Occupational Therapist Job Description

Responsibilities, Skills, Education, and More

An occupational therapist (OT) helps teach or re-teach people the skills they need to perform everyday activities. Those who benefit from occupational therapy often have developmental delays or are recovering from a physical or cognitive injury.

An OT's job may include overseeing exercises to manage pain, adapting an environment to accommodate a person's needs, or teaching a patient to use special equipment such as a wheelchair or eating aid.

This article outlines the responsibilities and day-to-day duties of an occupational therapist.

Occupational therapist with client
Getty Images

Role of an Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist is responsible for empowering patients to participate more fully in daily tasks when this ability is compromised by a health condition. Occupational therapy is medically prescribed and involves skilled evaluation, treatment, and discharge.

Occupational therapists help people learn or re-learn the tasks that are necessary for healthy, meaningful, day-to-day living. These are referred to as "occupations" and include:

  • Basic self-care activities like dressing and bathing (called activities of daily living)
  • More complex activities that help you take care of yourself and your home (called instrumental activities of daily living)
  • Rest and sleep
  • Education
  • Work
  • Play
  • Leisure
  • Social participation
  • Health management

Some of the health management skills an occupational therapist might help with include:

  • Medication management
  • Eating well
  • Engaging in physical activity
  • Social and emotional well-being
  • Managing or coping with symptoms
  • Communicating and working with healthcare providers
  • Learning to use medical devices such as a wheelchair

A Day in the Life: OT Duties

An occupational therapist may perform a number of different tasks on a daily basis.

What an occupational therapist's day looks like depends on the needs of their individual patients as well as the type of facility where they work. Some occupational therapists work in a hospital or rehabilitation center, for example, while others provide home health care services.

An occupational therapist's duties may include:


An OT administer and evaluates clients through the use of standardized assessments. They gauge functional abilities, including physical, emotional, cognitive, and sensory components to evaluate the necessity of skilled occupational therapy intervention.

A patient’s history, context, and goals for treatment should be taken into account when determining a treatment plan.


An OT helps the client achieve goals set forth in the treatment plan by providing neuromuscular reeducation, therapeutic activity, therapeutic exercise, manual therapy, self-care/home management training, development of cognitive skills, sensory integration techniques, wheelchair management, and wound care.

Modalities utilized may include biofeedback, paraffin baths, whirlpools, iontophoresis, electrical stimulation, and ultrasound.


A therapist ensures safety at discharge and continuation of progress by providing home exercise programs, family/caregiver instruction, recommendations for assistive equipment, and recommendations for continued therapy in a less-restrictive setting.

Discharge planning should begin at the evaluation and continue through the course of treatment. Planning and coordination for discharge should occur in conjunction with physicians, social workers, other healthcare workers, the client, and their family members/caretakers.

Contribution to Healthcare Team

A therapist communicates with the larger health team through effective documentation and charting in the patient and department records.

They maintain patient confidence by keeping information confidential, keeping the work environment safe and clean, and adhering to infection control and other safety policies.

Maintenance of Department Integrity

An occupational therapist complies with federal and state professional requirements. They also maintain professional expertise through continued education as necessitated by licensure and as appropriate for the provision of specific treatments.

In some cases, they may further develop the occupational therapy department by annually reviewing best practices.


OTs may also supervise occupational therapy assistants, occupational therapy aides, and occupational therapy students in accordance with standards set by the American Occupational Therapy Association, the state of employment, and the facility.


Occupational therapists obtain a master's degree from an accredited occupational therapy program. After completing their education, graduates need to pass the Occupational Therapy Registered Exam in order to become a licensed occupational therapist.

While working toward a master's degree, some may first become occupational therapist assistants. To obtain this certification, students earn an associate's degree, then pass the Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant exam. Students who work as occupational therapist assistants gain on-the-job experience while continuing their education.

Students may also choose to pursue a bachelor's degree in a related field such as physiology or biology. Some universities offer combined bachelor's and master's degree programs. 

Occupational therapists must be licensed to provide occupational therapy in their state of employment. Qualified OTs are registered and in good standing with the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.


There are several competencies and characteristics that can help someone succeed as an occupational therapist:

  • Effective verbal and written communication
  • Strong sense of teamwork
  • Patient-centered approach
  • Dedication to compliance and best practices
  • Good listening and collaboration
  • Ability to work in a fast-paced environment

Occupational Therapist Salary and Career Outlook

In 2021, occupational therapists earned an average of $85,000 per year. Roughly 134,000 people were employed as occupational therapists that year.

Based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics' data, the demand for occupational therapists is clearly rising. The growth rate for occupational therapy over the next decade is projected to be 14%, which is much higher than the 5% average for other careers.

Similar Jobs

Occupations that are similar to occupational therapists include:

  • Occupational therapy assistants. These professionals work alongside occupational therapists but do not provide therapy to patients.
  • Physical therapists. Physical therapists help people with cognitive or physical injuries regain the ability to move. They also teach patients how to manage pain.
  • Recreational therapists. Recreational therapists manage and direct recreational therapy programs, such as therapeutic horseback riding or adaptive swimming.
  • Speech-language pathologists. These professionals work with people who have disorders that affect their ability to communicate, such as a child with autism or someone who has had a stroke.


Occupational therapists help people with cognitive or physical injuries learn how to perform the tasks that are necessary for daily life. People who work in this profession may help assess a person's function, set treatment goals, develop treatment plans, and help the person learn therapeutic exercises, self-care, and how to use assistive devices such as a wheelchair.

Occupational therapists receive a master's degree from an accredited university and then pass an exam in order to become licensed. There is a strong demand for new occupational therapists, and the field is expected to continue to grow over the next decade.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does an occupational therapist do on a daily basis?

    A typical day for an occupational therapist might include reviewing appointment schedules and patient files, evaluating new patients, creating and modifying therapy plans, meeting with patients, and completing paperwork. An occupational therapist may work in a hospital setting or in a separate practice. Some work in nursing homes, schools, or as home health care providers. 

  • What are the occupations of occupational therapy?

    Occupational therapists help people learn "occupations," or skills that are required to live independently. These include activities of daily living, instrumental activities of daily living, health management, rest and sleep, education, work, play, leisure, and social participation.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Occupational Therapy Association. Occupational therapy practice framework: domain and process—fourth edition. Am J Occup Ther. 2020;74:7412410010p1-7412410010p87. doi:10.5014/ajot.2020.74S2001

  2. American Occupational Therapy Association. Guidelines for documentation of occupational therapy. Am J Occup Ther. 2018;72:7212410010p1-7212410010p7. doi:10.5014/ajot.2018.72S203

  3. American Occupational Therapy Association. Standards of practice for occupational therapyThe American Journal of Occupational Therapy. 2022;75(Supplement_3):7513410030. doi:10.5014/ajot.2021.75S3004

  4. American Occupational Therapy Association. Guidelines for supervision, roles, and responsibilities during the delivery of occupational therapy services. Am J Occup Ther. 2020;74(Supplement_3):7413410020p1-7413410020p6. doi:10.5014/ajot.2020.74S3004

  5. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Outlook Handbook: Occupational Therapists.

  6. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Therapists Job Outlook.

By Sarah Lyon, OTR/L
 Sarah Lyon, OTR/L, is a board-certified occupational therapist and founder of OT Potential.