Occupational Science & Technology

Occupational Therapy Program Employment Outlook


Expected Growth

Employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase by 26 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. The increasing elderly population will drive growth in the demand for occupational therapy services. The demand for occupational therapists should continue to rise as a result of the increasing number of individuals with disabilities or limited function who require therapy services. Older persons have an increased incidence of heart attack and stroke, which will spur demand for therapeutic services. Growth in the population 75 years and older—an age group that suffers from high incidences of disabling conditions—also will increase demand for therapeutic services. In addition, medical advances now enable more patients with critical problems to survive—patients who ultimately may need extensive therapy. However, growth may be dampened by the impact of Federal legislation imposing limits on reimbursement for therapy services.

Hospitals will continue to employ a large number of occupational therapists to provide therapy services to acutely ill inpatients. Hospitals also will need occupational therapists to staff their outpatient rehabilitation programs.

Employment growth in schools will result from the expansion of the school-age population and the federally funded extension of services for disabled students. Therapists will be needed to help children with disabilities prepare to enter special education programs.

Employment of recreational therapists is expected to increase 15 percent from 2008 to 2018, faster than the average for all occupations. Job growth will stem from the therapy needs of the aging population. With age comes an inevitable decrease in physical ability and, in some cases, mental ability, which can be limited or managed with recreation therapy. In nursing care facilities—the largest industry employing recreational therapists—employment will grow faster than the occupation as a whole as the number of older adults continues to grow.

Employment growth in schools will result from the expansion of the school-age population and the federally funded extension of services for disabled students.

Reimbursement for recreational therapy services will continue to affect how and where therapeutic recreation is provided. As payers and employers try to contain costs, recreation therapy services will shift to outpatient settings and away from hospitals.


Earnings

Median annual wages of occupational therapists were $66,780 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $55,090 and $81,290. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,820, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $98,310. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of occupational therapists in May 2008 were:

Home health care services $74,510
Nursing care facilities $72,790
Offices of other health care practitioners $69,360
General medical and surgical hospitals $68,100
Elementary and secondary schools $60,020

Median annual wages of recreational therapists were $38,370 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $29,660 and $49,140. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $23,150, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $60,280. Median annual wages in the industries employing the largest numbers of recreational therapists in May 2008 were:

General medical and surgical hospitals $42,210
State government $40,310
Psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals $40,150
Nursing care facilities $33,920
Community care facilities for the elderly $33,490

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Occupational Therapists (www.bls.gov/oco/ocos078.htm), and Recreational Therapists (www.bls.gov/oco/ocos082.htm).