As we celebrate Nurses Month, we at USAHS wanted to get a sense of what a typical workday is like for a nurse manager. We asked alum Ahnnya Slaughter, DNP, to tell us all about a day in her life. Dr. Slaughter graduated in 2021 from USAHS’ Doctor of Nursing Practice program, the Nurse Executive role specialty. Coming from a military family, she began working at a VA hospital in the Los Angeles area 30 years ago as a critical care RN. “Veterans deserve the best care,” she says. “My calling wasn’t to be in the military. This is my way of being able to serve the country.” Over the years, she worked her way up, through positions such as informatics specialist, deputy nurse executive, and director of clinical staff development. She began Read more
Becoming an occupational therapist offers plenty of priceless rewards in itself. After all, it’s one of the health professions that is focused on helping people live their lives to the fullest potential. Yet, when you’re considering moving forward with a Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree, or OTD, you might wonder about your own future and how to measure your potential. Luckily, we can shed some light on the salary department:
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for an occupational therapist is $86,280 as of May 2020.
However, there are other factors that can influence your potential earnings, such as where you live and what industry you work in. As you plan your career, knowing your worth will be helpful in numerous factors—including job negotiations, choosing an industry, and even determining whether a job opportunity is right for you. You can also refer to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to compare the difference between occupational therapy vs physical therapy salary.
It’s undocumented whether or not COVID-19 affected occupational therapist salaries. However, Payscale reports that, as of 2022, occupational therapist salaries range from $58,000 to $98,000 a year.
Understanding Average Salaries
Before we dig into the details, a quick note on the occupational therapist salary information we’ll be discussing. The data below comes from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, a government organization that provides statistics and data on jobs and the economy within the U.S. The BLS lists salaries by annual mean wage, or the average occupational therapist salary.
So, when we talk about annual mean salaries by state, we’re referring to the average salary one can expect to earn within a single year. However, it’s important to note that an individual’s specific salary could be higher or lower depending on other circumstances, such as your level of experience and occupational therapy education.
Still, knowing the salary averages for occupational therapists can empower you to be confident in job negotiations, considering opportunities, and knowing whether a certain job offer is right for you.
Doctor of Occupational Therapy Salaries by State
Whether you’re hoping to stay in your hometown or are open to a cross-country move for the right position, it’s helpful to know your Doctor of Occupational Therapy salary potential within a particular area.
Below, we’ll list the range of average salaries by state, and rank them by how they compare to the national average of $86,280:
- Above Average: $89,410–$111,270 – Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia, Washington, D.C.
- Average: $85,220–$88,910 – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Washington
- Slightly Below Average: $80,720–$85,150 – Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Utah, West Virginia, Wyoming
- Below Average: $40,940–$80,670 – Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Vermont
Based on the above places where occupational therapists work, you can see that nearly half of U.S. states have an average occupational therapist salary that is at or higher than the national average. However, this does not take into account the cost of living in each state. To that end, some salaries may be below a state’s cost of living averages, which is worth looking into when planning your career trajectory
For the states whose average occupational therapist salaries are below the national average, the expected earnings are still only about $5000–$15,000 less than the national average. However, that difference broadens when you compare them to the states with the highest potential for earning.
Top Paying States for Occupational Therapists
If you’re truly looking to take home the top dollar as an occupational therapist, take note. The BLS highlights the following five places as having the highest average salaries, although each state does have a cost of living that’s higher than the national average::
- Nevada – $111,270
- California – $101,080
- Arizona – $99,950
- New Jersey – $98,750
- Washington, DC –$96,330
It may be helpful to note that the states with the highest salaries aren’t always the states with the most job opportunities. For example, although they rank slightly lower in average salary, Pennsylvania and Florida are among the states with the most jobs for occupational therapists.
As you can see, finding the best place to start your career as an occupational therapist will depend on a balance of these factors—as well as a few others.
Doctor of Occupational Therapy Salaries by Industry
One of the most exciting parts of becoming an occupational therapist is the ability to work in a multitude of different settings and to serve a diverse array of patients. Have a passion for helping the elderly, or want to better the lives of special needs children? There’s likely a fulfilling opportunity for you in occupational therapy.
