Occupational therapist salary guide
Salary Guides

Occupational Therapist Salary Guide

Occupational therapists (OTs) can look forward to a positive job outlook and lucrative salaries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects demand for OTs to grow by 14% between 2021 and 2031. While this expectation suggests plentiful opportunities for skilled OTs in the coming years, you should still ensure your clinical skills are up to par and your compensation is competitive compared to similar OT jobs. This guide provides detailed occupational therapist salary information to help maximize your earnings as you advance your career and positively impact your patients’ lives.

Becoming an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists are allied health professionals with graduate-level education and training. You must earn national board certification and a license in the state where you want to work. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico require OTs to be licensed before providing occupational therapy services. Each state also has varying scopes of practice for OTs.

To become an OT, you must:

  • Complete an accredited program in occupational therapy and earn a master’s degree or Doctorate of Occupational Therapy (OTD). An OTD is a clinical doctorate and differs from a research-based Ph.D.
  • Pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam to earn your Occupational Therapist Registered certification.
  • Apply for a state license to practice. Some states require you to pass an additional exam to ensure you understand local regulations.

What Is the Typical Occupational Therapist Salary?

Once you’re certified, licensed and ready to work, you can choose from travel or staff occupational therapist jobs. Travel OTs typically work on 13-week contracts, helping ensure patients continue receiving quality care when a facility has staffing gaps. You’ll notice a significant difference in average pay if you’re willing to travel and work.

Per the permanent occupational therapist jobs posted on Vivian as of January 18, 2023,  the average hourly rate for staff OTs was $38 or about $1,520 weekly in a 40-hour workweek. Conversely, the average travel occupational therapist salary was $1,941 per week during this same period.

Where Are Occupational Therapists Paid the Most?

An individual’s occupational therapist salary depends on variables such as education, experience, professional certifications, the hiring facility’s needs, local demand for OTs and cost of living. These variables impact OTs in both permanent and travel jobs.

Highest Paying States for Permanent OTs

The table below lists the 10 highest-paying states for staff occupational therapists based on May 2021 BLS data. Every state, except Texas and New Mexico, has a higher cost of living than the national average, per Sperling’s Best Places’ overall cost of living indices.

State Mean Hourly Staff Wage Cost of Living Compared to National Average
Nevada $52.41 +9.7%
California $50.85 +49.9%
New Jersey $48.14 +19.8%
Texas $46.20 -5.8%
New Mexico $45.70 -11.6%
Virginia $45.65 +4.2%
Connecticut $45.21 +11.8%
Alaska $44.92 +16.5%
New York $44.80 +21.5%
Washington $44.54 +21.9%

 Sources: BLS, Sperling’s Best Places

Highest Paying States for Travel OTs

Healthcare facilities often provide lucrative pay to OTs willing to temporarily relocate to cover staffing shortfalls. Travel therapy is an option if you’re interested in visiting different regions of the country and earning top-notch pay simultaneously.

Below is a list of the highest-paying states for travel occupational therapist jobs, based on Vivian Health data on January 11, 2023. We used a 40-hour workweek to calculate hourly equivalents. Many of these states have a lower cost of living than the nationwide average, meaning you can spend a few months practicing in an affordable state while earning top wages.

State Average Weekly Travel Salary Hourly Equivalent Cost of Living Compared to National Average
Wyoming $2,899 $72.48 -2.5%
Maine $2,417 $60.43 -3.0%
Alaska $2,410 $60.25 +16.5%
Utah $2,286 $57.15 +14.2%
Nebraska $2,280 $57.00 -12.2%
Wisconsin $2,269 $56.73 -10.1%
West Virginia $2,224 $55.60 -20.6%
New Hampshire $2,149 $53.73 +5.8%
Minnesota $2,126 $53.15 -2.8%
California $2,013 $50.33 +49.9%

 Source: Vivian Health

Where Are OTs Most Needed?

Occupational therapy

According to the BLS, there were 127,830 occupational therapist jobs in May 2021. A 2015 article published in PM&R magazine indicated the demand for OTs could exceed available practitioners in all 50 states through 2030. PM&R is the official scientific journal of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R). The AAPM&R estimates the most significant staffing shortfalls will occur in the south and west, with the largest shortfalls occurring in California, Florida and Texas.

The chart below shows the states with the most OT jobs and the average hourly staff rate, per May 2021 BLS data. Travel salary data came from Vivian Health on January 11, 2023.

State Number of OT Jobs Average Staff Hourly Rate Average Weekly Travel Salary
California 11,460 $50.85 $2,013
Texas 8,500 $46.20 $1,730
New York 8,320 $44.80 $1,796
Florida 6,770 $41.65 $1,780
Pennsylvania 6,710 $42.75 $1,807

 Sources: Vivian Health, BLS

OT Salary by Workplace

Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings. About half of all OTs either work in hospitals or practices with health practitioners such as physical therapists, speech-language pathologists and audiologists.

