We wrote this article to give you insight into the complex topic of occupational therapy salary. Whether you’re still looking into becoming an OT, considering options for your first job, or simply curious how your OT salary stacks up, this article aims to give you an idea of how the occupational therapy profession pays.
Occupational therapy is considered one of the most fulfilling and flexible careers within healthcare. Not only do OTs help dramatically improve the overall quality of patients’ lives, we also earn a pretty solid income in the process!
But, as much as we pride ourselves on being client-focused, we do need to consider our own health—including our financial health—in order to provide the best possible care. OT can be a demanding career, so it’s important that we are fairly compensated for our efforts.
We all know that a couple extra thousand dollars each year won’t buy happiness, but it can make a difference to know you’re being treated fairly by your employer. Plus, there’s a sense of agency in knowing you can negotiate your compensation to ensure you’re earning what you deserve for all that hard work. We created this article to arm you with as much information as possible on the topic.
So, here’s to better understanding your OT salary!
Important: If you are looking for OTA salary info, please visit Your Occupational Therapy Assistant Salary Guide.
Average OT Salary ($78,964)
This average was calculated by OT Potential. We took the average from the above databases to create a master OT salary average.
We have calculated the average OT salary to be $78,964.
This is our own calculation, and we based it on an average of multiple reputable sites’ findings, which we will discuss below.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Let’s start with what the average OT salary really is. I’m going to be including many sources in this article. That’s because each salary resource collects its data using its own methods. Each resource also looks at different factors. For example, some websites might break down salaries between states (or even cities), while others break them down per region or per experience level. Other sites focus more on experience level or other factors.
Keep in mind that each source has its own collection bias, based on who chooses to submit data, who uses the resource, and how the data itself is collected. We have based our calculations on an average of all the data we found, some of which is presented as median vs. mean findings.
Median vs. mean OT salary
Before we dive into the data, I also want to note that “median salary” is different from “mean salary” (also known as “average salary”).
A median salary means that, when all the salaries are laid out from lowest to highest, there is usually a cluster where most salaries lie. At the center of that cluster lies the median—or middle—of that list of salaries. You might have some outliers that make a ton or very little, but they won’t skew the median salary.
The mean (average) literally takes all of the salaries, adds them up, then divides them by the total number of responses. That means that those outliers (meaning the very low, or very high, salaries) could very easily skew the mean. This is important to consider, because there are quite a few OTs who only work part-time or PRN, and their annual salaries are lower for that reason alone, not because they’re making a terrible hourly wage.
With that out of the way, here are what various resources list as the average (or median, in some cases) salaries for OTs. I have listed sources in alphabetical order.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
The AOTA is the professional organization for the OT field. AOTA runs its own salary survey and updates it every few years. The last year it did so was 2018.
According to the AOTA, the median annual pay for OTs in 2018 was $72,373.
However, the findings reveal that experience is a big factor in how much you can earn as an OT. For example, a brand-new OT with less than a year of experience will make a median salary of $65,000. An experienced OT with seven to nine years of experience will make a median salary of $73,000. And an OT with 26+ years of experience will earn a median salary of $84,000.
Salary By Years of Experience
The graphic above shows that, according to the The AOTA Salary and Workforce Survey, occupational therapists (OTs) earn a median salary of $65,000 right out of school. After just six years in the field, OTs see an $8,000 increase.
Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS)
The BLS is a subset of the US Department of Labor. That’s the federal agency that keeps tabs on the labor industry. It’s considered an independent statistical agency, which is why many people choose to use its data as their primary reference for salaries. The BLS does collect data fairly regularly, so you can usually find accurate data from within the last two years or so.
According to the BLS, the median annual pay for OTs in 2020 was $86,280* per year.
*Despite the calculation being median vs. mean, it’s close enough to other sites’ calculations for means. So I decided to include it in our calculation.
Glassdoor is a reputable career platform where job seekers can learn about various companies, read and write reviews for facilities, research interview questions for specific jobs and organizations, and search for jobs.
According to Glassdoor, the mean annual pay for OTs as of 2021 is $80,952.
OTSalary.com was created by Kate Washa Boyd, an OT with a passion for helping other OTs earn what they deserve. Her website collects data from visitors (so it’s obviously skewed data reflecting only people who have been to her site) in an attempt to improve visibility into OT salaries.
This website is a standout because you can sort the data by years of experience, job type, state, education level, etc. The best way to use it is to download the information so you can sort it yourself!
We ran some numbers based on her spreadsheet. Here’s what it looks like:
According to OTSalary.com, the mean salary of OTs who reported working full-time (40+ hours per week) is $76,523.
