Occupational Therapist Salary: Data From 2,322 OTs and COTAs
Everyone has different reasons for why they became interested in the field of occupational therapy. But there’s one thing we all have in common when it comes to our careers…
We need to get paid!
While compensation should not be the #1 motivation for getting into a field, it is certainly a factor that should be considered.
In my experience, compensation is not discussed in much detail, and understandably so since people are usually private about these matters.
Because of this, our concept of compensation is usually informed by anecdotal stories from coworkers or national-level data discovered via a Google search.
While these numbers can be interesting and do provide ball-park figures for pay, it’s not enough data to give us a clear picture of what you can expect for a typical occupational therapist salary.
Occupational Therapist Salary: Digging Into the Data
In this post, I will try to paint a more complete picture of occupational therapist salaries and compensation by digging into self-reported data for 2,322 OTRs and COTAs primarily in the U.S. (as of February 2020).
This data has been made available thanks to the brilliant idea of Kate Washa Boyd who started OTsalary.com in December 2016. The website she created serves as a data gathering tool where practitioners and educators can enter how much they make along with other relevant data points like education level, geographic area, years of experience, and more.
It is important to keep in mind that the OTsalary.com data is self-reported, and therefore this analysis is not scientifically rigorous. This analysis does not imply a guarantee of compensation in any way. It is for informational purposes only and is intended to help you form a clearer picture of occupational therapy compensation.
(Note: Some data points may have been revised to consolidate setting categories, correct errors made by respondents when entering numbers/text in the incorrect field, correct typos made by respondents, to calculate the equivalent hourly rate for respondents only reporting annual income, or to calculate the equivalent annual salary for respondents only reporting hourly income. If any other adjustments were made, they are noted in the relevant sections in this post.)
Table of Contents
- 10 Key Findings About Occupational Therapy Compensation
- Survey Respondent Pool
- Overall Compensation for OTs and COTAs
- Compensation by Setting
- Compensation by Years of Experience
- Benefits: Health Insurance, 401K, Dental, Vision, and CEU Reimbursement
- Compensation by Work/Pay Type
- OT Compensation: Master’s vs. Doctorate
- Compensation by Location
- Compensation Based on Number of Certifications
- Compensation by Gender
- Negotiated vs. Non-negotiated Compensation
10 Key Findings About Occupational Therapy Salaries
If you don’t have the time or interest to read the entire post, refer to these 10 key findings from the occupational therapy salary analysis to get an idea of what is covered in more detail in each section.
1) First, it appears that average pay for therapists depends mostly upon setting, years of experience, and the type of work (full-time vs. part-time, hourly vs. salary, PRN, contract, etc.)
2) The best paying settings are home health and academia. The lowest paying settings are inpatient and acute care.
3) First year OTs make on average $35/hr compared to $51/hr for the highest paid therapists that have been practicing 30+ years.
4) If you are a full-time employee, you should expect to receive benefits in the form of health insurance, 401K, dental, and vision. About half of full-time employees are reimbursed for CEUs. Only 10-20% of part-time therapists receive some type of benefit.
5) The best paying type of work in terms of hourly compensation is PRN, contract, and per visit. The lowest forms of pay are salaried positions (part-time or full-time). Of course, total annual compensation is going to be higher for full-time workers that put in more hours.
6) When comparing the MOT vs. OTD, there does not appear to be a significant difference in pay. However, people typically pursue the OTD for reasons other than pay.
7) The top paying cities for OTs with a Master’s degree were San Jose, Houston, Washington D.C., Oakland, and San Francisco. The highest paying states overall were Alaska, Wyoming, and California.
8) The more certifications a therapist has, the more they tend to get paid on average. (This holds true up to 3 certifications.)
9) Overall, about 91% of respondents were female, 8% were male, and 1% preferred not to say. On average, male OTs and COTAs earn more in annual compensation when compared to female OTs (5% more for male OTs and 29% more for male COTAs). Male OTs and COTAs also reported working more hours/week on average and negotiated their pay 34% of the time compared to 25% of female therapists.
10) Negotiating your pay is always a best practice, however, the data from OTsalary.com respondents did not bear this out. Many settings did see an improvement when pay was negotiated, although this was not represented overall.
