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Travel Allied February 22, 2020

By Anita Wong

Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?

The skills of occupational therapists are needed in many settings, whether as part of a team in a hospital, with students in a classroom or caring for clients in their homes. This dynamic occupation ranked as the 28th best job of 2020 by U.S. News and World Report, based on factors such as salary, unemployment rate, stress and work-life balance.

Jobs for occupational therapists are expected to grow by 18% from 2018 to 2028. If you're interested in a career in this rewarding field, here's an overview of where you might find yourself working.

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What Does An OT DO?

Occupational therapists have a master's or doctoral degree and work with people of all ages. They help patients with disabilities, injuries or chronic illnesses develop skills to perform everyday functions. This can include:

  • Helping improve strength, motor skills and dexterity
  • Showing patients how to use adaptive devices such as eating aids
  • Making recommendations about ergonomics and accessibility

Where Occupational Therapists Work

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 126,900 occupational therapists in the United States in 2018. About 79% are employed in healthcare settings, including hospitals, ambulatory care, home healthcare and nursing care facilities. The next largest employers are schools, coming in at 11%.

Some occupational therapists work in more than one location and travel between jobs. Others work in child day care services, consulting companies, retirement communities and assisted living. These settings combine for just 1.5% of OT employment but are also the highest paying jobs in this occupation.


About 11% of OTs work in schools, assisting students who have learning difficulties, physical disabilities or mental health conditions. OTs help children participate in school activities while also encouraging independence.

This can include:

  • Teaching ways to hold a pencil or instrument
  • Helping with concentration and appropriate behavior
  • Making suggestions regarding classroom design
  • Incorporating assistive devices into daily tasks
  • Supporting socialization and play

Hospitals And Other Healthcare Settings

Occupational therapists play a critical role in the rehabilitation of patients in acute care, such as those recovering from surgery, traumatic injury or medical conditions such as a stroke. Working as part of a multidisciplinary team that includes physicians, nurses, occupational therapy assistants and other healthcare practitioners, they help patients regain skills and develop new ways of performing daily tasks. OTs may also support people with permanent disabilities, mental illness and chronic conditions such as diabetes.

According to data from the BLS, this work takes place in settings such as:

  • Hospitals (27%)
  • Offices of healthcare practitioners, such as physical therapists, speech therapists and audiologists (26%)
  • Home healthcare (9%)
  • Nursing care facilities (9%)

Demand for the skills of OTs is expected to grow even more in the coming years as the baby boomer population ages. Occupational therapy can help older adults manage conditions such as arthritis and dementia, increase mobility, stay active and modify their living spaces to facilitate independence. This work may be performed in patient homes, nursing facilities and community centers.

Type of Work Performed In These Settings

A survey by the American Occupational Therapy Association compared how an OT's time is spent in different settings. It found that occupational therapists who work directly with clients are most often employed in:

  • Long-term care and skilled nursing facilities (74%)
  • Freestanding outpatient centers (70.4%)
  • Hospitals (70%)
  • Schools (60.8%)

Occupational therapists interested in consulting work, indirect care and administration such as scheduling, planning and documentation, may prefer working in mental health and community settings.

Travel OT Opportunities

If you're an occupational therapist willing to travel, you have the added advantage of choosing where you want to work. Travel OTs can pick from temporary assignments in desirable locations, letting them explore the country while working and getting paid. Travel assignments can last 13 weeks or longer.

AMN Healthcare's travel OTs can earn a competitive salary in the range of $41 to $47.50 per hour, depending on experience, location and facility. Free housing, travel reimbursement, medical and dental insurance and other lucrative benefits are available.

Where would you like to go? Choose a destination based on your lifestyle, whether you prefer a busy city, a beach town, mountains or easy access to nature. Skilled occupational therapists are needed in many states, including California, Hawaii, New York, Colorado, Minnesota and Washington. Take a look at current opportunities on the AMN Healthcare job board and start your travel OT career today.

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