About 9% of OTs work in home healthcare, caring for patients in their residences. On average, home health OTs earned the most per hour, while occupational therapists working in elementary and secondary schools earned the lowest average hourly rate. 

Below is a comparison of employment levels and average salaries in different workplace settings, according to BLS information as of May 2021.

Practice Setting Number of OT Jobs Percentage of Total OT Jobs Average Hourly Rate
Offices of Health Practitioners 34,380 27% $42.16
General Medical-Surgical Hospitals 29,200 23% $44.04
Elementary and Secondary Schools 15,630 12% $37.73
Home Health Care Services 11,160 9% $49.34
Skilled Nursing 9,260 7% $46.31
Specialty Hospitals 8,230 6% $45.40

 Source: BLS

Occupational Therapy Salaries Compared to Similar Jobs

If you’re just beginning to explore potential healthcare careers, you can compare an average occupational therapist salary with those of other therapist jobs in the chart below. The average hourly rates for staff positions are from May 2021 BLS data and the average weekly travel salaries are from Vivian Health’s salary tool as of January 11, 2023.

Position Average Perm Hourly Rate (BLS) Average Weekly Travel Salary (Vivian)
Occupational Therapist $43.02 $1,899
Occupational Therapy Assistant $30.56 $1,650
Recreational Therapist $25.91 N/A
Rehabilitation Therapist N/A $1,776
Physical Therapist $44.67 $2,004
Speech-Language Pathologist $41.26 $1,980
Audiologist $41.37 $3,329

 Source: Vivian Health; BLS

How to Improve Your Occupational Therapist Salary

1. Work as a Travel OT

Travel OTs can take advantage of the nationwide demand for occupational therapists, generally earning a higher average salary than permanent OTs. Although compensation varies depending on the recruiting agency, most offer a mix of housing stipends, medical insurance, life insurance, 401(k) plans and continuing education. However, you may need to meet certain criteria to qualify for some benefits, such as housing stipends.

To be considered for a travel occupational therapist job, you must hold a license in the state where you want to work. Your NBCOT certification is recognized nationwide, but you must still meet state requirements. Some state boards provide licensure by endorsement if you have a license in another state.

Once the Occupational Therapy Licensure Compact (OT Compact) launches, it should be easier for OT to work across state lines. The OT Compact is a joint initiative of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and the NBCOT. Through this interstate agreement, participating states will grant practicing privileges to OTs with licenses in any member state.

According to the AOTA, 22 states have enacted compact legislation thus far, and it expects another 10 to 15 states to introduce legislation in 2023. The OT Compact Commission anticipates opening applications for compact privileges in late 2023 or early 2024 to help fill the demand for OTs in different regions.

OT Compact Map

Source: OT Compact

2. Work as a Per Diem OT

Some healthcare facilities hire OTs on an as-needed basis. You’re not always guaranteed work, but per diem positions pay a higher wage if you’re available to cover shifts. Per diem occupational therapist jobs listed on Vivian on January 11, 2023, were paying an average of $64 per hour and as high as $78 per hour.

You won’t receive benefits or paid time off in a per diem position, but it can be a great way to boost your income. OTs who work in schools can pick up per diem shifts during summers and holidays. You can even combine a per diem position with travel OT jobs, working when you return home from a travel assignment.

3. Earn Advanced Certification

Demonstrate your expertise and knowledge by earning advanced certification for niche patient populations. You can distinguish yourself for coveted OT jobs by adding further education and credentials to your resume, paving the way to more senior roles and higher pay.

The AOTA offers the following advanced certification exams:

You may be eligible to test for these credentials if you’re a certified, licensed occupational therapist in good standing and have at least:

  • 3 years of experience as an occupational therapist
  • 3,000 hours of experience in the certification area in the last 5 years
  • 500 hours of experience delivering occupational therapy services to clients in the last 5 years

4. Consider Cost of Living

While you might be drawn to high-paying occupational therapist jobs in states such as Washington or New York, keep in mind that you’ll also be paying more out of pocket if it’s an expensive state in which to live. A large portion of your salary may go to housing, groceries, transportation and other basic living costs.

You may stretch your dollars further by factoring in the cost of living when considering a job, thus improving your salary in a roundabout way. For example, in Oklahoma, the average OT salary is $88,200 annually, per May 2021 BLS data. While this is just 1.4% lower than the nationwide average of $89,470. Oklahoma is one of the most affordable states to live in, with an overall cost of living 17.8% lower than the U.S. average, according to Sperling’s Best Places. Always run the numbers to see if a job with a lower average salary in a more affordable state actually leaves more money in your pocket in the long run.

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