OTsalary.com: Survey Respondent Pool
In total, we will be analyzing compensation data for 1,832 occupational therapists and 490 COTAs making 2,322 survey respondents in total.
The education level for OTs breaks down as follows: 86% have a Master’s degree, 7% have a Bachelor’s, 7% have an OTD, and less than 1% have a PhD.
The education level for COTA respondents is as follows: 88% have an Associate’s, 10% have a Bachelor’s, 1% have a Master’s, and 1% have an OTD. (Note: It is unusual for COTAs to have a Masters or OTD degree, but this was what was reported and we don’t have a way to validate these responses. There were 4 COTAs that reported having a Master’s and 3 that reported having the OTD.)
The breakdown for education levels for OTs and COTAs is shown in the pie charts below.
We also broke down the respondent pool in terms of years of experience (referred to as “YOE” throughout this post).
Most respondents had 1 year or less experience. Overall, 75% of respondents had 5 years of experience or less (including OTs and COTAs). This might be because therapists new in their careers are more curious about salary and what to expect. Keep this in mind when we analyze compensation relative to years of experience later in this post; the sample sizes for 5-10 years, 10-20 years, 20-30 years, and 30+ years are going to be smaller.
For the purposes of this analysis, we will focus only on the respondents that are living and working in the U.S. Unfortunately, there is not enough data from respondents outside of the U.S. to conduct any meaningful analysis.
The map below illustrates how many respondents reported data for each state. The lighter blue states had fewer respondents while the darker blue states had more respondents.
It isn’t surprising that the states with the most respondents were California (251), Texas (160), New York (137), and Florida (122). The state with the fewest respondents was Montana with four people in the sample size. All other states had at least 5 or more respondents. The median number of respondents for the states was 27 people.
Finally, let’s look at the number of respondents by major U.S. cities. Below is a list of top cities based on the number of respondents each city has. It is interesting to note that several cities listed below are home to multiple occupational therapy programs. For example, while St. Louis isn’t in the top 10 in the U.S. in terms of general population, there are three OT programs in St. Louis which is most likely why there are so many survey respondents from here.
Overall Compensation for OTs and COTAs
In this section, we’ll look at overall compensation for full time OTs and COTAs. We’re looking only at full time employees (“FTEs”) for this section in order to establish a standard baseline for compensation. When people discuss salaries and hourly wages, it is most common to speak in terms of full time employment, so we will start there and move on to part time, PRN, and other types of employment in later sections.
As well, we’ll look at a few different variables like the practice setting, total years of experience, and employee benefits to see how these play into OT and COTA compensation.
The data for both OTs and COTAs can be viewed independently or if you already know which path your are most interested in – OR – it can be viewed as a comparison between the two career paths. Either way, the data is the same.
Per OTsalary.com data, the average hourly rate for full time OTs in the U.S. is $36.84/hr. This is the average across all settings, locations, years of experience, and education levels. Assuming a typical 40 hour work week while taking off four weeks per year, the average annual occupational therapist salary works out to be approximately $70,732/year ($36.84/hr x 40 hours/wk x 48 weeks/yr).
The average hourly rate for full time COTAs in the U.S. is $27.65/hr. Again, this includes all settings, locations, years of experience, and education levels. Assuming the same 40 hour work week while taking off four weeks per year, the average annual COTA salary works out to be $53,088 ($27.65/hr x 40 hours/wk x 48 weeks/yr).
Compensation by Setting
The setting you work in as a therapist makes a big difference in terms of compensation. In the survey data, there were many different settings reported so we did some work to aggregate settings for respondents into 9 major categories:
- Acute Care
- School System
- Home Health
- Assisted Living Facility (ALF)
- Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF)
- Long Term Care (LTC)
(Note: There were a number of “other” categories that respondents provided as well, but we will not display this category in the data since it was so many different unrelated settings that an average would be meaningless.)
You can see in the chart below that the 9 settings are ranked from left to right (lowest to highest) for the average hourly rate for OTs (dark purple). The data for average hourly COTA rates are also shown (light purple), and the 9 settings follow a similar pattern for both OT and COTA where inpatient and acute care pay the least on average while academia and home health pay the most on average.
