Is a Doctor of Occupational Therapy Worth It?

An occupational therapist (OT) helps people who are ill, injured or disabled or have special needs to develop and maintain the skills they need for daily work and lifestyle management.

OTs work with patients to develop individualized plans to achieve healthy lifestyle goals. The goal is to rehabilitate patients to the point where they can continue to perform daily tasks with minimal challenges and disruptions. Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, from hospitals and clinics to schools and nursing homes.

Occupational therapists should enjoy working with people. They help their patients recover (and discover) the skills they need to lead a self-sufficient lifestyle. If you are wondering if it is worth it to earn your doctor of occupational therapy degree or what the benefits of earning your doctorate are, then keep reading.

This guide also covers how an OT doctorate can help you grow your career and other OT doctorate alternatives to consider instead.

How to Decide Whether an Occupational Therapy Doctorate Is Right for You

Whether you already work in the medical field or you’re thinking about changing careers, finding the right position for you is what matters most. You can love occupational therapy and want to help others through rehabilitation, but going back to school is a big decision.

Wherever you are in your school or career journey, here are some reasons you might want to pursue a doctorate in occupational therapy online.

1. You want to make a difference in people’s lives.

Occupational therapists do more than provide medical advice for their patients. They thrive when helping others and are compassionate leaders in the field. They are their patients’ cheerleaders, allowing people to gain or maintain independence, overcome cognitive disabilities, or return to work and daily normal life at home.

If you’re enthusiastic and caring, earning your OT doctorate to pursue a higher career as an occupational therapist may be the right choice for you.

2. You want a flexible career that enables you to evolve.

OTs work in diverse environments, which is helpful if you want to have a career with many paths. You might start as an occupational therapist working with older adult patients and then move into a school setting.

As an OT, you may also get to work with cutting-edge technology, such as 3D printing for functional prosthesis training. Earning your doctorate will help you learn new skills to keep you up to date with the current training as medical technologies continue to advance.

3. You want to advance your occupational therapy career.

If you’re currently working in occupational therapy but don’t yet have your doctorate, earning an online OT doctorate can help you accelerate your career in occupational therapy and medicine. An online doctorate in occupational therapy can lead to roles in field research, clinical leadership, education and health care administration. If you want to rise up the ranks in occupational therapy and obtain a leadership role, an online OT doctorate may help you get there.

Financial Return on Investment for a Doctor of Occupational Therapy

OT doctoral program costs can vary. In some cases, online OT doctoral programs are less expensive, since they don’t require physical classrooms and campus space.

The good news with online OT doctoral programs is that students have the flexibility to learn and study on their own schedules. This enables online students to keep working as they’re pursuing a doctorate.

If you are considering the return on investment for receiving your doctorate, then it’s best to look at the opportunities that you’ll have available after you receive it.

How much could an OTD increase your salary on average?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, earnings are directly correlated with educational attainment. For example, the 2018 median weekly earnings for someone with a master’s degree were $1,434, compared to $1,825 for someone with a doctoral degree. Over 20 years, that’s a difference of $406,640. (Please note: This data is for master’s vs. doctoral degrees in general, not specifically for OT degrees.)

The BLS indicates that the 2018 median pay for occupational therapists was $84,270 per year, with the top 10% earning more than $120,750. The job outlook for occupational therapists is projected to grow 18% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average compared to all positions. As the demand for occupational therapists increases with aging populations, occupational therapists may have more salary negotiation power.

For occupational therapists who want to move into leadership roles, the potential for a salary increase is there. According to the BLS, the 2018 median pay for medical and health services managers was $99,730 per year, with the top 10% earning more than $182,600.

Is a Doctorate Required for Occupational Therapy?

Pursuing a doctor of occupational therapy degree is not only a good choice for prospective occupational therapists; it will soon become a requirement. Starting July 1, 2027, entry-level occupational therapy positions will require a doctoral degree instead of a master’s degree. This has been mandated by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE).

What does the doctoral requirement mean for current students?

Only the students who are graduating after July 1, 2027, will be affected by the ACOTE mandate. The ACOTE mandate will not affect current students or students planning to enroll who would graduate before July 1, 2027.

What does the mandate mean for current occupational therapists?

Occupational therapists who currently practice with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in occupational therapy degree will not need a doctoral degree. They can continue to practice. After July 1, 2027, all new practicing OTs will require a doctor of occupational therapy degree.

What Are Other Benefits of a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy?

Those with a doctorate tend to accrue higher lifetime earnings than those with master’s or bachelor’s degrees  on average. Increased knowledge signals to employers that you’ve dedicated your time and effort to learning more about the field, which can lead to new opportunities and leadership positions.

An OT doctorate can open up new career paths beyond occupational therapy. You might go on to become an occupational therapy professor or teacher. You could also use your extensive medical background to open up your own clinic or become the head of a department at a hospital.

If you already have a master’s degree and want to pursue your doctorate, an OT doctorate enables you to pursue a career path where you’re directly involved in the care of your patients. Occupational therapists are instrumental in helping patients develop self-esteem and sustain meaningful relationships at home and at work.

Occupational therapists have the power to help others live independently. This is one of the many profound influences an OT can have on the lives of their patients.

How Does Life Change After an OT Doctorate?

After you earn an OT doctorate, you’ll then be able to apply for jobs that require doctoral degrees. This can lead to you working in a new environment and/or applying for a higher role where you currently work.

Studying for an OT doctorate brings students up to speed on the latest technologies and occupational therapy methods, based on clinical research and patient results. You’ll be able to apply the best therapies to the patients you work with and expose anyone you manage to them, as well.

What you learn in school may inspire you in how you evolve your career. For example, you may study something that ignites your interest and propels you into a career in field research. You may discover that going back to school gives you the confidence to pursue leadership positions at work.

Life after earning an OT doctorate can make you more aware of your professional development opportunities.

Alternatives to an Occupational Therapy Doctorate

If you’re interested in medicine and helping others but aren’t sure if an OT doctorate is right for you, there are OT doctorate alternatives you might consider as well. Here are a few.

Doctor of Physical Therapy

While occupational therapists focus on rehabilitating patients’ daily life activities, physical therapists from PT doctorate programs focus exclusively on mobility issues. They work with patients on plans that include stretching, exercises and mobility therapy.

Physician Assistant

If you realize you don’t want a doctorate, you can complete a master’s PA program, after which you’ll be able to practice medicine as part of a surgeon’s, physician’s or other health care worker’s team. They usually work in hospitals, doctors’ offices and other health care settings. For PA school, you’ll need to have completed undergraduate pre-med coursework in sciences like biology, chemistry and anatomy.

Master’s in Speech Pathology

If you’re interested in helping people regain skills that help them lead successful lives, you might be interested in a career in speech-language pathology. Speech pathologists who have completed a master’s in speech pathology help their clients with issues related to speaking, language and swallowing.

Interested in Occupational Therapy? Earn Your OT Doctorate Online

Working with people to help them regain life skills and functions can be a fulfilling career. Occupational therapists work with all types of populations and have the chance to make a substantial difference in people’s lives. If this type of career appeals to you, you can earn your OT doctorate online while learning on your own schedule.