, sign up for the OT Potential Club! Join the OT Potential Club! Here’s a glimpse of our discussion:

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