As the BLS data shows us, however, the type of industry or employer you choose to work for can also affect your earning potential. The BLS lists the following industries as those with the highest average salaries for an occupational therapist:
- Child Day Care Services – $106,070
- Management of Companies and Enterprises – $99,850
- Continuing Care Retirement Communities & Assisted Living Facilities – $94,360
- Home Health Care Services – $94,270
- Nursing Care Facilities, or Skilled Nursing Facilities – $91,810
Thus, as you plan your career, remember to consider not just the average salaries by state, but also whether the industry you choose may affect your earnings.
Employment Opportunities by Industry
Just like salaries and employment opportunities vary between states, the industries in which occupational therapists can work may vary in terms of opportunity. For example, some industries may offer only the average in terms of salary potential, but greater overall opportunities for employment. Examples of these industries include:
- Offices of Other Health Practitioners – $88,220
- General Medical and Surgical Hospitals – $88,200
- Elementary and Secondary Schools – $78,890
As you can see, these industries are still fairly close to the average national salary of $86,280. So, if you’re dreaming of working as an occupational therapist in an elementary school or a hospital, you still have plenty of potential for a well-balanced career.
How to Maximize Your Potential as an Occupational Therapist
As you consider earning an OTD, you’re already taking steps to forward your future. After all, an OTD degree gives you valuable insight into areas not offered by most Master of Occupational Therapy or MOT programs, with more opportunities for experience in leadership, policymaking, and research.
In most cases, any steps you take that are beneficial to your knowledge as an occupational therapist can also improve your potential earnings. Here are some tips on how to get ahead:
- Consider what industry you want to work in – As a future occupational therapist, the path ahead of you is full of possibilities. Still, narrowing down your options in terms of industry can help you navigate along the journey. Knowing whether you’d prefer to work in nursing care facilities versus elementary schools, for example, can help you weigh the importance of other factors.
- Decide where you want to live – You don’t have to have the paint colors all picked out for your future home, but when planning your career, it helps to know what general area you’d like to live in. That way, you can focus on finding the best opportunities for you within that region and concentrate your efforts when applying for jobs.
- Stand out with experience – Getting plenty of experience is key to furthering your own knowledge, but also to increasing your future earning potential. Beyond the fieldwork required by your school, the American Occupational Therapy Association recommends finding creative ways to boost your resume and get more hands-on practice. This may include volunteering for an occupational therapy organization or clinic, or working with a special needs camp or classroom.
- Find a mentor – Finding someone you can look up to within the field can be immensely helpful. A mentor can provide real-world insights about what it’s like to work in occupational therapy, and may also be able to give you advice on salaries, as well as making the job search process go smoothly. A mentor can be a teacher, a professional, or even someone who’s just a few years ahead of you in their career. Don’t be afraid to ask about their experiences and for guidance on your own path.
- Attend a school that supports your career – If you’re already enrolled in an OTD program or doctoral degree program, be sure to take advantage of any career counseling services they offer. For those still searching for a school, pay attention to those that highlight hands-on experience, mentorship, and student success, as these elements will be essential in getting you on the right path from the day you graduate.
Find Your Future at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences
As you consider earning a Post-Professional OTD (PPOTD) or Doctor of Occupational Therapy degree, it’s important to weigh your potential earnings against your potential for employment, as both will make a difference in the future of your career. Still, remember that other factors—such as how much career support you receive from your school—can be a huge help in getting the best start possible.
Still exploring where to earn your OTD? To prepare for an exceptional career, look for a school that offers equally exceptional support.
At the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, we’re dedicated to student success. With a focus on academic and professional excellence, our courses include a focus on career preparation to help you put your best foot forward.
American Occupational Therapy Association. 32 Creative Ways to Gain OT Experience and Diversify Your Resume. https://www.aota.org/publications/student-articles/career-advice/resume-building
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2020:
29-1122 Occupational Therapists. https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291122.htm#st
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Frequently Asked Questions. https://www.bls.gov/oes/oes_ques.htm