The 2021 Guide to Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Programs (OTD)

Helping people develop the physical and mental skills to perform daily functions is a rewarding and fundamental attribute of being an occupational therapist. A common career arc for occupational therapists ends with a license to work in school, health care or rehabilitation environments, performing as a therapist-clinician. Occupational therapist degrees can be earned through master’s or doctorate programs. Earning a postgraduate doctorate in occupational therapy can help accelerate your career, paving the way toward roles in health care administration, education, clinical leadership and field research.

Earning an occupational therapy doctorate can transcend a practitioner in the field’s impact from a single individual to an entire community, and benefit health science programs on a greater level. Often, it can be difficult to earn an OTD degree while working full time, which may slow down one’s ambition to gain their doctorate. Luckily, online doctorate in occupational therapy programs exist to help you balance the burden of a full-time job with advanced education. Graduates from online OTD programs will build the core competencies to lead occupational therapy practices, innovate within the field, promote change in health and wellness programs globally, and educate future occupational therapy clinicians.

Can You Earn Your Occupational Therapy Doctorate Online?

There are many doctorate programs online for working OTs seeking to advance their career with an online doctoral degree. Some entry-level OT programs (PDF, 302 KB) allow students to earn their occupational therapy doctoral degree online with some in-class and fieldwork requirements. These hybrid occupational therapy doctorate programs make it possible to become an occupational therapist online.

Doctoral Requirement for Entry-Level Occupational Therapists

Is a doctorate required to practice occupational therapy? Until recently, many online OTD programs were designed for post-professionals or working occupational therapists with professional experience. However, the Accrediting Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) mandates that by 2027, a doctorate is required to practice as an entry-level occupational therapist. By July 1, 2027, only entry-level doctoral occupational therapy degree programs will be eligible to receive or maintain ACOTE accreditation status. Because of the ACOTE mandate for a doctorate requirement, occupational therapy programs are beginning to shift toward entry-level doctorate programs. Current or prospective students in OT programs who plan to graduate before July 2027 will not be affected by this mandate.

Occupational Therapy Doctorate vs. Master’s in Occupational Therapy 

Currently, a master’s in occupational therapy is the entry-level degree required to begin practicing as an occupational therapist. An occupational therapy doctorate allows OT practitioners opportunity to advance in their clinical practices and administrative or academic roles. In light of the ACOTE mandate, all Master of Occupational Therapy programs must transition to doctorate programs by 2027, as the entry-level degree of education for OT is changing.

Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Admissions Requirements

Each online OTD program has its own prerequisites, so you should contact your accredited institution for detailed information regarding its policies. Depending on your school, you may be required to submit some or all of the following:

  1. Application: Fill out an initial application, which you can find on the website of the accredited institution of your choice. Paper and online forms are both generally accepted.
  2. Master’s degree or higher: Graduation required from any ACOTE-accredited entry-level occupational therapy program, or graduates of a WFOT-approved program.
  3. OT Licensure: Initial certification as an occupational therapist from NBCOT is required. International applicants are eligible to apply if they have proof of certification or eligibility to practice as an occupational therapist that is equivalent to U.S OT certification and licensure and have earned an OT degree from a WFOT recognized program.
  4. Transcripts: Request transcripts in advance of the application deadline and upload one official copy of each transcript from entry-level occupational therapy education.
  5. GPA: Minimum 3.0 GPA in an OT program, exceptions can be made with high GRE scores.
  6. Experience: Include any professional occupational therapy work experience. Some may require a minimum amount of working hours.
  7. Personal statement: Write a personal statement, which is typically in the form of an essay. You may be required to submit multiple essays to fully express the intent and purpose of your application. Below are some common topics that should be mentioned in a statement.
    • Your main academic and personal interests
    • Experiences in school or work that have helped to prepare you for this course of study
    • Why you wish to pursue a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy
    • Why you wish to study at the chosen OTD program
    • Your career plans and goals after you earn your OTD
  8. Resume/CV: Upload a copy of your most recent resume or curriculum vitae as part of your application.
  9. Letters of recommendation: Two letters of reference—one for academic reference from prior education experience, and a second from a reference who can attest to the quality of the applicant’s professional work as an occupational therapist.
  10. Test scores: Mail in copies of your test scores. Many schools require GRE General Test scores and TOEFL/IELTS scores for international students; however, there are occupational therapy programs with no GRE requirement.

Doctor of Occupational Therapy Online Program Curriculum

The curriculum and number of credits required to complete an online occupational therapy doctorate program vary depending on the school and specialization. However, a typical program includes courses in:

  • Health promotion and wellness in OT
  • Advanced OT sciences and practicum
  • Social policy in health care
  • Program leadership
  • Electives in research, leadership and policy
  • Doctoral project capstone

OTD Program Specializations

Occupational therapists can specialize in a variety of fields such as pediatrics, mental health, geriatrics, education and rehabilitation. OTs interested in working with children and youth can specialize in pediatrics and work at medical clinics, in home support or at schools. Children may need occupational therapy during play, learning and everyday tasks such as getting dressed and eating.

What Can You Do with a Doctor of Occupational Therapy?

A doctor of occupational therapy degree will soon become the entry-level of education to become a licensed occupational therapist. Occupational therapy and physical therapy are both rehabilitative care from physical injury or illness. Physical therapists help people recover body movements whereas occupational therapists help people recover daily tasks such as washing and eating. Duties of an OT include creating a treatment plan, making the environment more optimal for the patient, and educating family members on how to help.

Occupational Therapy Career Outlook and Salary

After completing an online occupational therapy doctorate program, the next step is to select a career path. Professionals with an OTD may be eligible for higher positions in teaching, research, consultation, clinical services and management and policy. The median annual salary for an occupational therapist was $84,950 in 2019. With an OTD, graduates are eligible for higher administration and education roles, placing them closer to the 75th percentile for occupational therapists, earning approximately $101,590 to $121,490 annually.

Occupational therapists often work closely with doctors and nurses in hospitals, nursing homes and rehabilitation centers to provide in-patient therapy. Some occupational therapists work in schools to help children with disabilities participate in school activities. They can make recommendations to modify classroom environments to meet the needs of students. Many occupational therapists work in private practice with their own clinic. Others will visit homes for out-patient therapy to assist with regular daily tasks. The salary of occupational therapists varies depending on the work setting.

Why Pursue an Online Doctorate Program in Occupational Therapy?

Online doctorate programs in occupational therapy are designed for OT practitioners seeking to advance their education and career. Online OTD schools are often part-time programs that allow occupational therapists to earn a doctorate degree while maintaining a full-time job. Entry-level OTD students can also enjoy the benefits of a flexible schedule through hybrid occupational therapy programs consisting of online coursework with some in-class and fieldwork requirements. Online OTD programs lay the foundation that leads to roles in clinical and administrative leadership, public policy, academia and research methodology.

June 2020