Millions of people across the world pursue careers in a variety of fields that revolve around providing services to others. In particular, social services span a huge spectrum and can help individuals recover from traumatic events, learn how to handle life’s everyday hassles and ensure vulnerable people are safe.

One such example is occupational therapy. The roles and responsibilities of an occupational therapist are vast and deal with many challenges people face at every stage of life. For those seeking to give back, there are few careers where more help can be provided to those in need.

Let’s look at the requirements and process for becoming an occupational therapist so that you can consider whether this career is right for your life.

Earn a Relevant Degree

The world of occupational therapy covers such a wide array of fields that many degree programs qualify when initially pursuing a career. There are more than a 100 degree programs, for instance, that are eligible options for ultimately becoming an occupational therapy assistant: this is the first step toward becoming an occupational therapist. In fact, you may already have a degree that qualifies you to pursue this field.

If you plan on becoming an independent occupational therapist instead of an assistant, however, then you’ll need a bachelor’s degree. Depending on where you live, a specific bachelor’s degree may be required to obtain licensing in your specific state; additionally, master’s degrees are now required in most states to become a full occupational therapist.

The best course of action is to inquire with specific occupational therapy schools in your state (here’s some detailed information about quality education and jobs in occupational therapy).

Take the Required Exams

Every occupational therapist must first pass a national exam in order to earn their license. This exam is known as the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam and ensures each occupational therapist possesses the required knowledge to perform their duties properly.

This test can be taken either online ($500) or in-person ($540), with additional small fees in select states attached. Ultimately, you’ll want to inquire with your state licensing board to ensure you’re aware of all fees and requirements prior to signing up for the exam.

Passing the test on the first try is highly recommended, due both to the large exam fee and the fact that the test cannot be retaken for 45 days in the event of failure.

Obtain Your License

Once you’ve obtained the relevant education and passed the exam, there’s only one step left: obtaining your license. This process varies the most from state to state and may require additional fees, background checks, submission of personal information and – of course – your NBCOT test results.

Once you have obtained your license, maintaining the license is essential. This may require continued education (anywhere from 10-50 hours) on an annual or bi-annual basis.

Once you’ve completed all of these steps, then all that is left is to find employment in the field of occupational therapy! With a relatively straightforward pathway, becoming an occupational therapist takes time and dedication but is otherwise an easily pursued career for those who want to help others.

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