How advanced qualifications help occupational therapists excel in their career

How advanced qualifications help occupational therapists excel in their career

Occupational therapy (OT) significantly impacts people’s lives and plays a valuable role in today’s society. Occupational therapists (OTs) use their knowledge and skills to bring quality of life to their patients. Earning an OT doctorate means having expertise that can be used to improve clinical practice and make a significant contribution to the field. Being highly qualified can open up many opportunities for those committed to this profession. There are openings for educators, researchers and leadership roles in clinical settings. OTs who wish to work at the top of their field can study for a doctorate.

American International College offers the online Post-professional Occupational Therapy Doctorate, which can lead to high-level positions in this field. The doctorate program is designed for practicing OTs with master’s degrees. However, there is a bridge program for those with bachelor’s degrees. This respected qualification provides graduates with many career options — but what does a doctor of occupational therapy do?

The degree focuses on research and leadership while teaching the application of evidence-based practice. Students study education, clinical practice, advocacy and research, and are prepared to work in current and emerging practice settings. The doctorate qualifies graduates for the highest level of career options in OT. They could occupy an academic position to accompany their clinical practice, conduct translational research applicable to OT practice and education, or become educators and teach students the profession.

There are various settings and specialties within OT, and a doctorate provides numerous opportunities. Here are some examples of leadership roles within OT:

Practice educator

There is high demand for practice educators, and doctorate graduates can fulfill this role. Practice educators are skilled practitioners who have an important role in assessing, monitoring and reporting on students’ progress. Students can apply and practice their newly acquired skills and knowledge in a safe environment. 

Practice education is essential to the OT profession, ensuring a quality and meaningful service. Education is considered an experience when students can become resilient learners, critical thinkers and ethical practitioners. Practice educators supervise placements and support integrating theory to practice, demonstrate professional and interpersonal skills, and build confidence in their practice skills. They are training the OTs of tomorrow, and their influence on the quality of practice is critical. 


Doctorate graduates can pursue a research career and become faculty members at universities.  These research positions are typically at universities offering academic programs in OT. These universities often have research programs that focus on conducting studies in OT to advance treatment methods and better educate students. Government research facilities may also employ researchers in OT. They work with scientists on tasks such as measuring the effectiveness of drug clinical trials and discovering whether treatment methods achieve positive patient outcomes. 

Funding is available for OTs who wish to conduct independent research in the field. The American Occupational Therapy Association has a database of research opportunities and available grants for OTs interested in special projects or research activities. Research opportunities are awarded through competitive application processes, and each funding agency has its requirements. Some OT researchers work in hospitals. They may work only on research activities or perform a combination of duties related to patient care and research. Studies conducted by researchers in hospitals may include clinical trials and medical device evaluation. Recent research in OT includes ‘Diagnosis and Treatment of Parkinson Disease: A Review’ (Journal of the American Medical Association) and ‘In the Clinic: Rheumatoid Arthritis’ (Annals of Internal Medicine).  


OTs can work in various settings, such as hospitals, schools, nursing homes, therapy offices and other healthcare institutions. There are six key practice areas for OTs, which are:

  • Health and wellness.
  • Productive aging.
  • Children and youth.
  • Rehabilitation and disability.
  • Mental health.
  • Work and industry.

Doctorate graduates have high-level clinical skills and expertise and can use these to fill leadership roles, such as lead OT or department manager. These positions have responsibility for evaluating, planning, coordinating and administering OT treatment programs. As leaders, they liaise with other departments and healthcare staff. They assist in coordinating the daily activities and operations of the OT department and ensure adherence to organizational and department policies and procedures. They lead quality improvement and provide information to improve the quality of services. 

They lead program development and organize staff training. They are there for their staff, acting as a mentor, receptor and resource. They promote wellbeing through early intervention and prevention and provide a timely assessment and adaptation service. They lead their staff by modeling evidence-based care and presenting knowledge to increase staff knowledge. They measure success with patient outcomes. As leaders, they have the responsibility for checking the work of others and providing feedback on performance. They are committed to continual improvement and lead change processes. 

Healthcare administrator

Doctorate graduates can become healthcare administrators (HA), managing and overseeing the running of a healthcare facility, such as a clinic, hospital or nursing home. This involves being a manager for therapists in a specific department. For example, the inpatient rehab manager would be responsible for the OTs, physiotherapists and speech-language pathologists. They oversee the organization’s daily operations, such as managing quality control, budgets and staffing levels.

They have the responsibility for confirming that quality patient care is being provided, operational and financial goals are being met, and there is adherence to standards and regulations. 

The HA provides management and leadership for healthcare facilities, seeing that they are attaining goals and objectives, delivering quality patient care and meeting the community’s needs. HAs play an essential part in influencing the future of the healthcare system and ensuring patients receive effective care that enhances their wellbeing and health.

To conclude, OT plays an essential role in increasing independence and enhancing the quality of life for patients. OTs with doctorates can work in many roles to advance clinical practice and improve the future of occupational therapy. Advanced degree programs, like the doctorate, provide clinical expertise and high-level skills that contribute to the field and make leadership roles possible.