At the low end for the 9 settings, full time inpatient rehab occupational therapists earn $33.92/hr on average. At the high end, full time home health occupational therapists earn $49.12/hr on average. That’s a difference of 45% when comparing the highest and lowest paid settings.
Similarly, there is a big difference between the lowest paid COTA setting (acute care at $24.02/hr) and one of the highest paid COTA settings (home health at $34.13/hr). This difference amounts to 42%. Note that we are comparing to home health here because there was only one survey respondent claiming to earn $40/hr as a full-time COTA in academia.
The setting compensation data described above is the same shown in the chart below.
One additional slice that is worth looking at is compensation by setting and by years of experience. You can see in the chart below that the darker green cells are the higher hourly rates. You can see that for almost every segment of years of experience, home health and academia are the best paying settings. The lowest paying settings are outpatient and acute care up to 10 years of experience.
Occupational Therapist Pay by Years of Experience
As you might expect, the more experience you have the more you will be paid. While this is not at all surprising, the fact that the data aligns with what we know to be true does serve to help validate the data set and give us confidence in its quality (since it is all self-reported).
(Note: COTAs in the 20-30 and 30+ segments had slightly lower pay than COTAs with 20 years of experience or less. This is most likely due to the small sample size of 11 respondents and 4 respondents respectively.)
The data shows that OTs can expect to make about 5% more in years 2-5 compared to their first year. It’s also interesting to note that OTs with 30+ years of experience make about 45% more than first year OTs.
Benefits: Health Insurance, 401K, Dental, Vision, and CEU Reimbursement
When it comes to benefits, it’s commonly understood that it is almost always full time employees that get them. But as you will see, not all full-time employees get benefits; as well, some non-full-time employees do get benefits too.
For the first chart below, we looked at full-time employees (full-time hourly and salaried without overtime). We looked to see what percentage of OTs and COTAs had any of these five types of benefits: health insurance, 401K, dental, vision, and CEU reimbursement. (See the note below about PTO.)
For full-time OTs, 92% had health benefits, 81% had 401Ks, 83% had dental benefits, 74% had vision benefits, and 55% had CEU Reimbursement.
For full-time COTAs, 71% had health benefits, 88% had 401Ks, 78% had dental benefits, 71% had vision benefits, and 49% had CEU Reimbursement.
In general, full-time therapists can expect to receive health insurance, 401K, dental, and vision insurance while about 50% of full-timers get CEU reimbursement.
The next chart below shows how many non-full-time employees had benefits (part-time, PRN, per-visit, and contract employees). Again, we all know it’s not as common for these employees to get benefits, but as you will see some actually do.
As you can see in the chart below, between roughly 10-20% of non-full-time OTs and COTAs receive some kind of benefit whether it’s health insurance, 401K, dental, vision, or CEU reimbursement.
(Note: There were 20 respondents that put paid time off (PTO) as one of their benefits. However, we have not included PTO as a benefit in this section since it seems to have been ignored by most respondents. Between 0-1% of respondents said they had PTO, which does not match up with reality. Although there is no way to know, this might be due to the fact that OTs and COTAs don’t view PTO as being in the same “benefits” category as things like health insurance, 401K, dental, and vision.)
Compensation by Work/Pay Type
In order to compare employees that are hourly with employees that are salary, the hourly rate for salary employees was calculated by dividing their annual pay by the number of weeks per year they work and further by the number of hours they work per week. This hourly rate is referred to as the “Hourly Rate Equivalent” or as “HRE” for short in coming charts.
The chart below shows the average HRE for OTs and COTAs ranked left to right (lowest to highest pay) by HRE for OTs.
The highest paid OTs are in per-visit, contract, and PRN roles. The lowest paid OTs appear to be salaried workers in either part-time or full-time positions. Part-time and full-time OTs that are paid hourly fall in the middle of the spectrum.
The highest paid COTAs also work on a per-visit basis. One difference from OTs is that the lowest paid COTAs appear to be working part-time for hourly pay.
