2022 Best Online Doctorate Degrees in Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapists treat patients who are injured, ill, or have a disability by helping them develop or recover daily life skills. Occupational therapy is a growing field with a projected increase in demand of 17% over the next decade. There are many online degree programs available, which allow working professionals to advance their careers in this rewarding field. Students hoping to become licensed occupational therapists will need a doctorate in the field.
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2022 Best Online Doctorate Degrees in Occupational Therapy
|Rank||School||Salary Score||Median Starting Salary|
|# 1||University of Nevada at Las Vegas||$81,563|
|# 2||Thomas Jefferson University||66||$73,779|
|# 3||The George Washington University||65||$73,328|
|# 4||University of Alabama at Birmingham||65||$73,211|
|# 5||Temple University||65||$73,192|
|# 6||Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center||64||$72,884|
|# 7||Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis||63||$72,502|
|# 8||St. Catherine University||60||$71,366|
|# 9||Nova Southeastern University||58||$70,551|
#1 University of Nevada at Las Vegas
The University of Nevada at Las Vegas (UNLV) is a large, public institution that offers an online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy. This program requires 36 credit hours, two capstone courses, and a research project. UNLV prepares working occupational therapists to teach, advance their clinical practice, and assume leadership roles, so graduates of this program go on to be full-time professors for master’s level classes, fieldwork coordinators, healthcare administrators, and researchers. This program can be completed in two years with a full-time schedule.
At UNLV, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is fully online. UNLV’s online students can access all university resources.
#2 Thomas Jefferson University
The Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) is a medium-sized, private institution. TJU offers an online Post-Professional Doctorate in Occupational Therapy requiring 33 credits if the student has a master’s degree or 46 credits if they have a bachelor’s degree, and it can be completed in two to three years with a full-time schedule. Some core courses in this program include Visionary Practice Development & Evaluation and Leadership: Moving Beyond Traditional Roles. TJU’s program requires a Clinical Fellowship and a capstone project. Graduates go on to become head researchers and leaders in clinical, education, and health care communities.
At TJU, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is entirely online and asynchronous.
#3 The George Washington University
George Washington University (GWU) is a medium-sized, private institution. It offers an online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy aimed at preparing working occupational therapists to become clinician scholars. GWU teaches basic research, client-oriented research, and population-based research through its 36 credit hour program. Including the capstone project, this degree can be completed in 2.5 years with a full-time schedule. This program offers three concentrations: (1) Teaching & Learning, (2) Clinical Research, and (3) Advanced Practice. Graduates go on to become teachers, researchers, administrators, and specialists.
At GWU, students use Blackboard to access their coursework — which is fully online and asynchronous.
#4 University of Alabama at Birmingham
The University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) is a medium-sized, public university. It offers an online Clinical Doctorate in Occupational Therapy that prepares graduates to work in rehabilitation facilities, community programs, and educational settings. The program requires 40 credit hours and a capstone project. As a whole, students can complete the program in 2.5 years with a full-time schedule. The degree program allows students to choose one of three specialization tracks: (1) Low Vision Rehabilitation, (2) Healthcare Quality & Safety, and (3) General.
At UAB, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is entirely online.
#5 Temple University
Temple University (TU) is a large, public institution offering an online Doctor of Occupational Therapy, which requires 21 credit hours. Students can complete the online degree in one year with a full-time schedule. This program is a great fit for those moving directly from a master’s program into a doctoral program. TU prepares graduates to be innovative leaders who deliver diverse and inclusive therapy. Some classes for this degree include Occupation-based Theories & Participation and Outcome Measures & Program Evaluation, and there's also a final capstone project.
At TU, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is synchronous and 100% online.
#6 Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
The Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) is a small, public institution that offers an online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy. The degree requires 27 credits if the student has a master’s degree or 33 credits if they have a bachelor’s degree. Overall, it can be completed in two to three years with a full-time schedule. Along with a capstone project, core courses include Evidence-Based Practice, Principles of Management & Leadership in Health Care, and Curriculum Design & Teaching in Health Professions. Graduates enter fields ranging from insurance and policy to academics and management.
At TTUHSC, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is entirely online.
