9 Occupational Therapy Specialties for the Best Career Path

9 Occupational Therapy Specialties with the Best Career Path

Did you know that there are nine very unique occupational therapy specialties? Depending on your passion, you can find an OT speciality certification that is right for you.

Occupational therapy is currently one of the allied careers in demand with the most growth.

The profession is in high demand because of the variety of ways the skills are applied. Those working in the field enjoy many perks and rewarding salary potential.


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According to this AOTA infographic:

Salaries are rising
Salaries rose 8.2% for full-time occupational therapists (OTs) and 9.1% for occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) since 2010.

Highest paid settings
OTs and OTAs are compensated the highest in academia, home health, and long term care/skilled nursing facilities.

How much do they make?
Median salary for full time OTs in 2014 was $70,000 and $48,000 for full time OTAs.

What’s the pay raise?
After just 6 years in the field, OTs see a $10,000 increase and OTAs a $9,000 increase in salaries.

Top paid region
OTs and OTAs earn the most in the Pacific Region. Followed closely by South Atlantic and South Central.

OT to OTA Salaries | 9 Occupational Therapy Specialties for the Best Career Path

Occupational Therapists informally tend to specialize in one or more areas over their career. This happens when an OT practices in the same area consistently.

In order to formally specialize, Occupational Therapists must keep up with continuing education requirements.

For an OT the requirements are:

  • 1.5 CEUs (or 15 contact hours) annually
  • or 3.0 CEUs (or 30 contact hours) biennially

For an OTA the requirements are:

  • 1.0 CEU (or 10 contact hours) annually
  • or 2.0 CEUs (or 20 contact hours) biennially

There are times when an Occupational Therapist or Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant (COTA)  determines a speciality from the beginning, and chooses to seek advanced training and certification “up front”.

SEE ALSO: COTA Career Opportunities: How to Create a Path to Success

In these instances, the formal occupational therapy specialties and certifications are offered by the American Occupational Therapy Association.

There are two types of specialties: Board Certification and Speciality Certification.

Occupational Therapist Board Certification

Requirements for Board Certification include:

  • 5 years experience as an OT
  • 5,000 hours in any capacity in the certification area in the past 5 years
  • 500 hours of delivering OT services as a OT in the certification area in the past 5 years
  • An extensive application, including a reflective portfolio, that will be peer-reviewed
  • Renewal after 5 years

Specialties include:

  • Gerontology (BCG)
  • Mental Health (BCMH)
  • Pediatrics (BCP)
  • Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)

Occupational Therapy Specialty Certification

Many of the requirements for an occupational therapy speciality certification are met by obtaining your license and NBCOT credentials.

Requirements for certification include:

  • 2,000 hours in any capacity the certification area in the past 5 years
  • 600 hours of delivering OT services as a OT in the certification area in the past 5 years
  • An extensive application, including a reflective portfolio, that will be peer-reviewed
  • Renewal after 5 years

Specialties include:

  • Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM or SCDCM-A)
  • Environmental Modification (SCEM or SCEM-A)
  • Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing (SCFES or SCFES-A)
  • Low Vision (SCLV or SCLV-A)
  • School Systems (SCSS or SCSS-A)

Let’s dive into each of these nine occupational therapy specialties to help you understand the differences:


9 Best Occupational Therapy Specialties to Choose From

1. Gerontology (BCG)

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, Gerontology Occupational Therapists work with elderly “people in their homes, their workplaces, their communities, or in facilities.”

There are a number of reasons the aging population is in need of OT services:

  • A desire to stay in their home as they age
  • Coping with Alzheimer’s disease
  • Living with arthritis
  • Fall prevention for injured or disabled adults
  • Recovering from a hip replacement
  • Coping with low vision
  • Recovering from a stroke
  • Driving safety

Gerontology is one of the more common specialties in occupational therapy, due to the large number of patients.

That means there is a lot of professional opportunity.

This OT speciality offers you the ability to work in a variety of settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities and Nursing Homes
  • In-Home Healthcare

2. Mental Health (BCMH)

The Mental Health Board Certification requires an OT to fully understand “the effects of the interaction between lifespan issues and relevant conditions that impact occupational performance related to mental health,” according to AOTA.

Specifically, this speciality focuses on providing mental health intervention that incorporates wellness and prevention for clients.

In most cases, this OT speciality offers you the ability to work in a hospital or home setting.


Pediatrics Occupational Therapy Specialties | 9 Occupational Therapy Specialties for the Best Career Path

3. Pediatrics (BCP)

As you know, children’s entire lives are full of “occupations”. Their routine daily activities like playing, learning, and socializing are important to their development.

Occupational Therapists specializing in Pediatrics work with children to help them succeed in these activities.

Within this certification is a range of specific services:

  • General functioning such as crawling, walking, feeding, walking, etc.
  • Functional skills for children on the autism spectrum
  • Working with physical or mental disabilities

This OT speciality offers you the ability to work in a variety of settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers
  • Schools
  • In-Home Healthcare


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4. Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)

The Physical Rehabilitation board certification is very broad. It is a formal certification that you may obtain after working in a number of more specific OT specialties.

