Academics | 6/28/2024

A Comprehensive Guide to Becoming an Occupational Therapist


Want to learn more details about becoming an occupational therapist through MCPHS? In this blog, we’re walking you through the steps necessary to stay on the right track. 

Occupational therapy careers stand at the intersection of healthcare, education, and social assistance, offering a unique opportunity to make a tangible difference in people's lives. Whether it's helping a child with special education needs improve their motor skills or assisting an elderly patient in regaining their independence after a stroke, occupational therapists provide essential services that enhance the quality of life for individuals across their lifespan.

The journey to becoming an occupational therapist is marked by a commitment to improving patient outcomes through therapeutic interventions that promote health, well-being, and participation in daily activities. With the right preparation and dedication, a career in occupational therapy offers the chance to make a lasting impact on the lives of individuals and communities. Let’s take a closer look at the steps to enter this career field so you’re ready when the time comes. 

The Role of an Occupational Therapist: What Can Students Expect?

Occupational therapists play a pivotal role in helping individuals overcome physical, mental, and cognitive challenges to lead more independent and fulfilling lives. By focusing on the therapeutic use of everyday activities, or "occupations," they assist patients in improving their ability to perform tasks in their daily living and working environments. Occupational therapists employ a holistic approach, considering the patient's physical capabilities, psychological well-being, and the social and environmental factors that affect their functioning. 

Through personalized treatment plans, these professionals help patients develop, recover, enhance, and maintain the skills needed for daily living and work, emphasizing the importance of adapting to their environment and using assistive devices to increase independence.

What’s the Difference Between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy?

While both aim to improve the quality of life for their patients, occupational therapy focuses on enhancing patients' abilities to perform daily activities through adaptation and education. In contrast, physical therapy primarily concentrates on improving patients' physical functions by treating pain, increasing mobility, and building strength. 

Exploring the differences between occupational and physical therapy further reveals the specialized nature of each field. Occupational therapy's scope extends beyond physical recovery, incorporating aspects of mental health, special education, and rehabilitation sciences to support patients in all facets of their lives. This comprehensive approach allows occupational therapists to address the specific needs of their patients, from children requiring early intervention to adults needing rehabilitation after an injury.

How To Become an Occupational Therapist: Step-by-Step Instructions

To begin your career path toward an occupational therapy practice, follow these steps. And don’t hesitate to reach out to Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) if you have any questions along the way. 

Go to Occupational Therapy School

Start by pursuing a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, such as health science, psychology, or biology. This step is crucial as it prepares you for the advanced study required in occupational therapy programs. While completing your undergraduate degree, focus on pre-occupational therapy courses that are often prerequisites for graduate programs. Gaining a broad understanding of these subjects will equip you with the knowledge needed to excel in your future studies and career.

MCPHS has three pathways for undergraduate learning. In these pathways, students can get a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Health Sciences and a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) in five years rather than the traditional six. 

We also offer a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy degree that takes two years to complete. Accelerated and combined programs are an excellent option for students who are certain about their career path and eager to enter the field of occupational therapy.

Health Sciences Pathway: Occupational Therapy (BS/MSOT) 

This program focuses on medical sciences, social sciences, and various areas of healthcare policies. During your first year, you’ll study biology and chemistry and attend hands-on labs. The second year is a chance for you to dive into healthcare ethics, as well as enhance your interpersonal communication skills. Your final year will center around research analysis and methods, human development, and abnormal psychology.

Pass the NBCOT

After completing your degree, the next step is to pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination. This certification is a milestone in your journey, as it validates your knowledge and skills as an occupational therapist. 

Before applying, here's some helpful information regarding the test:

  • Candidates have four hours to complete it.
  • The test consists of 180 items, including multiple-choice questions and multi-select scenario sets. 
  • Each question will appear one at a time on the computer screen.
  • Some questions may include a chart containing information needed to answer the question. 

Become a Licensed Occupational Therapist

Once you’ve taken and passed the NBCOT, you’ll also need to apply for licensure in the state or states in which you seek to practice. Requirements for licensure vary by state but generally include passing the NBCOT exam and completing a certain number of fieldwork hours. Fieldwork is an integral part of occupational therapy education, providing hands-on experience in clinical settings under the supervision of experienced therapists.

Throughout your career, you’ll need to complete continuing education courses to keep your license active. These classes are also a way to stay updated on the latest best practices and occupational therapy technologies as the years go by. 

Why Consider MCPHS for Your Occupational Therapy Education?

Choosing the right institution for your occupational therapy education is a pivotal decision that can shape your career trajectory. Located in the heart of Boston's Longwood Medical and Academic Area, MCPHS offers unparalleled access to world-renowned healthcare institutions and a vibrant academic community. 

This unique location provides occupational therapy students with exceptional opportunities for clinical placements, research, and professional networking. Being near leading hospitals and research facilities allows students to gain hands-on experience in diverse settings, enhancing their learning and preparing them for successful health careers.

Want to hear from a current OT student about their experiences? Check out this testimonial to gain more insight into what life is like as a student. It can provide a glimpse into the day-to-day realities of studying occupational therapy at MCPHS. 

“Ultimately, what pushed me to pursue a career as an occupational therapist was an experience with my grandparents,” Nick said. “For various reasons, they were admitted to the hospital and needed occupational therapy services before they could return home safely. I saw them adapt to learn new and efficient ways to complete their daily occupations with the help of OT. They were once again smiling and enjoying their lives. That’s what excites me most about my future as an occupational therapist: having the opportunity to help individuals return to their normal lives after injury or illness and being able to help someone through a rough period in their life.”

To take the first step toward a rewarding career in occupational therapy, consider enrolling in an MCPHS occupational therapy program. Our offerings are designed to equip students with the necessary skills and industry insights to excel as occupational therapy practitioners. By applying to MCPHS, you'll be joining a community of dedicated healthcare professionals committed to making a difference in their patients’ lives. 

With MCPHS, you'll gain the knowledge, skills, and experience needed to thrive in the dynamic field of occupational therapy. Apply to an MCPHS occupational therapy program today.