What Is an Occupational Therapist Salary?

Being an occupational therapist can be one of the most satisfying jobs in the world. It’s not just about the money, although living on an occupational therapist salary can be very financially rewarding. Often confused with physical therapists, occupational therapists have many more responsibilities than just physical well-being.

Their salaries range from $55,000 to $120,000 a year, and their duties focus on helping people deal with their uncommon conditions. These conditions range from being in an accident to having autism, and every other debilitating affliction you could imagine. So, it’s not uncommon for them to take more liking to the difference they make than to the occupational therapist salary.

Occupational therapist with veteran


Factors that Influence the Occupational Therapist Salary

As is the case with most jobs that can take root in both the public and the private sector, the occupational therapist salary can vary wildly depending on a wide array of factors. From the job location to the level of experience, and even from one employer to another, people in this line of work can make hugely different amounts of money.

Of course, some much-needed negotiation skills can make the starting average occupational therapist salary much higher than usual. Chance can also be of great help, as a particularly rich private client will most often offer a higher pay grade than any high-end public employer ever would.

Usually, the average occupational therapist salary is set around $80,000 a year, while the occupational therapist assistant salary is set around $55,000.

Geographic Area

The salary of an occupational therapist can be largely influenced by the geographical area where they are practicing. Pay grades vary wildly from rural to urban areas, from country to country, and even from city to city. So of course, an occupational therapist salary will always be higher in bigger, more expensive cities than in smaller, suburban communities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the states with the highest salary for occupational therapists are as follows:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Nevada 590 0.48 0.58 $47.56 $98,930
Texas 8,260 0.71 0.86 $45.37 $94,360
New Jersey 4,000 1.02 1.23 $43.25 $89,960
California 10,210 0.66 0.79 $42.72 $88,850
District of Columbia 520 0.77 0.93 $42.02 $87,400

But, as you may already expect, the highest paying states are not the states offering the largest amount of jobs. The occupational therapist salary may be high enough in the above-mentioned states, but they don’t make it very easy to get a job there. Instead, if you want to have an easier time finding a job in the field, you could be interested in working in the following states:

State Employment Employment per thousand jobs Location quotient Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
California 10,210 0.66 0.79 $42.72 $88,850
New York 8,680 0.97 1.16 $38.97 $81,060
Texas 8,260 0.71 0.86 $45.37 $94,360
Pennsylvania 6,480 1.14 1.37 $36.51 $75,930
Florida 5,890 0.74 0.89 $41.12 $85,520


Just like with every job out there, experience is a very important factor when it comes to how much you will get paid. And the longer you’ve been in the field, the higher your chances are of getting a higher salary. Although the occupational therapist doesn’t grow as much as for other professions over time, the job pays well from the start.

The average occupational therapist salary for a beginner is calculated at around $55,000 to $65,000 a year, and it can reach as high as $75,000 during the first five years. That is the highest growth recorded for the profession. During the following five years (now ten years into the career path), the average occupational therapist salary can reach $80,000, and if the employee remains in the field for the following couple dozen years, the salary can reach $85,000 – $90,000.

Overall, the biggest salary increase comes during the first five years of work experience, and even though raises are quite common during the following professional years, few actually manage to climb above the median salary of an occupational therapist.


As you might expect, the industry under which such an employee is enlisted also affects the pay levels and the occupational therapist average salary. And with the exception of nursing care facilities, the industries that generate the highest salaries are not the ones that are actually hiring.

Like you will be able to see in the tables below, the industries in which occupational therapists can get hire are quite varied, seeing as the requirements for obtaining a job in the field take quite a while to complete – you need to have a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy.

The industries that are hiring largest number of occupational therapists are as follows:

Industry Employment Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 29,400 3.65 $40.28 $83,790
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals 25,280 0.48 $39.00 $81,110
Elementary and Secondary Schools 13,820 0.17 $34.36 $71,470
Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities) 11,420 0.69 $42.63 $88,670
Home Health Care Services 10,780 0.83 $44.17 $91,860

Meanwhile, nursing care facilities are part of the only industry that is actually hiring and generating a high salary for an occupational therapist. You can see the highest paid industries in the table below:

Industry Employment Percent of industry employment Hourly mean wage Annual mean wage
Scientific Research and Development Services Numbers not released Numbers not released $58.89 $122,500
Home Health Care Services 10,780 0.83 $44.17 $91,860
Nursing Care Facilities (Skilled Nursing Facilities) 11,420 0.69 $42.63 $88,670
Employment Services 2,210 0.06 $40.64 $84,520
Offices of Other Health Practitioners 29,400 3.65 $40.28 $83,790

Working Hours

In regards to the working hours, occupational therapists have very little about which to complain. It all depends on the industry in which they are hired. For example, if they are working in the field of scientific research, occupational therapists usually get dozens of overtime hours a week. This explains their above-average salary.

Meanwhile, such a therapist working for other health practitioners or in hospitals and other medical facilities rarely have to stay overtime, since they usually work in shifts. Basically, every employer decides whether they need their employees to work overtime and compensates them as such.

Bonuses and Benefit Packages

While the most benefits in regards to occupational therapy fall on the employers, since they are being helped overcome a difficult situation and live the rest of their lives without that burden upon their shoulders, the therapists themselves also tend to get a large number of benefits from helping others – as long as didn’t just get into the field for the money.

But if you’re not interested in the benefits to your personal development, things aren’t as bright from a financial point of view. Bonuses are usually only given either by private employers or as a sign-on bonus. These sign-on bonuses usually average at somewhere around $15,000.

Job Outlook

Aside from the high starting salary and the personal growth you can get as an occupational therapist, employees starting up in this profession have a lot to look forward to. Aside from the fact that they are very sought-after, they will become even more so, as projections estimate a 27% growth in hiring these health professionals by 2024.

However, if an occupational therapist plans to switch fields at some point during their career path, they have huge opportunities to do so. Working with the type of illnesses these people have to work with (amputees, Alzheimer’s patients, Down’s syndrome sufferers, etc.) can provide occupational therapists with job opportunities in many other different fields, such as psychology and medicine.

To recap, the occupational therapist salary and the vast amounts of personal growth are the biggest incentives to get a job in the field. Even if the salary of occupational therapists widely varies depending on the industry they choose, even the lowest are high enough to satisfy anyone, at least at entry level – as long as there’s no long-standing student loan involved.

You can read more about the profession from an educational point of view by clicking here, you can read the confessions of an occupational therapist by clicking here, or you can view some more cold, hard facts collected by the government about the job  by clicking here.

Image source: Wikimedia

One Response

  1. Bethany A. December 28, 2016

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