Occupational Therapy Certification Requirements

by Luanne Kelchner

Occupational therapists help patients improve or develop the skills to work or function in their daily lives. A career as an occupational therapist requires a minimum of a master’s degree. Certification is a voluntary process, but all states require a license to practice as an occupational therapist. Obtaining a certification in occupational therapy demonstrates the therapist’s skills and knowledge and can enhance her employment opportunities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the annual median salary for occupational therapists in 2012 was $75,400.

Job Description

Occupational therapists evaluate a patient’s work and home environment to develop a treatment plan and identify special equipment that can enhance his quality of life. Treatment for patients might include exercises to relieve pain and improve time management and household budget skills. It might also include resources to help patients cope with mental illness or drug and alcohol abuse. Occupational therapy assistants work under the supervision of therapists. They help patients with exercises, teach patients to use equipment, and maintain records.

National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy offers the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) credential and the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) credential. All states require occupational therapists to pass the certification examination to qualify for a license to practice. Some states require occupational therapy assistants to be licensed to practice.

Education Requirements

Occupational therapists must have a master’s degree to meet the certification requirements. Students can enter a master’s degree program with a bachelor’s degree in any major, though schools typically require the completion of prerequisite courses such as mathematics, biological sciences and behavioral science. Master's degree programs include field experience in occupational therapy. The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy requires an associate degree in occupational therapy for candidates seeking certification as an assistant. Associate degree programs for occupational therapy assistants are available at technical schools and community colleges.

Certification Examination

The National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy requires occupational therapists and assistants to pass an examination to earn a credential. The OTR certification examination consists of 170 multiple-choice questions and three simulation items. The COTA examination consists of 200 multiple-choice questions. Each examination takes up to four hours to complete.

Certification Renewal

Occupational therapy certifications are valid for three years. Therapists and assistants must complete 36 professional development units to maintain their credentials. Occupational therapists and assistants can earn professional development units through activities such as attending workshops, lectures and seminars; completing courses that end with an assessment; mentoring a colleague; or volunteering for an organization.

About the Author

Luanne Kelchner works out of Daytona Beach, Florida and has been freelance writing full time since 2008. Her ghostwriting work has covered a variety of topics but mainly focuses on health and home improvement articles. Kelchner has a degree from Southern New Hampshire University in English language and literature.