Personally, I recommend that you pay close attention to the data yielded by PayScale. This site is one of the earliest salary-oriented websites, and it pioneered the use of big data and unique matching algorithms to clarify the waters of the compensation world.
Please note PayScale gives lower median annual salaries for full-time OT practitioners, but the salaries are calculated based on respondents to a PayScale survey, which I assume is a smaller pool.
What is particularly helpful on this page is an overview of salaries from some of the big employers like Rehab Care, Aegis, Fox Rehab, etc.
According to PayScale, the average annual salary of an occupational therapist (OT) is $67,636 per year.
Salary.com is another older player in the compensation game, but we’ve noticed that it always tends to give higher numbers than we hear anecdotally. And this is across the board, not just for occupational therapy, so I recommend you take this number with a rather large grain of salt.
According to Salary.com, the average OT salary in the United States is $92,108 as of November 29, 2021.
I do like that the site gives a clear caveat, noting that pay rates can vary widely based on things like education, certifications, additional skills, and years of experience in the profession.
I checked UpDocMedia, a website known in the PT world for having very accurate data about physical therapy salaries in its Pulse publication. The Pulse is a downloadable report you can get from UpDoc by submitting your name and email address on the bottom of this page.
According to UpDoc’s 2021 report, OTs on average came out to earn $83,044.
According to WebPT’s August, 2020 OT Salary report, OTs made a mean annual wage of $86,210.
Do OTs make a lot of money?
The term “a lot of money” is relative, and it certainly is based on your frame of reference. For example, according to the US Census Bureau annual 2019 salary for male workers was $57,456 and for female workers was $47,299. OT salaries, according to our calculations and BLS’ calculations, are significantly higher.
That said, when you compare OT salaries to those of radiologists or software engineers, we don’t make a lot of money.
Keep in mind that your salary as an OT is only part of the big financial picture. What might feel like a lot of money to someone with no debt might feel like very little when you have over 200k in loans to pay back.
Generally speaking, OTs do make a lot of money as new graduates, but income doesn’t tend to climb as much, nor as rapidly, as it does in other industries.
How much can a new grad OT make straight out of school?
It’s not easy to give a simple answer of what a new OT can make right out of grad school. Depending on where you work, the setting you choose, the patient population you treat, the hours and days you work, and how much you negotiate, you can make wildly different salaries.
According to the AOTA, a new grad OT will earn a median salary of $65,000 per year.
However, you can certainly make more if you choose a setting like SNF or home health, or especially if you opt to spend some time as a travel OT, which we’ll discuss more below.
Highest paying OT jobs
Many new OTs are saddled with increasing debt, so it’s no surprise when people are curious to learn about the OT jobs with the highest salaries.
According to WebPT’s OT Salary Guide, research and development (which can be considered non-clinical OT roles), home health, and skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) offer the highest pay to OTs.
Keep in mind that patient population (and their respective payers) will also factor in; for example, Medicare reimbursements rates tend to be higher than Medicaid rates.
Lowest paying OT jobs
Similarly, it’s always wise to know which settings and patient populations pay the least. While this data was harder to pin down, I have heard anecdotally that settings such as mental health and adult day care tend to offer the lowest compensation.
Keep in mind, though, that these settings tend to be highly fulfilling and often lack the productivity pushes you’ll find in other settings.
Can OTs expect to have salary growth across their careers?
The short answer is, “sort of.”
While OTs are often pleased by their higher-than-average starting salaries (compared to peers at the same age), they’re sometimes dismayed by unimpressive raises—or no raises at all. This can be very frustrating for OTs with high debt burdens, especially as they watch their friends who didn’t go to graduate school surpass their earnings in several years.
How do OT salaries compare to PT salaries?
If you’re trying to decide between physical and occupational therapy as a profession, don’t stress too much. According to the BLS, the average PT salary is $91,010.
Comparing BLS average salaries, physical therapists really only earn about $4,700 more per year than OTs, on average. Thus, I highly recommend that you pursue the profession that appeals to you the most, especially since factors like educational level, geographic location, and experience level can also impact your earning potential. For more information on this, check out our article, OT vs. PT vs. SLP: Your Rehab Therapy Team Explained.
How can I make more money as an OT?
One of the reasons you might have come upon this article was to make more money. There are plenty of ways to increase your earning potential as an OT. Let’s explore some of them.
Pick a high-paying setting
In May, 2020, according to the BLS, the median annual wages for occupational therapists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
Median OT Salaries by Industry
• SNF = Nursing care facilities
• Home Health = Home healthcare services
• Offices = Offices of physical/occupational/speech therapists and/or audiologists
• Hospitals = Hospitals; state, local, and private
• Schools = Elementary and secondary schools; state, locals, and private
It’s not a guarantee, but some hospitals do pay more for more specialties. However, most hospitals tend to base salaries more on experience. You might be able to negotiate your pay at smaller facilities if you have certain certifications (CHT, etc.).