Salaried part-time OTs and COTAs appear to be making almost the same amount ($34/hr and $33/hr respectively), however, this is most likely due to the small sample size of 10 OTs and only 2 COTAs.
Keep in mind the data we’ve seen so far is the average hourly rate and does not represent total annual compensation. When examining total annual compensation by work/pay type, the results are as follows. (Note: For reference, the work/pay types are listed in the same order as the HRE chart above. As well, the amounts for each data point are shown below the chart in the data table.)
This chart shouldn’t be surprising since we know that full-time employees work more hours in a year and therefore will have more annual income. What is interesting though is that hourly OTs make slightly more than salaried OTs. Additionally, many PRN OTs are often at or above the annual income of full-time employees as long as they are able to get full-time hours at their place of employment.
The results for COTA’s annual salary by work/pay type are very similar to OTs. Positions that make less annually are part-time positions and PRN. Full-time, contract, and per-visit COTAs have the highest annual salaries.
If you are curious about PRN or you have questions about the benefits, check out our PRN post, The Pros and Cons of Being a PRN Occupational Therapist.
(Note: For this section, two response fields were consolidated into one: (1) work type and (2) pay rate. There was a mixture of responses between these two fields, often times where the two fields were conflicting. For example, one column would say full time and the other would say part time. If there was a conflict, I made a judgment call to assign only one work/pay type. Conflicting responses were prioritized as follows: (1) self-employed (2) contract (3) per visit (4) PRN (5) full time (6) part time. In other words, if someone said they were both contract and part-time, I assigned them to the contract category. Similarly, if someone said they were PRN and part time, I assigned them to the PRN category. Full time and part time positions were also separated out as being hourly or salary. If there was a conflict where the respondent entered salary in one column and hourly in the other, I cross-checked their input for hours worked per week. Anyone with 30+ hours was considered full time.)
OT Compensation: Master’s vs. Doctorate
In this section, we will compare OT salaries for individuals that have achieved a Master’s degree vs. Doctorate. This is perhaps the only really meaningful comparison to analyze when it comes to degrees and compensation. There are not very many OTs with Bachelor’s degree any more since these were phased out, and the difference in compensation for COTAs is negligible when looking at an Associate’s vs. Bachelor’s degree.
Overall, MOT grads and OTD grads typically earn about the same amount. MOT grads of all experience levels working across all settings in the U.S. average $39.09/hr (n=1,572). OTD grads fitting the same profile (though a much smaller sample size) make $40.13/hr (n=121) or about 2.7% more.
Breaking out therapists earnings by years of experience, we do see two points of disparity between those with MOTs and those with OTDs (as shown in the chart below).
The first point is when comparing workers with 5-10 years of experience. It appears that MOT grads are earning $39.74/hr compared to OTD grads making $45.13/hr (13.6% more). However, we can see in the next segment where workers have between 10-20 years of experience it flips: OTD grads are making only $41.64/hr while MOT grads are making $48.92/hr (17.5% more). It is important to note the there were only 13 OTD grads in the 5-10 YOE segment and 4 OTD grads in the 10-20 YOE segment.
Overall, the difference in compensation is not significant but most people do not choose the doctorate for the better pay. Rather, some people choose the OTD because it enables a greater exploration of occupational therapy (given that it is one year longer), it shows your commitment to the profession, it is a higher level designation, and it may put you in a position to be able teach afterwards.
On the other hand, people choose the MOT because it takes less time and it is the quickest and most affordable route to becoming a practicing occupational therapist. If you want to learn more about the differences between the MOT and OTD and which option is right for you, check out our post, The MOT vs. OTD: Which Degree Should You Pursue?
Occupational Therapist Salary by Location
Lastly, we parsed the data for OT compensation by location. The most relevant view of the data was to look at the top 25 cities in terms of the total number of OT respondents and then rank them from highest to lowest for average annual compensation. The result is the chart below. (Note: There were not enough COTAs in the data set to be able to rank major cities by average annual compensation.)
And in this table below, you will see the top 10 paying states in the U.S. with Alaska in the lead. OTs that work in Alaska are averaging $86,500 per year. Be sure to talk to someone who has worked in Alaska before signing up for work up there – there is a lot to think about!
