Highest paying occupational therapy specialty

What’s the Highest Paying Occupational Therapy Specialty?

If you’re in the process of becoming an occupational therapist, you probably already know that the tuition costs of OT school can be steep, whether you opt for a Master’s or Doctorate in Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy certainly isn’t a field that’s all about the money, but instead about making a positive difference in peoples’ lives.

That being said, with student loans and life in general getting more expensive each year, it’s very normal to wonder when you’re looking into OT as a career what the highest paying occupational therapy specialty or specialties might be to help with paying down student loans.

For this article, we’ll share what the highest paying OT specialties are currently along with several factors to consider when you are looking for a job. We will also cover what these specialties entail for those of you who are new to occupational therapy.  

If you would like to see where we got this data, be sure to check out our comprehensive OT salary research article here using OTSalary.com’s crowd sourced data, along with OTSalary.com’s most up to date salary information here

When visiting OTSalary.com for more information, be sure to scroll down and click on the green “Therapist download” or Assistant download” depending on if you would like OT or COTA data.

Since the information from OTSalary is crowd-sourced from actual OTs and COTAs, it will be more accurate than some of the various non-OT websites that are churning out OT salary information that may not even be correct. 

You can also use the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)’s general occupational therapy salary information for national OT salary information as well as regional salary information averages here

highest paying OT specialties

A Look into the Highest Paying Occupational Therapy Specialties

I want to note that these OT specialties and OT setting pay rates can vary depending on your location and region’s job market and competitiveness of OT positions. If you live in an area with many OT programs (and therefore OTs) or with a lower cost of living, you may be looking at a lower pay rate than what you’re seeing online.

You can do your own research on your region using the salary information I linked to above as well as through locally posted jobs on job boards like Indeed.com

I also hope that you consider picking your OT specialty first based on your passion for that specific population and setting as well 🙂 

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Without further ado, based on our data, the top paying OT specialties are currently as follows:

  1. Home Health OT
  2. Hospital-based OT (Acute care or Inpatient rehab)
  3. Academia
  4. Skilled Nursing Facilities
  5. Non-traditional OT Roles 

For those of you who are not yet OTs and are interested in occupational therapy as a career, or you are still in OT school wondering about a bit more about these types of OT, here is a brief run-down about each of these higher paying OT settings:

Home Health

As the name implies, in home health occupational therapy, OTs work on helping individuals increase their safety and independence in their desired activities of daily living in their own homes (or independent living facilities).

Home health OTs will first assess each individual’s current abilities and their home environment, and then come up with a personalized plan to increase their independence and safety at home, with home modifications and adaptive equipment as needed. The main aspects that OTs will address are a patient’s activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing, toileting, meal preparation, and functional mobility in and outside of their home.

Home health is a great avenue of OT since you are providing some of the most functional type of therapy in a patient’s own home environment, without having to do simulations like you may have to do in a rehab setting.

However, home health is not a setting that I personally would recommend as a brand-new OT or OTA grad, since you are working alone and don’t typically have the much-needed mentorship and learning that you would get by being around seasoned therapists. Here’s a bit more about my thoughts on why new OT grads should reconsider home health (at least at first)

Hospital-based OT

In hospital-based settings, in both inpatient rehab and acute care, occupational therapists work in the hospital to help facilitate newly hospitalized patients’ recoveries through rehab, whether they are at the start of their hospitalization (in acute care) or have been transferred to inpatient rehab after their acute care stay.

Hospital-based occupational therapists will assess the patient’s current functional abilities (after a new illness or injury) as it relates to their ability to return home safely. If a patient has deficits that affect their independence, their OT will create a treatment plan to help improve the patient’s functional skills for improved activity of living (ADL/self-care) performance and mobility.

In this setting, whether in rehab or acute care, the OT will also work closely with all other members of the patient’s healthcare team including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, speech therapists and social workers. The goals for hospital-based OTs are to help patients get rehabilitated as much as they can in the hospital and help the medical team determine where they need to go after discharge (whether this is home or to another rehab setting for more therapy).

For more about hospital-based rehab and the differences between acute care and inpatient rehab, be sure to check out our article, Occupational Therapy’s Role in Inpatient Settings.

acute care ot

Academia

In academia, an occupational therapist may have multiple roles including being an educator/professor, a researcher, fieldwork coordinator and mentor to occupational therapy students. There are many responsibilities when working as an OT in academia, including developing course curriculums, giving engaging lectures, and facilitating hands-on learning with labs. As an OT professor, you still may also continue to work as an OT clinically on weekends if you want to stay in patient care.

The great aspect of being an OT in academia is that you are teaching occupational therapy to the next generation of OTs while working on important research that contributes to our field. Our article, A Day in the Life of an OT Professor, shares more about this highly important OT specialty.

A note: The higher paying OT academia roles will likely be full time, even tenured positions versus adjunct teaching positions (which are lower paying but are a great way to get started in a career as an OT professor).

Skilled Nursing Facilities

In the skilled nursing facility/subacute rehab settings, occupational therapists work to rehabilitate patients for short term rehab as well as long term residents to maximize their functional independence and safety with their activities of daily living and functional mobility, typically after a hospital stay. The OT evaluations and treatments can look really similar to patients in home health, acute care, and inpatient rehab since the goals of ADL independence will usually be similar. 

When working with long term residents in the SNF setting, OTs can build meaningful relationships with their patients over several years and can play a critical role in improving their quality of life for many years.

Non-traditional OT Roles

The beauty of a career in occupational therapy is that it can expand into so many different non-traditional roles. These roles can be higher paying, such as starting your own OT private practice, working in home modifications, medical sales, becoming an entrepreneur creating your own product, or working in hospital administration. The sky’s the limit with non-clinical OT career options, but here are some more of our favorite examples of non-clinical OT jobs you can consider after gaining some experience.

Note that the income from some of these non-traditional OT roles is not guaranteed and can vary widely, based on the overall success of your business, how many clients you have, etc.

Does Having a Doctorate in OT Equal More Pay?

Unfortunately, spending more time and money on getting a Doctorate in OT versus a Master’s in OT will often not net you much more per hour in traditional/clinical OT settings. You may get something along the lines of .50 cents more per hour which will not make much of a difference with the larger student loan payments from OTD programs. 

However, if you know you want to pursue research and/or teach at an occupational therapy program, getting a Doctorate right away will benefit you since many of the full-time academic positions require a Doctorate.

Other Factors to Increase Your Pay as an OT

If you won’t be working in the above mentioned OT specialties, not to worry! You can still certainly make a good living with any OT specialty. The average salary across all OT specialties is $96,790 per the BLS, so you can clearly still make a good living no matter the setting you decide on.

If you are needing a higher OT salary, here are a few other ways you can increase your pay:

travel therapy tips

For more helpful strategies to help you pay down your student loans after you graduate, be sure to check out these 6 Ways to Conquer Your OT Student Loan Debt from our blog as well.

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We hope this gives you a helpful run-down of the current top-paying OT specialties along with tips that can help you improve your OT salary as needed. 

If you know of any other top paying OT specialty that we missed, what would you add? If you have any other tips on increasing your salary as well, let us know in the comments!

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