Occupational Therapy Salary and Career Outlook

Melanie Barber, an occupational therapy student, said in a testimonial to the American Occupational Therapy Association that she decided to become an occupational therapist because she saw how important that role was in helping her grandfather recover from a stroke and because it is “one of the most holistic health care professions,” one that relies on compassion and sensitivity as much as training and medical knowledge.

The role of an occupational therapist is to treat ill and injured patients or patients with disabilities through the therapeutic use of everyday activities.

If you’d like to work with patients across the lifespan to help improve their overall quality of life, a career in occupational therapy might be for you. There are other factors to consider when making the decision to become an occupational therapist, such as job growth within the field.

You may also be drawn to a career in occupational therapy because of the various practice settings and areas of specialty available; occupational therapists can work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, schools and homes. Learn more about each of these factors below.

What Can You Do With an Occupational Therapy Degree?

Think of an occupational therapist as a person who allows people of all ages to get back to the daily activities of life following an injury or due to disability or physical or mental changes related to aging. Within the field, there is significant flexibility. Occupational therapists can work in a range of specialty fields in hospitals, schools, nursing homes and home health services, depending on their areas of interest, with many of these sought-after careers accessible through online occupational therapy degrees.

Top 5 Occupational Therapy Jobs

Occupational therapy ranks as one of the highest-paying and fastest-growing jobs. In its 100 Best Jobs of 2020 listing, U.S. News & World Report ranked occupational therapist No. 28, while the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 156,800 occupational therapy jobs by 2028. Additionally, occupational therapist ranked No. 17 in U.S. News & World Report’s Best Healthcare Jobs 2020 list. Below are five common occupational therapy jobs:

1. Pediatric Occupational Therapy Jobs

A pediatric occupational therapist works with children – from infants to teenagers – to develop skills needed to perform tasks related to daily living and learning. They work with them on developing motor, cognitive and social skills, as well as performing self-care tasks, often through play, songs and exercises. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for occupational therapists in schools will continue to grow over the years. They will be needed to work especially with children with autism. The annual mean wage of occupational therapists working in elementary and secondary schools is $75,870, while those working in child day care services make $93,720, according to 2018 BLS salary data.

2. Geriatric Occupational Therapy Jobs

Geriatric occupational therapists work with older adults on maintaining and improving skills such as balance, coordination, endurance, strength, communication and problem-solving so that they can continue to live full and productive lives. Geriatric occupational therapists recommend safety adjustments to allow seniors to continue living at home. In 2018, the average annual mean wage for occupational therapists working in continuing care retirement facilities and assisted living facilities for the elderly was $91,900, according to the BLS.

3. Swallowing Specialist Occupational Therapy Jobs

Swallowing specialists help patients who suffer from dysphagia, poor nutrition or disorders that make swallowing difficult and put them at risk for choking. Occupational therapists specializing in this area work with these patients on swallowing strategies, modified diets, feeding skills and more. Occupational therapists working in offices of audiologists and physical, occupational and speech therapists earn a median salary of $86,060, according to BLS data from May 2018.

4. Bilingual Occupational Therapy Jobs

Bilingual occupational therapists serve and support the millions of Americans in need of occupational therapy who do not speak English as a first language. With the addition of a second language skill, bilingual occupational therapists have a distinct advantage in the job market.

5. Occupational Therapist for Autism Jobs

There is rising demand for occupational therapists who specialize in treating patients across the autism spectrum. Occupational therapists who specialize in treating children with autism work in schools and home settings to evaluate children and work with them on key skills like dressing, grooming and writing to allow them to improve their social skills, learn and accomplish daily tasks. Annual salary for these types of therapists is similar to that of teachers working in elementary and secondary schools ($75,870).

Are Occupational Therapists in Demand?

Demand for occupational therapists will grow 18% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average of 5% for other occupations, according to the BLS. In part, demand for occupational therapists is growing in order to serve the needs of the aging baby boomer generation, whose members are looking to maintain their independence and mobility into their later years. Occupational therapists are also increasingly needed to support patients with chronic conditions, including patients with diabetes and those who are rehabilitating following strokes. There is also an increasing demand for occupational therapists to provide services to patients with autism.

Occupational Therapy Career Outlook

Job opportunities for occupational therapists are expanding in numerous settings, including acute hospital settings, rehabilitation facilities and orthopedic settings serving elderly patients. There will be increased need in coming years for occupational therapists who specialize in a particular form of care, including mental health, pediatrics, gerontology, driving and community mobility, environmental modification, and feeding, eating and swallowing.

Occupational Therapist Salary

With demand for occupational therapists growing faster than many other careers both inside and outside of health care, the BLS reports that occupational therapists earn a median income of $84,270 per year, much higher than the median annual wage for all workers ($38,640). In May 2018, the lowest 10% of occupational therapists earned $55,490, while the highest 10% earned more than $120,750 per year, according to the BLS.

How Much Do Starting Occupational Therapists Make?