Work in one of the highest-paying states
According to the BLS, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Jersey, and Washington, DC. are great picks. Keep in mind, though, that Nevada and Arizona have much lower cost of living (overall) than California and Washington, DC.
I am frequently asked why certain states pay more than others. That’s not an easy question to answer, but the general consensus seems to be a combination of reimbursement contract rates being higher, cost of living being higher, and market saturation of OTs being lower.
Consider OT work beyond direct patient care
Non-traditional occupational therapy jobs are all the rage these days, and that’s partly because they tend to pay better than clinical work. For example, according to AOTA, academia pays even better than SNFs and home health, and WebPT reports that going into research and development settings also out-earn the HHOT and SNF settings.
Median OT Annual Salaries by Work Setting
Keep in mind this is not a hard-and-fast rule; plenty of non-clinical roles pay less than clinical ones. But, I’ve listed a few below that tend to pay more than clinical work, so feel free to explore these if you’d like to up your earning potential!
Consider travel OT
Travel OT positions are almost always going to pay more than permanent roles. However, the travel industry can be shady, so I always recommend that you work with Nomadicare so that you don’t get taken advantage of. Laura Latimer, founder of Nomadicare, is an OT who was sick of being exploited by the slimy travel world. She came up with a really cool platform that vets recruiters and matches them with travelers.
Her platform helps you to make the most amount of money possible as a traveler. As an affiliate and a friend of Laura’s, I completely support her and believe in what she is doing with Nomadicare. Check out her site here!
Working PRN (or per diem) can certainly help to boost your pay, as employers tend to issue higher hourly rates to therapists who don’t receive PTO or other benefits. If you’re crafty and don’t need health insurance through your employer, you can often make quite a bit more per hour by accepting a PRN role.
The caveat, of course, is that there is no guarantee of hours; many PRN jobs are notorious for calling therapists off at the last minute.
Negotiate your OT salary
I’ve lost so much sleep over negotiating my salary, but I truly believe negotiating for what you’re worth is essential to finding satisfaction in your OT career.
Here are just a few reasons to negotiate your OT salary:
- You will be happier with a contract in which you helped to set the parameters.
- You will quickly learn invaluable information about how the company treats its employees.
- Your skillset is worth it!
In the end, it’s like my friend Emily says, “Don’t ask, don’t get.”
Before we get into the nitty gritty of negotiation, I want to show you a quick success story. If you have a success story from negotiating your salary, I would love to hear it in the comments!
How to negotiate your OT salary
Negotiating a proper salary is not that hard. You simply need to state the facts and have a solid position for asking for more money.
A good salary negotiation is grounded in research—meaning cold, hard numbers.
Gather as much information as you can about comparable positions. Unfortunately, many cities are saturated with OTs, and other locations simply don’t have that many OT jobs. You might be the best OT on earth, but you cannot earn more than what the market can support.
I recommend that you use the resources we cited in this article to help you with negotiation. Other factors to consider include years in practice, setting and patient population, and where you live.
Sometimes, a job simply won’t budge on salary. It can be frustrating, especially when you feel that you’re not being offered a salary commensurate with your value, and you might think that means you have to accept an offer that’s not ideal. Don’t despair—you can often negotiate in non-salary areas, including:
- Unpaid leave for already scheduled trips
- Mutually beneficial continuing education
- The ideal schedule
- AOTA and/or NBCOT membership
- Loan repayment options
- A formalized mentorship plan
Additional negotiating resources
I found the StoryBrand Podcast Episode #26 – 5 Strategies That Will Make You a Strong Negotiator extremely helpful in normalizing the act of negotiation.
I also give more details about my own negotiating experiences in my post, Occupational Therapy Job Negotiations.
I’ve done my best to give you the lay of the land in terms of what type of OT salaries are out there, and what you’ll earn based on your unique circumstances.
However, I also want to point out that salary is only one of the many factors you should consider if you’re pursuing an OT career. After all, at the end of the day, you need to decide if occupational therapy is work you will enjoy. I strongly encourage you to read our Guide to Occupational Therapy to get a full sense of our scope of practice.
If you are actively looking for work right now, I encourage you to check out our Guide to Finding the Best OT Job, for a holistic sense of how salary factors into your job hunting process.
Finally, if you are here because you are working, but thinking about breathing new life into your career—I hope you consider joining us in the OT Potential Club!