By Published On: February 1, 2024

The healthcare industry is one of the fastest-growing sectors in the United States, with occupational therapy (OT) playing a crucial role in this expansion. Aspiring occupational therapists often consider pursuing a doctorate in occupational therapy to enhance their qualifications and potential earnings. This article will explore the salary landscape for individuals with a doctorate in occupational therapy, focusing on regional variations and the financial benefits of obtaining the highest level of education in this field.

Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Salary Overview

Embarking on a journey toward a doctorate in occupational therapy opens a world of opportunities and potential for professional growth. While the initial salary for doctorate holders may align closely with those holding a master’s in occupational therapy, the doctorate is a gateway to specialized and leadership roles where higher earning potentials are the norm. For those passionate about specific fields like pediatrics or geriatrics, or aiming for positions in medical leadership, a doctorate in OT can be a key differentiator, paving the way to more lucrative career paths.

A glance at current salary trends reveals an encouraging picture. For example, cities like San Jose, CA, are setting impressive benchmarks, with the average doctorate in occupational therapy salary reaching around $95,702 per year. This figure is a testament to the high value and respect the healthcare sector holds for the advanced expertise and specialized skills that doctorate graduates bring to the table.

National Average Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Salary

According to, the national average salary for professionals with a doctorate in OT is $76,257. The range of salaries submitted by individual users of the website begins at $60,799, with cities in California offering the highest reported salaries of $95,000+.

In essence, pursuing a doctorate in occupational therapy is not just an academic achievement, but a strategic career move that can unlock higher earning potential and provide a platform for meaningful impact in various healthcare settings.

What Factors Contribute to Doctorate in Occupational Therapy Salaries?

In the dynamic field of occupational therapy, holding a doctorate can open numerous doors to professional advancement and higher salary brackets. While the degree itself is a significant factor, several other elements contribute to achieving higher earnings. Understanding these can help OT professionals strategically navigate their career paths toward greater financial success.

Location & Cost of Living

Salaries for OTs vary significantly across different states and cities. High-cost-of-living areas typically offer higher salaries. For instance, in California, New Jersey, and New York, the average salaries are notably higher compared to other regions. This regional variation is influenced by the demand for occupational therapy services and the cost of living in these areas.


Specializing in niche areas of occupational therapy, such as pediatrics, neurorehabilitation, or geriatrics, can significantly boost earning potential. Specialized therapists often cater to specific patient needs, which can command higher salaries due to the advanced skill set required.


As with many professions, experience plays a critical role in salary determination. Experienced occupational therapists who have honed their skills over the years are often in higher demand and can negotiate better compensation.

Industry and Employment Settings

The type of industry and employment setting also plays a crucial role in determining an OT’s salary. For example, OTs working in home healthcare services, management of companies, and enterprises tend to earn higher salaries. The setting can range from hospitals and private practices to schools and rehabilitation centers, each offering different salary scales.

Negotiation Skills

Effective negotiation skills can also impact salary outcomes. OT professionals with strong advocacy for their worth and capabilities are more likely to secure higher salaries, especially in competitive job markets.

Research and Publication

Involvement in research, contributing to professional publications, or presenting at conferences can establish a doctorate holder as an expert in their field, often leading to higher compensation.

Demand for Services

The overall demand for occupational therapy services in a particular area can also influence salaries. Regions with a growing elderly population or increased healthcare needs might offer higher salaries to attract skilled occupational therapists.

Leadership and Administrative Roles

Professionals holding administrative or leadership positions, such as department heads or program directors, often see a considerable salary increase. These roles leverage the advanced knowledge and skills acquired through a doctoral program, valuing the ability to oversee operations and contribute to strategic decision-making.

For instance, the national annual median salary for an occupational therapy director job title in the United States is $133,088. This shows just how lucrative holding a doctorate in OT can be.

Future Outlook

The job market for occupational therapists is expected to grow significantly, with a projected increase in the number of jobs available. This growth is attributed to the aging population and the increasing need for therapy services for the elderly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for occupational therapists from 2022-2032 is projected to grow by 12%. This is much higher than the national average of all occupations (3%).

Why Pursue a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy?

While financial stability is a significant motivator, pursuing a doctorate in occupational therapy encompasses a range of benefits beyond salary. These factors not only contribute to personal and professional growth but also enhance the quality of care provided to patients. Here are some key reasons why individuals choose to pursue their doctorate:

Advanced Clinical Skills: A doctorate program equips occupational therapists with cutting-edge clinical skills and knowledge. This advanced training allows them to provide more specialized and effective care, which can be particularly beneficial in complex clinical cases.

Leadership Opportunities: Programs also prepare therapists for leadership roles within healthcare settings. This includes managing departments, leading teams, and making strategic decisions that impact patient care and operational efficiency.

Research and Innovation: Doctorate holders are often involved in research, contributing to the advancement of the field. This research can lead to the development of new therapeutic techniques, better patient outcomes, and improved industry practices.

Teaching and Mentorship: With a doctorate, occupational therapists have the opportunity to teach at the university level, influencing the next generation of therapists. They can also play a mentorship role, guiding less experienced therapists in clinical settings.

Policy and Advocacy: Doctorate holders are well-positioned to advocate for policy changes that benefit the profession and patients. They can work towards improving healthcare policies, increasing access to occupational therapy services, and raising public awareness about the importance of occupational therapy.

Personal Fulfillment and Professional Recognition: Achieving a doctorate is a significant personal and professional accomplishment. It reflects a high level of dedication to the field and is often associated with increased respect and recognition from peers and patients.

Specialized Practice Areas: A doctorate program allows therapists to specialize in areas of interest, such as pediatrics, gerontology, mental health, or hand therapy. Specialization can lead to a more fulfilling career as therapists focus on areas they are passionate about.

Enhanced Patient Outcomes: With advanced training, OTs are capable of implementing more effective and innovative treatment plans, leading to better patient outcomes, and higher satisfaction rates.

Lifelong Learning: Pursuing a doctorate in OT reflects a commitment to lifelong learning and professional development, which are essential qualities in the rapidly evolving healthcare industry.

In summary, pursuing a doctorate in occupational therapy is about more than financial gains; it’s about advancing the profession, enhancing patient care, and fulfilling personal and professional goals. The Occupational Therapy degree opens doors to a variety of rewarding opportunities that contribute to the growth and evolution of this vital healthcare field.

Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy

At Valparaiso University, doctor of occupational therapy (DrOT) students are given the resources to grow into their potential. This comprehensive online program is crafted to equip graduates with the skills and occupational therapy education to become pioneers in the field of occupational therapy. It focuses on nurturing advanced capabilities in mentorship and education, employing evidence-based practices through effective knowledge translation, and developing proficiency in advocacy and policy-making within the expansive realm of healthcare.

Apply now to start your journey with Valpo.

Interested in learning more?

Ready to take the next step?

Submit your application today!

Latest articles