What Are the Qualifications to be an Occupational Therapist in the U.S. and Canada?
What is an occupational therapist?
The role of an occupational therapist, or OT, is to help individuals maintain independence by teaching them ways to modify everyday tasks and activities that they can no longer do or have difficulty completing on their own. This could be due to certain conditions, such as autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, traumatic injury, stroke, etc. An OT can help individuals learn how to use assistive technology, learn different ways to complete tasks, suggest safety measures for the home, and train caregivers. Some OT’s help with cognitive aspects of daily life, such as helping with organization, routines, and problem-solving.
Qualifications (United States)
To become an OT in the United States, a degree must be obtained from an occupational therapy program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. A minimum of one bachelor’s degree is required before completing either a master’s degree or Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) degree. This usually takes two to three years after finishing a bachelor’s.
Fieldwork is also required before taking and passing the National Board of Certification in Occupational Therapy examination. The individual will then pay a fee for each state or jurisdiction in which they are applying to practice. Certain states may require additional steps, including background checks, an exam based on the state’s laws, regulations or rules, or a copy of a person’s official transcript from their OT program.
In Canada, an OT must meet the registration requirements of a provincial regulatory organization. They must be university-educated and complete at least 1,000 hours of supervised fieldwork. A master’s degree in occupational therapy is the minimum level of education required by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists for entry-level education.
Each university will have different admission requirements and curriculum. After entry-level education is complete, applicants must take and pass the National Occupational Therapy Certification Exam, unless in Quebec. Occupational therapists are considered regulated health professionals, except in the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut, where employers will determine an individual’s requirement to take the OT exam.
Additional sources: American Occupational Therapy Association, Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists, Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, and Association of Canadian Occupational Therapy Regulatory Organizations