#7 Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis
Indiana University - Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is a large, public institution. It offers an online Doctor of Occupational Therapy that consists of 30 credit hours and can be completed in one year with a full-time schedule. This program prepares licensed occupational therapists to advance their career, rise to leadership positions, or begin teaching after graduation. IUPUI’s program offers classes, such as Teaching in Occupational & Rehabilitation Services and Introduction to Dissemination & Implementation Sciences, and it requires an advanced practice capstone project. Graduates are eligible and expected to take the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.
At IUPUI, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is 100% online.
#8 St. Catherine University
St. Catherine University (St. Kate’s) is a large, private institution. St. Kate’s offers an online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy requiring 35 credit hours and a doctoral project. The program can be completed in two years with a full-time schedule and students learn to lead and influence change in health, education, and community settings. Core classes include Social Determinants of Health, Organizations & Systems, and Academic & Clinical Education. Graduates of the program work as faculty, supervisors in school settings, and interdisciplinary/interprofessional advisors.
At St. Kate’s, students use Brightspace to access their coursework, which is fully online and asynchronous. However, two in-person visits to campus are required at the beginning and end of the program.
#9 Nova Southeastern University
Nova Southeastern University (NSU) is a medium-sized, private institution. NSU offers an online Doctor of Occupational Therapy, requiring 39 credit hours and a capstone project. This program focuses on using evidence-based practices to help occupational therapists advance their careers and better assist their clients. Some core courses for this degree include Theory Development for Models of Practice, Advanced Policy Issues, and Community Program Development. NSU’s online program can be completed in two years with a full-time schedule, and graduates go on to direct and lead innovative programs, establish private practices, and work with policymakers.
At NSU, students use Canvas to access their coursework, which is hybrid. Most coursework is online, but students are required to visit campus once a semester for an in-person seminar that lasts 3-4 days.
What Is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapists treat patients with illnesses, injuries, or conditions that limit their ability to complete professional, personal, or educational obligations. They may collaborate with other healthcare professionals, such as psychologists, general practitioners, and physical therapists, to ensure that individuals can complete work tasks and activities like bathing and eating.
Occupational therapists help patients develop or regain motor skills, remain organized at home, improve mobility and balance, and learn to use assistive devices. People experiencing conditions like chronic pain, brain injuries, Alzheimer's disease, and low vision can benefit from occupational therapy.
Compassionate, patient individuals with strong interpersonal skills can thrive as occupational therapists. Their work requires creativity and flexibility, as each patient may require different treatments. Occupational therapy licensure is required for all individuals looking to practice professionally.
Though most occupational therapy workers possess master's degrees, some occupational therapists pursue doctoral-level education. This guide explores the best online occupational therapy doctorate programs.
Online Occupational Therapy Programs
Online doctor of occupational therapy programs allow students to earn their degrees from the comfort of their homes, often without any in-person requirements. Distance learning requires strong self-motivation and drive, however. Some schools split their programs into entry-level and post-professional distinctions.
Courses in an Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy
The following courses are common requirements in occupational therapy doctoral degree programs:
This course explores how occupational therapists can develop respect and trust in their clients. Rather than prescribing a hard-and-fast pathway for patients to reach their goals, these professionals must collaborate with clients to communicate clearly and recognize their needs.
Physical rehabilitation courses cover the practical work required to build strength and complete tasks. Instructors explore ways to help patients recover physically from illnesses and other conditions.
This course covers the physical structures of the human brain. Occupational therapists benefit from this course by understanding the link between brain conditions and their physical manifestations.
How Much Does an Online Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Cost?
Costs for online occupational therapy doctorates vary significantly based on location, courseload, and reputation. On the lower end, some programs may cost around $13,000, while others can increase to about $28,000 or more. Along with tuition costs, prospective enrollees should prepare for associated fees for technology, any necessary travel, and labs. Online students can still pursue several forms of financial aid to help pay for their education.
What Can You Do With an Occupational Therapy Doctoral Degree?
Individuals with occupational therapy doctorates typically pursue employment as occupational therapists. Employment projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that the profession will grow by 14% from 2021-2031 — a rate that more than doubles the national average for all occupations.
However, one survey found that occupational therapists are not as happy with their jobs as other professionals. While they reported that they felt their jobs were meaningful and fulfilling, the survey revealed that they may feel like they deserve more compensation for their work.
