If you’re an aspiring or practicing occupational therapist (OT), you may be wondering what non-traditional OT roles could be open to you. You might be surprised to learn that there are, in fact, many options for OTs who feel less inclined to work a traditional staff job in a school or clinic.
Creative OTs can become practice owners, independent contractors, consultants, media gurus, educators—and more. Striking out on your own can be a way to use your clinical experience and training to create your dream role. It can be a way to stay engaged with the profession and let passion guide your career path.
A creative career can help you take more control of your income, avoid burnout, and find new opportunities to expand and advance your career. In this post, we share examples of non-traditional OT careers and offer resources to help you get started.
We cover the following:
An article in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy enthusiastically promotes the idea of OT entrepreneurship as a way to increase the visibility of the profession. The authors note that because resources and support have been lacking for occupational therapy entrepreneurs, this marketplace opportunity has gone largely untapped, with far fewer OTs in private practice than physical therapists (PTs).
Entrepreneurship is a good fit for those who have an eye for opportunity and a tolerance for risk. You can start slow, keeping your day job for as long as it serves you.
1. Start Your Own OT Practice
Starting your own practice may be easier than you think. You can launch it from your home with low overhead, especially if you’re seeing clients in their homes or workplace.
If you’re interested, once you have the resources and the business knowhow, you can establish a clinic where clients come to you. Your clinic could even evolve into a multi-therapist practice staffed by OTs or even other rehab practitioners.
When you start your own practice, you can also have the opportunity to become a holistic OT who focuses on integrating holistic therapies into traditional OT practice.
Here are a few resources to help you get started with opening your own practice:
- Resources to Start (and Grow) Your OT Business by Sarah Lyon of OT Potential
- The Cash-Based Practice Podcast by Jarod Carter
- Occupational Therapy Entrepreneurs group on Facebook, moderated by Laura Park Figueroa, host of the Mind Your OT Business podcast
- Start Your Occupational Therapy Business a business program by Alternative Healthcare Careers
Be sure to also check out our “Additional Resources” section below.
2. Independent Contractor
One popular option for self-employed OTs is to work as an independent contractor for one or more agencies, schools, or healthcare organizations. You can work in a clinical capacity, seeing patients on site. Or you can choose a non-clinical role, such as a pre-service coordinator––who coordinates the transition of patients to the next appropriate level of care––or a rehab liaison, who finds the right patients for inpatient rehab facilities.
- More flexibility
- Higher pay rate
- Greater opportunity to gain new skills and experience
- No steady paycheck
- Often no benefits
- Lack of connection with co-workers
The opportunities for consulting as an OT are limited only by the imagination. Check out some of the potential positions below.
3. Assistive Technology Consultant
- Technology for daily living or self-care: to assist people with performing activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing, eating, taking medication, and communicating
- Technology for mobility: to help people with musculoskeletal and neurological systems disorders get around better
- Technology for sensory impairment: to assist clients who have seeing and hearing impairments
- Technology to aid with school and work: to provide support for reading, writing, music, and art, as well as work activities that involve communication, manipulation, and mobility
- Technology for recreation and sports: to help clients engage in leisure, play, and athletic activities through customized assistive devices
4. Ergonomic Consultant
Businesses and architects need the expertise of ergonomic consultants who know the principles of healthy seating and human-centered business design.
5. Home/Workplace Modifications Consultant
In this capacity, you’ll examine home and workplace environments, then make recommendations (and perhaps create assistive devices) to remove hazards and put injury prevention measures in place.
6. Driver Rehabilitation and Training Consultant
You can assess driver readiness, make appropriate vehicle modifications, and teach patients to drive.
7. School Consultant
8. Product Development Consultant
Part of an OT’s training is in creating assistive devices that are customized for particular clients and client populations. OTs are well-positioned to lead the way in manufacturing and marketing durable medical equipment and a range of low-tech and high-tech devices for use in clinics, schools, business, and home settings.
9. Consult in Your Area of Expertise
If you have an area of expertise, such as orthotics, low vision, geriatric care, etc., you could consult with individuals or clinics in this area.
10. Seating Mobility Specialist
A seating mobility specialist (SMS) creates seating, positioning, and mobility solutions for people with disabilities, especially those who use wheelchairs. In order to practice as an SMS, you’ll need to become certified by Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America.
As a recruiter, you will be assessing the abilities of potential candidates for specific OT roles. Companies such as Proactive Healthcare Recruiters specialize in helping medical professionals find the right job for them. Your knowledge of OT could be highly valuable to a recruiting firm. Or if you’re more of an entrepreneur, consider starting your own recruiting business.
Healthcare entrepreneurs can find many ways to communicate with their audience—whether peers or patients—through media.
There are several OT writers in the blogosphere, but there’s always room for more! Check out some of the blogs below, which offer information on becoming an occupational therapist, starting an OT business, working in pediatric or geriatric practice, and more.
Find even more OT blogs here.
Do you have a favorite OT podcast? If you’re opinionated about OT, you might consider starting your own. Here are some examples:
- The Glass Half Full by Natalie Barnes and Jessica Kersey
- Occupied by Brock Cook
- On the Air by Stephanie Lancaster
- OT Practice Podcast by the American Occupational Therapy Association
14. Social Media Influencer
You can develop a presence on one or several social media platforms—such as Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, or TikTok—to share your knowledge and inspire others. If you also have a blog or podcast, you can link to your content through social media to drive more traffic and awareness.
If your channel garners enough engagement, it’s also possible that relevant companies will sponsor you or send you products to promote.