This certification includes significant ability to “design and implement physical rehabilitation interventions that are client-centered, contextually relevant, and evidence-based to facilitate optimal occupational engagement,” according to AOTA.

This is one of the occupational therapy specialties that equates to a wide variety of workplace settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities and Nursing Homes
  • Schools
  • In-Home Healthcare

5. Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM or SCDCM-A)

There is a specialty practice of Driving and Community Mobility within the occupational therapy field because mobility truly is the cornerstone of an OT’s career.

According to the American Occupation Therapy Association, “SCDCM focuses on practitioners enabling a client to be mobile in his or her community environment, whether that is via driving, public transportation, walking, school bus, etc.”

These occupational therapy specialties work in a variety of areas throughout the community such as:

Driving or riding in cars

  • Teaching the use of adaptive equipment
  • Determining if a patient is fit to drive
  • Providing drive-specific rehabilitation services
  • Advocating for the patient legally regarding court decisions about continuing to drive
  • Teaching teens with disabilities to drive

Public transit options

  • Training someone in a method of transportation he/she is not familiar
  • Consulting with transit companies, city officials or policymakers to advocate for mobility-related issues
  • Facilitating traffic safety programs geared toward those with disabilities

Walking

  • Working with the city to ensure ADA compliance via curb-cuts, textured ramps, etc.
  • Providing patient guidance on best routes and times of day

This occupational therapy speciality offers unique working environments, including:

  • Offices
  • Schools
  • In-Home Healthcare
  • Actual Driving

6. Environmental Modification (SCEM or SCEM-A)

The Environmental Modification OT specialty is for practitioners who modify, adapt, or change the environments of a home, school, work, or community.

According to ATOA, “Practitioners determine environmental needs and provide intervention strategies, devices, space adaptations and/or assistive technology that reflect the person-environment fit and address occupational performance that maximizes participation, safety, accessibility, and independence.”

In most cases, environmental modification work is as-needed, making the OT somewhat of a consultant. There are many pros in this speciality, such as:

  • The flexibility to make your own schedule
  • Travel opportunities to work throughout the state and country.
  • Patient advocacy
  • Community networking

Feeding, eating, swallowing | 9 Occupational Therapy Specialties for the Best Career Path

7. Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing (SCFES or SCFES-A)

These occupational therapy specialties focus on essential services in the comprehensive management of Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing.

These services are provided to clients with a variety of diagnoses across the lifespan. The certifying AOTA board describes these services below:

  • Facilitating the activities of feeding, eating, and swallowing safely
  • Ensuring appropriate set up, equipment, and instruction for the client and relevant others to meet identified nutritional guidelines
  • Ensuring adequate performance of the components of the oral, pharyngeal and esophageal phases of swallow
  • Holistically addressing the physical, psychosocial, and cultural factors associated with feeding, eating, and swallowing.

These specialties in occupational therapy most often work in the following settings:

  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient Rehabilitation Centers
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities and Nursing Homes
  • Schools
  • In-Home Healthcare

8. Low Vision (SCLV or SCLV-A)

The National Eye Institute defines low vision as, “a condition that limits the person’s ability to complete everyday activities and cannot be corrected by lenses, medical intervention, or surgery.”

OT’s who specialize in Low Vision have:

  • Experience working with adults suffering from eye disease/conditions or brain injury who have deficiencies in acuity and visual field.
  • Expertise enhancing vision through the use of optical devices and assistive technology.
  • Experience working with optometrists, ophthalmologists and other vision rehabilitation professionals.

In most cases, this OT speciality is practiced in home settings.


School Systems | 9 Occupational Therapy Specialties for the Best Career Path

9. School Systems (SCSS or SCSS-A)

School Systems Specialty Certification is for occupational therapists who work with students in the school setting.

In this case, students range in age from 3 to 21 and must be eligible for education services under federal, state, and local mandates.

An OT in this speciality performs interventions that are unique to school systems while integrating impact of varying client factors and contexts. Specifically, the OT assists students in the day-to-day functionality required for schooling.

Because of the wide age range, SCSS certified OTs can work in:

  • Preschools
  • Elementary
  • Secondary
  • Transition
  • Or post-school environments in either public or private settings.

Conclusion

The nine occupational therapy specialties available to OTs and OTAs include:

  1. Gerontology (BCG)
  2. Mental Health (BCMH)
  3. Pediatrics (BCP)
  4. Physical Rehabilitation (BCPR)
  5. Driving and Community Mobility (SCDCM or SCDCM-A)
  6. Environmental Modification (SCEM or SCEM-A)
  7. Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing (SCFES or SCFES-A)
  8. Low Vision (SCLV or SCLV-A)
  9. School Systems (SCSS or SCSS-A)

Choosing the right speciality for you includes tapping into your passion and making smart education choices!

SEE ALSO: How to Take Full Advantage of OTA to OT Bridge Programs

 

➡ Which of these occupational therapy specialties speaks to you and why?

Share with us in the comments below!


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