Occupational Therapy Careers
Individuals seeking occupational therapy careers, especially people who earn doctorates in the field, typically work as occupational therapists. Graduates who complete PhDs generally find work in academia or research instead of as occupational therapists. The following section explores these available professional pathways.
These professionals develop treatment plans for patients, aiding them in completing specific professional or personal tasks. They evaluate each client's needs to create goals and develop plans to meet these goals. Occupational therapists may provide specific exercises, educate family members and caretakers, and instruct patients in using assistive devices.
Their work varies based on their chosen patient population. For example, some occupational therapists focus on pediatrics to assist with children, while others opt to work with older patients. Along with age differences, occupational therapists can help individuals with specific conditions, including low vision or trouble with eating.
This role only applies to individuals with PhDs in occupational therapy. A PhD focuses more on research than practical assistance with patients, allowing them to work in academia rather than in the field with clients. Postsecondary teachers instruct classes in colleges and universities. With a PhD in occupational therapy, these professors possess a high-level mastery of the field to teach students about best practices in care.
Occupational Therapy Certifications
Occupational therapists can specialize their work by pursuing certifications from the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). These credentials allow professionals to work with specific patient populations or conditions. Though each certification may apply similar requirements, occupational therapists seeking certification should always research any requirements before choosing to pursue the credential.
AOTA certifications require 3,000 hours of experience in the subject area to qualify. As of 2022, professionals do not need to complete certification examinations for some AOTA credentials. However, the association plans to launch more certification tests in mid-2023. Occupational therapists with these credentials must renew them every five years by accruing at least 1,500 hours of relevant experience, along with 60 hours of professional development activities.
The following section includes advanced AOTA certifications for occupational therapists but is not an exhaustive list.
Occupational Therapy Licensure
To work as an occupational therapist, each candidate needs national and state licensure. The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) provides licenses on the national level based on examination. To qualify for the exam, each candidate must have completed an Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE)-approved master's program.
Each state maintains different requirements, but to legally practice professionally as an occupational therapist, a candidate must also receive state licensure.
What to Look for in an Occupational Therapy Program
Above all, prospective enrollees in online occupational therapy doctorate programs should ensure each school's accreditation status. Accreditation is a process through which an independent third-party organization evaluates a school or program to ensure that it meets rigorous standards. Attending programs and schools that have received accreditation signals to employers that graduates have received high-level, industry-standard education.
Organizations like the Higher Learning Commission and Western Association of Schools and Colleges confer institutional, school-wide accreditation upon colleges and universities. On the programmatic level, the ACOTE awards the status to programs that meet its standards.
Some schools offer fully online occupational therapy doctorate programs, which may deliver coursework synchronously or asynchronously. With synchronous coursework, enrollees must log on at set times for lectures, while asynchronous students can complete assignments on their own schedules.
Location also plays a key role in selecting an online occupational therapy doctorate program. While some schools deliver their coursework completely online, they may still include limited in-person experiences, requiring enrollees to travel to campus.
Frequently Asked Questions About Occupational Therapy Degrees
Students interested in online occupational therapy doctorate programs typically have questions about schools, the field, and degree timelines. Explore answers to frequently asked questions about occupational therapy below.
Is It Worth It To Get a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy?
Though it requires a significant investment, individuals planning to perform research or teach in the occupational therapy field may find it worthwhile to earn doctoral degrees in the field. Aspiring occupational therapists currently only need master's-level education to qualify for the role, making a doctoral degree in the field an additional investment of time and money.
ACOTE has pushed for a doctoral education mandate to work as an occupational therapist, but as of 2022, occupational therapists only need master's-level credentials.
How Long Does it Take to Get an Occupational Therapy Doctorate?
A full-time occupational therapy doctorate may take as little as three years to complete, though some take five or more. Candidates typically spend four years in bachelor's programs and an additional two years earning master's degrees. In total, the complete timeline may amount to ten or more years.
Is an OTD the Same as a PhD?
No, an OTD is not the same as a PhD. An occupational therapy doctorate covers more clinical, practical work in the field, while a PhD suits individuals looking to perform research or pursue careers in academia.
Occupational Therapy vs. Physical Therapy: What's the Difference?
Though occupational therapy and physical therapy share some similarities, their intentions differ. While physical therapy broadly focuses on helping clients improve bodily movements, occupational therapy aims to improve patients' performance in completing personal and professional tasks.
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