Here are a few examples of OT blogs and individuals with a significant presence on social media:
15. Freelance Writer
If you enjoy writing about OT and other healthcare topics, you can strive to do so professionally. Meredith Castin, PT, DPT, of The Non-Clinical PT, offers tips for freelance OT writers in her post “How to Become a Health Writer: For PT, OT, and SLP Professionals.”
She highlights the pros of this profession, which include more predictable hours, flexibility, and the ability to work from home. She also touches on some of the potential drawbacks––you may find this work to be repetitive and less physically active.
If you’re serious about pursuing a career in health writing, you might also consider taking Health Writer Hub’s course Breaking Into Health Writing.
If you’re good with a camera and you know occupational therapy, you can make videos teaching OT, PT, and speech-language pathology (SLP) rehab techniques, as well as videos that market clinics, products, and more.
Consider taking one or several of the videography courses to improve your skills:
- Udemy: Offers inexpensive courses to help build a variety of videography skills
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn Learning offers videography courses (requires a subscription)
- SkillShare: Offers free videography courses
17. Web or App Designer
If you’re technically savvy, you can design and/or create smartphone and computer apps and other technological solutions for OTs and their patients.
Here are a few courses you can take to get started:
- UX Design and User Experience Design for Beginners
- User Experience Design Fundamentals
- Become a UX Designer—Learn the Skills and Get the Job
There’s a need for OT educators in colleges and universities—and also in business settings. If you enjoy sharing your knowledge and helping others grow, consider a career in education.
18. Continuing Education Instructor
As a knowledgeable OT practitioner, you can share your knowledge and experience by developing coursework and teaching courses for continuing education companies. Companies such as the following are often looking to hire passionate, professional instructors:
As a continuing education instructor, you can also teach live or online seminars on ergonomics to companies, or workshops on OT principles to grade school teachers.
19. Community or Technical College Teacher
Community and technical colleges hire faculty with degrees ranging from the associate to doctoral level, given that different teaching positions have different educational requirements. For example, an OT program director in this setting must have a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) or Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD), whereas lab assistants and occupational therapy assistant (OTA) adjunct instructors may only need an associate degree.3
Depending on the level of ACOTE-accredited OT program you wish to teach in, you may need a terminal academic degree (the highest degree awarded in a field) to be hired as a professor. For OT, this likely means earning your Doctor of Philosophy (PhD); however, in some institutions, the OTD (which is the terminal degree for practice) may be appropriate for clinical-track faculty positions. A Doctor of Education (EdD), Doctor of Science (DSc or ScD), or Doctor of Health Science (DHSc) can also prepare you for a career as a professor.4
As a mentor, you can advise students during their clinical rotations and help new OT practitioners in their first months and years of clinical practice. You can offer feedback, answer questions, and serve as a role model for young OTs, guiding them to become OT leaders and create fulfilling niches for themselves.
OTs have a lot of specialized knowledge about wellness and healthy movement that they can leverage in a coaching practice. As an OT and coach, you can help your clients set realistic and aspirational health goals and stay on track with meeting them.
To become a certified health coach, consider receiving one of these certifications:
- National Society of Health Coaches Health Coach Certification
- American Council on Exercise Health Coach Certification
You can also coach fellow OTs. At the company OT Coach, OTs coach and mentor other OTs to help them achieve their personal and professional goals.
The resources below can help you find additional information and inspiration to aid you in cultivating your ideal career in OT.
- The Non-Clinical PT: USAHS San Marcos alumna Meredith Castin, DPT (2010), runs this website with an OT colleague. This site explores pathways to non-traditional career opportunities for all rehab professionals, including PTs, OTs, SLPs, and assistants. It’s full of great information to help you launch a non-traditional OT career. Castin has also created a career coaching course for PTs and OTs that’s available for purchase on the site.
- OT Potential: A helpful website that serves as a forum for evidence-based OT practice. It includes information about non-clinical OT paths and features a podcast, blog, and newsletter.
- Occupational Therapists in Private Practice on LinkedIn
- Independent Therapist Alliance: Launched by an OT, the ITA is a national association for independent contractors in rehabilitation. It offers career resources, networking, tips on earning more money, and more.
- Facebook groups:
- The groups Non-Clinical Networking for Rehab Professionals and Non-Clinical Job Postings for Rehab Professionals are both moderated by Meredith Castin of The Non-Clinical PT and are open to all rehab professionals.
- Holistic Occupational Therapy is a group of OTs who are integrating their OT skills with complementary medicine (another form of non-traditional OT work).
Pursuing a creative career in occupational therapy is a great way to make a unique contribution to the field—and to feel fulfilled in the niche you’ve created just for yourself.
The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences (USAHS) offers hands-on Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) and Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) degrees. Practice with mock patients in our state-of-the-art simulation centers and learn anatomy with our high-tech tools. Prepare for clinical practice with patients across the lifespan, as well as advanced roles in research, practice leadership, and policymaking. Residential and Flex (online/weekend) paths are available. We also offer an online Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (ppOTD) program designed for working clinicians and healthcare educators, with optional on-campus immersions.
- John Steven Niznik, “Pros and Cons of Being an Independent Contractor,” The Balance Careers, Jan. 5, 2020: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/working-as-an-independent-contractor-4047544
- Gokcen Akyurek et al., “Assistive Technology in Occupational Therapy,” IntechOpen, July 5, 2017: https://www.intechopen.com/books/occupational-therapy-occupation-focused-holistic-practice-in-rehabilitation/assistive-technology-in-occupational-therapy
- Traci Swartz, “How to Become an OT/PT Professor,” The Non-Clinical PT, Jan. 25, 2020: https://thenonclinicalpt.com/become-an-occupational-physical-therapy-professor/