When respondent’s locations were grouped as being in a big city, metro area, small city, or rural area, no major differences were found.
Generally speaking it might seem that people would get paid more in big cities due to the cost of living, however it is also true that there is more demand for these jobs (especially in desirable areas).
Rural areas also often pay more since it is harder to attract talent to these areas, but similarly might pay less because smaller organizations in rural areas don’t have as much budget for compensation as large institutions in major cities.
Compensation Based on Number of Certifications
The OTsalary.com data collection form allowed respondents to enter their certifications in free-form. While this makes it difficult to analyze trends for specific certifications, we were able to determine the total number of certifications held by each respondent. Then, we ran the data to see if there was any correlation between the number of certifications a therapist held and their hourly rate.
On average, the hourly rate for occupational therapists appears to increase with additional certifications…but only up to 3 certifications. Therapists with 4+ certifications did not appear to have higher pay. You will also see below that COTAs did not display any correlation between certifications and compensation.
Compensation by Gender
Before we get to differences in compensation, let’s make sure we understand the data that was provided in the OTsalary.com survey.
Respondents were given the choice of 3 options: male, female, or “prefer not to say.” That being said, we acknowledge that there may be other gender identities not captured by the data in this survey. The total count of males, females, and those who preferred not to say are shown in the chart below for both OTs and COTAs.
Across 2,322 survey respondents, 91.3% were female and 8.1% were male. Less than 1.0% stated they would “prefer not to say.” The ratio of male/female for OTs and COTAs were not far from the overall ratios.
So how does OT and COTA compensation compare between males and females?
On average, male OTs earned 5.4% more in annual compensation when compared to female OTs ($70,009/year for males vs. $66,446/year for females). It should be noted that male OTs also worked on average 3.9% more hours/week (39.7 hours vs. 38.2 hours). It is also important to note that 34% of males reported that they negotiated their compensation compared to 25% of females.
COTA compensation follows a similar but much more pronounced trend.
On average, male COTAs earned 28.6% more in annual compensation when compared to female OTs ($55,038/year for males vs. $42,792/year for females). Male COTAs also worked on average 14.1% more hours/week (39.6 hours vs. 34.7 hours). Also, 34% of male COTAs reported that they negotiated their compensation compared to 25% of females (the percentages of M/F negotiators was the same OTs and COTAs).
In short, the data tells us that male therapists (OTs and COTAs) make more money, but they also work more hours/week on average and tend to negotiate their pay more often than female therapists.
However, this is not to say that the difference in compensation is justified. We should not dismiss systemic bias and sexism as possible explanations for this difference, but unfortunately we are unable to isolate these variables in the OTsalary.com data. The gender gap is a very well known and studied issue in the U.S. and many other countries, so I would encourage you to seek out other sources to better understand the issues at hand.
Negotiated vs. Non-negotiated Compensation
Overall, the data does not show that there is a significant difference in compensation for therapists that negotiated their pay vs. those that did not.
OTs that negotiated their pay overall made on average $39.71/hr which was actually slightly lower than the $39.79/hr therapists made when they did not negotiate. This difference held true when examining only full time therapists too.
For interest, this data is broken out by setting in the chart below. While 6 of 9 settings did demonstrate higher average pay following negotiation, there were 3 settings where negotiating did not appear to positively impact pay. And again, overall pay did not appear to be positively impacted by negotiation.
These results are contrary to the reality of negotiating pay. Of course, it almost always makes sense to negotiate for more pay on an individual level. This data should absolutely not prevent anyone from negotiating for more pay.
As mentioned previously, there was a difference in the number of male and female therapists that negotiated their salary. Overall, 34% of male therapists negotiated their pay while 25% of female therapists negotiated their pay. These ratios were identical for both OTs and COTAs (34% of males negotiated their pay vs. 25% of females).
Congrats if you made it this far! That’s a lot to think about. Don’t forget to revisit the top 10 key findings listed at the top.
I hope you find this occupational therapist salary data as interesting as I did! Let us know what you think and what questions you have. And don’t forget to add your OT salary information into OTsalary.com 🙂