8 Top Occupational Therapy Settings: Healthcare Job Outlook

Last Updated on April 16, 2024

Healthcare Career Outlook: Top Occupational Therapy Settings

Where will your occupational therapy career take you? At CareerStaff, we’re celebrating one of the most important jobs in the clinical workforce by shining a light on occupational therapy (OT)! As your source for amazing OT jobs across the country, we’re also taking this opportunity to offer some career insights with a look at today’s most prominent occupational therapy settings.

Spotlight on Occupational Therapy Careers

We recently explored what to expect when you work an occupational therapy job, and how OT jobs are different from physical therapists (PTs). The short version? Occupational therapists (OTs) and occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) work to help people improve their quality of life and get back to normal after a serious injury or illness.

Specifically, OTs and OTAs help patients restore their normal daily functions with a prescribed set of exercises and activities. Both OTs and OTAs are responsible for measuring and testing outcomes, and observing changes in their patient’s condition. They also provide education and encouragement along the way. In general, OTAs work under the supervision of a senior OT in any given setting.

Related: Occupational Therapy Month: 9 Best Jobs for OTs

And speaking of settings, there’s quite a variety of them. Whether you’re just starting out in your OT career or you’re a long-time veteran, the sheer number of occupational therapy settings to choose from can guarantees a variety of options. For those new to the profession, the chance to work in all these different facilities can also be helpful in deciding what setting you might prefer for a long-term career.

And with demand for OTs rising at a higher-than-average rate, those different options are easier to find than ever before. There’s more demand than ever for skilled OT professionals, including travel and local job opportunities available from agencies like CareerStaff.

AOTA’s 8 Categories of Occupational Therapy Settings

The list of occupational therapy settings includes everything from hospitals, clinics and rehab centers to schools, senior communities, and, increasingly, home health and specialty clinics.

According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), the profession can be broken down into eight specific categories of occupational therapy settings. And in 2017, it also ranked these categories by the number of OT professionals they employ.  

  • Hospitals (27%)
  • Outpatient operators (11%)
  • Long-term care/skilled nursing facilities (19%)
  • Home and community (9%)
  • Mental and behavioral health (2%)
  • Schools, early intervention, and community education (25%)
  • Academia and research (6%)
  • Other Innovative or Emerging Settings (1%)

OT Settings: Inpatient Care in Hospitals

Occupational therapy professionals who work in inpatient care settings treat hospital patients with an active, usually severe, illness or injury. Based in a variety of departments from acute care to inpatient rehab, these roles are usually fast paced, with higher patient turnover, and longer sessions over a relatively short time compared to long-term care facilities.

OT Settings: Outpatient Clinics

A great deal of OT jobs take place in facilities similar to hospital settings, but are considered outpatient care since they don’t involve overnight hospital stays. Usually including post-acute care facilities and rehab centers, these jobs usually involved longer-term relationships with patients than hospital assignments. In both settings, you’ll usually be working with a team of other professionals like PTs and speech therapists, so strong communication and teamwork skills can be very helpful. 

OT Settings: Long-Term Care (LTC) Facilities

Long Term Care settings focus on patients who are out of the acute stage of care. These facilities include skilled nursing facilities, senior communities and other places where people receive dedicated care over an extended period of time. While the amount of therapy hours required per patient per week are fewer than hospital and outpatient settings, the stays and the relationships are usually longer.

OT Settings: Schools & Education

Educational facilities, especially K-12 schools, are also common occupational therapy settings. These jobs include helping students and school employees cope with a variety of conditions. These include coping with autism to recovering from serious physical injury. Pediatric experience may be preferred in some schools, but demand is so great that these jobs may sometimes be open to new or relatively inexperienced OTs and OTAs.

OT Settings: Home Health

It’s becoming more and more common for occupational therapists to help patients recover in their own homes. Home health OTs help ensure that their patients actually follow through with the work they’ve done in the hospital or rehab setting, and transfer that progress to their home and daily life.

Working with people in their homes (usually two or three times per week) can also help give OTs a better sense of the specific challenges facing each patient. It can also help better educate them about being self-sufficient in a place where immediate help may not always be available. 

OT Settings: Academia & Research

As the profession grows, teaching and research are becoming more prominent settings for occupational therapists. These jobs can take place in research centers, universities, colleges, or other types of educational facilities. They usually involve clinical research and writing.

While some professionals focus on the academic setting from the beginning, many others enter these types of roles after they’ve had long careers as OTs — and thus, lots of valuable experience to draw upon.

OT Settings: Mental & Behavioral Health

Many occupational therapy professionals focus on mental and behavioral health. After all, there’s usually a lot of stress that comes with serious illness or injury. Usually, these jobs take place in the same settings as those listed above, such as the hospital, an outpatient rehab facility, a nursing home or school. But as this setting grows, look for more jobs to be offered in specialized mental health facilities.

OT Settings: Innovative & Emerging Settings

In addition to mental health, a number of other newer settings are opening up for occupational therapy professionals. These include neuro outpatient occupational therapy, which focus on assisting patients with a disease such as Parkinson’s or multiple sclerosis. They also work with people with neurological damage from brain injury, stroke or a similar condition.

Another emerging setting is ergonomics, which works in the corporate sector on planning a healthy workplace. In addition, it’s becoming more common to hire outpatient hand therapists, who are occupational therapists who specialize in recovery of hand function.

Explore Occupational Therapy Settings with CareerStaff

If you’re an OT or OTA seeking a career opportunity, you can trust CareerStaff to deliver great healthcare jobs across the United States! Search therapy jobs nationwide today or get started now by filling out our quick online application below.