Should I obtain an Occupational Therapy Doctorate or an OT Master’s Degree?

Deciding between a masters vs doctorate in occupational therapy can be a daunting task. Occupational therapy is a highly rewarding and in-demand field that helps people of all ages to participate in their everyday activities. If you are considering a career in occupational therapy, obtaining higher education is essential.

masters vs doctorate in occupational therapy

Becoming an occupational therapist starts with a bachelor's degree in a related field and the required prerequisites to be accepted into an advanced degree program. Both the Entry-Level Master's in Occupational Therapy and the Entry-Level Doctorate in Occupational Therapy can provide students with a strong foundation in occupational therapy practice.

In this blog post, we aim to provide a comprehensive overview of the differences between a master's degree and a doctorate degree in occupational therapy education. We will explore advantages and disadvantages, and factors to consider when making this big decision.

Understanding Entry Level Verus Post Professional Degrees

An entry-level degree program is designed for individuals who do not have a prior degree in occupational therapy and wish to become licensed occupational therapists. On the other hand, post-professional programs are designed for licensed occupational therapists who wish to enhance their skills and knowledge in a particular area of practice or pursue leadership roles.

In the past, occupational therapy could be obtained with a bachelor's degree, and there were choices for both entry-level and post-professional master's programs. However, with fewer OTs practicing with a bachelor's degree, most master's level OT programs are now entry-level.

When it comes to doctoral programs, there are both entry-level and post-professional options available. Entry-level doctoral programs are designed for students who have completed a bachelor's degree and wish to become licensed occupational therapists with a doctoral degree. Post-professional doctoral programs, on the other hand, are designed for licensed occupational therapists who wish to pursue advanced practice or research careers, or leadership roles within the field.

It is important for prospective students to carefully consider their career goals and the type of program that will best suit their needs. Those who wish to become licensed occupational therapists enter an entry-level degree program, while those who are already licensed enroll in post-professional degree programs to enhance their skills and knowledge in a specific area of practice.

While the American Occupational Therapy Association was moving toward a requirement for entry-level doctorate degrees which are currenlty required for new physical therapists, this change has been postponed.

Entry-level Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy

If you're interested in a career in occupational therapy, obtaining a Master's in Occupational Therapy (MOT or MS in OT) is a great way to get started. The MOT program is typically a 2-3 year graduate-level program that provides students with the necessary skills and knowledge to become licensed occupational therapists.

In a MOT program, you can expect to take courses that cover topics such as anatomy, physiology, psychology, kinesiology, and neuroscience. Additionally, you will gain hands-on experience through clinical rotations and fieldwork to practice applying your knowledge in a real-world setting.

Upon graduation from a MOT program, you will be eligible to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam, which is required to become a licensed occupational therapist.

Advantages

Both an Entry-Level Master's in Occupational Therapy and an Entry-Level Doctorate in Occupational Therapy can provide students with a strong foundation in occupational therapy practice. However, there are some advantages to pursuing a master's degree over a doctorate degree, depending on the individual's goals and circumstances.

  • Less time to complete
  • Less expensive
  • Begin practicing occupational therapy and earning a salary sooner
  • No significant salary differences for most OT jobs

Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD)

For those who want to further their education in occupational therapy beyond an MOT, a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (OTD) may be a good choice. An OTD program is a 3-4 year doctoral program that provides students with advanced knowledge and skills in occupational therapy.

In an OTD program, you can expect to take the same courses and clinical fieldwork as a master's degree plus those that focus on advanced topics in occupational therapy, such as leadership, program development, research methods, and evidence-based practice. Then you will also complete a capstone project or dissertation.

One advantage of obtaining an OTD is that it can lead to advanced career opportunities, such as working in research, academia, or leadership positions in occupational therapy organizations. Additionally, an OTD may also allow you to specialize in a particular area of occupational therapy, such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or mental health.

However, it's important to note that obtaining an OTD requires a significant time and financial investment, as well as a strong commitment to furthering your education. Additionally, many occupational therapy positions will not require an OTD degree, and a MOT may be sufficient for your career goals.

Entry-level Master of Occupational Therapy versus Entry-level Doctorate in Occupational Therapy

When deciding between a MOT and OTD, it's important to consider the differences in curriculum, potential career opportunities, and time and financial investment.

In terms of curriculum, a MOT program typically covers foundational knowledge and skills in occupational therapy, while an OTD program focuses also on advanced knowledge and skills, research, and leadership. Additionally, an OTD program may require a capstone project or dissertation, which is not typically required in a MOT program.

