Online PhD in Occupational Therapy

An online PhD program in occupational therapy prepares students for careers in management, administration, or as teachers in colleges or universities. These programs teach students how to apply findings from scientific research to the improvement of their practice of occupational therapy. They also aim to give students the knowledge and perspective needed to work in areas such as business management, professional advocacy, and public policy. Many of these programs are designed for the practicing occupational therapist, which is why some schools offer this degree online.

Online learning is best suited for working professionals who may not have the time to commute to and from campus for class. Instead they can complete their coursework at a time that best fits their busy schedule, which gives them the flexibility to work full time as they earn their degrees. Although these programs are offered online, students still have ample opportunity to interact with other students or their professors. Many online programs enable students to email or instant message their professors and participate in class discussion boards, which is an effective learning tool because students learn from each other. Additionally, some programs may require students to occasionally travel to campus to attend a seminar or give a presentation.

About Online PhD Programs in Occupational Therapy

An online PhD program in occupational therapy is best suited for occupational therapy clinicians who want to be leaders within their industry. As such, a doctoral occupational therapy program offers instruction in the application of evidence-based literature to the improvement of a practice. Students also improve their knowledge and competence in the clinic, and are prepared to work on the business side of occupational therapy in business management, public policy, or professional advocacy. With a focus on the practical application of research and theory, graduates are prepared for employment in clinics or as post secondary teachers. Below you'll find a list of courses in Chatham University's low-residency professional Doctorate of Occupational Therapy program.

Year One:

  • Occupational Science. An occupational science course that utilizes landmark literature from the field to teach students to apply the basic concepts of human behavior to observation exercises.
  • Evidence-Based Practice. This course provides instruction in how to apply the concepts and findings from current scientific literature to the clinical decision making process.
  • Advanced Practice Concepts and Skills. In an advanced practice concepts and skills course, students apply conceptual models to the evaluation and intervention process.

Year Two:

  • Leadership and Professionalism. This class covers ethics and how they apply to the practice of occupational therapy. It examines reasoning, societal values and mores, conflicts of interest, professionalism, and ethical patient care.
  • Methods of Evaluation. A methods of evaluation course teaches students how to determine the effectiveness of their therapeutic intervention programs. It may also cover survey and test construction.
  • Education Theory and Technology. This class gives students the knowledge they need to create effective learning exercises for students, caregivers, or employers.

At the end of their studies, students are required to complete either a dissertation or a capstone project that typically requires research and the publication of a scholarly article in a professional journal. Chatham University's capstone courses require students to design and implement an intervention within a clinical setting, as well as study the efficacy of existing programs. Once their research is concluded, they're required to present their findings on-campus to faculty members, students, and clinicians.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Occupational Therapy

A doctoral degree in occupational therapy could be the credential you need to elevate your career and increase your earnings. It can lead to employment in management positions within the field or in teaching on the college or university level. This can be a good option if you're passionate about helping others and want to pass on your knowledge and experience to the next generation of occupational therapists. A doctoral degree can also lead to employment in administrative positions within public school systems.

However, according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), preliminary informal surveys of entry-level doctoral graduates demonstrate that an advanced degree doesn't necessarily guarantee a salary increase. It also doesn't guarantee promotion or an increase in marketability in the job market. But a doctoral degree may qualify individuals for positions that they wouldn't be able to obtain with just a master's degree.

Application & Admission Requirements

The basic requirements for an online doctoral degree program in occupational therapy will be similar to many other Ph.D. programs. An applicant must have a master's degree and either their graduate or undergraduate degree must be in occupational therapy. They may also need to be a licensed occupational therapist. When a candidate applies, he or she must submit official transcripts from all colleges and universities attended, a short personal statement describing his or her career goals, and an admissions application. Some schools may require submission of GRE scores as well. However, admissions requirements vary from school to school.

Career Options & Job Market

Graduates of an online PhD program in occupational therapy may be qualified for senior occupational therapy positions. Occupational therapists observe and interview patients, examine their medical records, and determine their needs. Then they create a treatment plan designed to accomplish specific goals or to ease chronic pain. Essentially, therapists assist patients with illnesses, disabilities, or injuries develop the skills they need for daily living. A master's degree is the minimum requirement for employment as an occupational therapist.

A doctoral degree can also lead to a career as a post secondary occupational therapy teacher. Occupational therapists earned a median annual salary of $72,320 in May 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase 33% from 2010 to 2020, which is faster than the average occupation. Demand will be high because of the need for therapists to provide care to an aging yet active population.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

As the cost of tuition continues to increase, many students may find it difficult to pay for their own education. Fortunately, this won't prevent them from getting an education and advancing their careers. Along with federal financial aid programs, the American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) offers more than 40 scholarships that range from $150 to $5,000. These scholarships are available for students who have completed at least one year of occupational therapy specific coursework in an AOTA-accredited program. Read on for information about several student loan programs.

  • Federal Direct Stafford Loan. The Federal Direct Stafford Loan program offers students a maximum $20,500 per academic year and a fixed interest rate of 6.80%.
  • Federal Perkins Loan. Another option for students who need financial assistance is the Federal Perkins Loan program. This loan program offers an average of $3,500 per academic year with a 5.0% fixed interest rate.
  • Campus-Based Aid. Students can also inquire about available programs with their school's financial aid office for options offered specifically by the school. Here students can also learn about their school's participation in programs offered by the state and federal government.

Essential Advice

    • Plan ahead. Enrolling in a doctoral degree program can be costly and time consuming, so it's a good idea to know what to expect before you get started. Check to see if you can afford the cost of your education. If you can't then discuss your needs with someone in your school's financial aid office to understand your financial options. Next, think about the direction you would like your career to go. Would this degree help you meet your goals?

Be informed. It would also be beneficial to talk to someone who is currently enrolled in or has already graduated from an occupational therapy Ph.D. program. They can tell you if they think the degree adequately prepared them for the career they have as well as how their job search was upon receiving their degree.