Starting occupational therapists are likely to earn a salary close to the national median salary for occupational therapists of $84,270 per year, working in hospitals, medical offices, schools, home health care services and nursing care facilities.

What Is the Highest-Paying Occupational Therapy Job?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that occupational therapists working in nursing care facilities, who have a median annual income of $90,570, are among the highest-paid professionals in the field. These occupational therapists may help elderly patients to lead full and independent lives by evaluating patients’ home environments and mobility issues and recommending safety measures. Another top-paying industry for occupational therapists is management of companies and enterprises. The annual mean wage for occupational therapists practicing in this industry was $94,170 in May 2018.

Occupational Therapist Salary by Work Setting

Occupational therapists can work in a range of settings, and where they choose to work may impact their salary. Refer to the table below for median annual wages for occupational therapists in five different practice settings.

EmployerMedian Salary (as of May 2018)
Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)
Home health care services
Offices of audiologists and physical, occupational and speech therapists
Hospitals; state, local and private
Elementary and secondary schools; state, local and private

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018

5 Highest-Paying Metro Areas for Occupational Therapists

Below are the five highest-paying metropolitan areas for occupational therapists based on annual mean salaries from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  1. Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, Nevada: $108,190
  2. Vallejo-Fairfield, California: $106,270
  3. San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California: $104,580
  4. Hattiesburg, Mississippi: $104,250
  5. Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, California: $103,120

3 Highest-Paying States for Occupational Therapists

Three states stand out, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as having the highest pay for occupational therapists. They are:

  1. Nevada: $100,970
  2. New Jersey: $96,600
  3. California: $95,160

Occupational Therapy Salaries by State

Occupational therapy salaries can vary widely by state. Below is the annual mean salary for occupational therapists in all states, as of May 2018, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

  1. Occupational Therapy Salary in Alabama: $83,810
  2. Occupational Therapy Salary in Alaska: $86,860
  3. Occupational Therapy Salary in Arizona: $94,800
  4. Occupational Therapy Salary in Arkansas: $81,810
  5. Occupational Therapy Salary in California: $95,160
  6. Occupational Therapy Salary in Connecticut: $90,780
  7. Occupational Therapy Salary in Colorado: $89,770
  8. Occupational Therapy Salary in Delaware: $86,020
  9. Occupational Therapy Salary in District of Columbia: $94,360
  10. Occupational Therapy Salary in Florida: $81,520
  11. Occupational Therapy Salary in Georgia: $82,060
  12. Occupational Therapy Salary in Hawaii: $83,010
  13. Occupational Therapy Salary in Idaho: $81,230
  14. Occupational Therapy Salary in Illinois: $83,940
  15. Occupational Therapy Salary in Indiana: $79,870
  16. Occupational Therapy Salary in Iowa: $80,740
  17. Occupational Therapy Salary in Kansas: $78,720
  18. Occupational Therapy Salary in Kentucky: $79,460
  19. Occupational Therapy Salary in Louisiana: $85,490
  20. Occupational Therapy Salary in Maine: $72,160
  21. Occupational Therapy Salary in Maryland: $89,230
  22. Occupational Therapy Salary in Massachusetts: $87,160
  23. Occupational Therapy Salary in Michigan: $77,940
  24. Occupational Therapy Salary in Minnesota: $74,050
  25. Occupational Therapy Salary in Mississippi: $81,590
  26. Occupational Therapy Salary in Missouri: $75,120
  27. Occupational Therapy Salary in Montana: $74,940
  28. Occupational Therapy Salary in Nebraska: $76,850
  29. Occupational Therapy Salary in Nevada: $100,970
  30. Occupational Therapy Salary in New Hampshire: $79,850
  31. Occupational Therapy Salary in New Jersey: $96,600
  32. Occupational Therapy Salary in New Mexico: $81,660
  33. Occupational Therapy Salary in New York: $88,370
  34. Occupational Therapy Salary in North Carolina: $84,390
  35. Occupational Therapy Salary in North Dakota: $67,420
  36. Occupational Therapy Salary in Ohio: $85,720
  37. Occupational Therapy Salary in Oklahoma: $82,240
  38. Occupational Therapy Salary in Oregon: $90,720
  39. Occupational Therapy Salary in Pennsylvania: $81,030
  40. Occupational Therapy Salary in Rhode Island: $83,600
  41. Occupational Therapy Salary in South Carolina: $78,470
  42. Occupational Therapy Salary in South Dakota: $69,390
  43. Occupational Therapy Salary in Tennessee: $84,870
  44. Occupational Therapy Salary in Texas: $89,360
  45. Occupational Therapy Salary in Utah: $85,300
  46. Occupational Therapy Salary in Vermont: $76,840
  47. Occupational Therapy Salary in Virginia: $93,010
  48. Occupational Therapy Salary in Washington: $81,250
  49. Occupational Therapy Salary in West Virginia: $81,080
  50. Occupational Therapy Salary in Wisconsin: $73,390
  51. Occupational Therapy Salary in Wyoming: $82,010