In terms of potential career opportunities, a MOT can lead to a variety of occupational therapy positions, while an OTD can lead to advanced positions in research, academia, and leadership. However, these types of advanced positions are few and require clinical experience to obtain.

In terms of time and financial investment, a MOT program typically requires less time and financial investment than an OTD program.

When deciding between a MOT and OTD, it's important to carefully consider your career goals and how each degree can help you achieve those goals. Additionally, it's important to consider the time and financial investment required, as well as the potential career opportunities available with each degree.

Overall, both a MOT and OTD can lead to successful careers in occupational therapy.

Difference between Entry-level Occupational Therapy Doctorate and Post-Professional Doctorate

The main difference between an Entry-Level Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (ELDOT) and a Post-Professional Doctorate in Occupational Therapy (PPDOT) is the point at which each program is completed in a student's academic career.

An ELDOT program is designed for students who have completed a bachelor's degree in a related field but do not have a Master's degree in Occupational Therapy. This program typically takes 3-4 years to complete and provides students with the necessary education and clinical experience to become licensed occupational therapists.

On the other hand, a PPDOT program is designed for practicing occupational therapists who already hold a Master's degree in Occupational Therapy or a related field. This program typically takes 2-3 years to complete and focuses on advanced clinical skills, research, leadership, and other specialized areas of occupational therapy.

Another difference between the two occupational therapy programs is the type of coursework and research required. In an ELDOT program, students are required to complete a capstone project or dissertation as part of their program. In contrast, a PPDOT program requires students to complete a dissertation that contributes to the advancement of occupational therapy practice.

The potential career opportunities available to graduates of each program may also differ. An ELDOT degree is the minimum requirement to become a licensed occupational therapist, while a PPDOT degree may lead to advanced clinical or leadership positions, research opportunities, or academia.

Masters vs Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Salary

One of the main factors that many students consider when choosing between a master's and a doctoral degree in occupational therapy is salary. While there is no guarantee that earning a doctoral degree will lead to a higher salary, there are some factors to consider.

Firstly, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for occupational therapists in 2020 was $86,280. However, it's important to note that this can vary depending on factors such as years of experience, location, and the type of employer. Occupational therapists working in hospitals tend to earn more than those in schools or home health care services, for example.

When it comes to comparing the salaries of master's versus doctoral degree holders in occupational therapy, the difference can vary. On average, occupational therapists with a master's degree tend to earn a slightly lower salary compared to those with a doctoral degree. However, this can depend on several factors, including the industry and the years of experience of the occupational therapist.

Another factor to consider is that a doctoral degree in occupational therapy can open up additional opportunities for advancement and leadership roles. With a doctoral degree, occupational therapists can become leaders in the field, including roles such as clinical directors, academic professors, or researchers. These roles can come with higher salaries and greater opportunities for career growth.

Michele's Thoughts

When I started my career in occupational therapy, there were only two options to obtain a degree – a Bachelor's or a Master's. I opted for a Master's degree as the Bachelor's degree option was being phased out at the time, and I already had a Bachelor's degree. Today, students can choose between an entry-level doctorate or an entry-level master's degree in occupational therapy. Most students start these programs after obtaining a Bachelor's degree, and the doctorate degree takes at least 12 months longer to complete than a master's degree.

While it may seem like a good idea to get a doctorate degree right from the start, especially if you're interested in becoming a professor or working in academia, it's important to carefully consider the additional debt that comes with it. Most salaries for occupational therapists will not start higher with a doctorate degree, and you'll still start your career with the same amount of hands-on experience. Requiring the same amount of support, supervision, and mentorship whether you have a master's or a doctorate degree.

In fact, obtaining a doctorate degree after gaining experience in the field is often more valuable. Upward mobility in the field is limited, and salary increases are often regulated by insurance reimbursement, which has not only been limited in increases but in many cases has decreased over time. Raises and increases in salaries are often on a teacher scale for school-based therapists. It's important to note that opportunities for leadership roles and career growth in occupational therapy with a doctorate degree are few and far between.

In conclusion, while it may seem like getting a doctorate degree in occupational therapy right from the start is a good idea, it's important to carefully consider the additional debt, limited upward mobility, and limited opportunities for career growth. Obtaining a doctorate degree after gaining experience in the field may be more valuable in the long run.

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