Occupational Therapist License Requirements in California

The California Board of Occupational Therapy gives a succinct explanation of occupational therapy on its homepage: Occupational therapy professionals help people with disabilities or medical conditions restore, develop, or improve their functional daily living skills.

The focus is on people who have disabilities or are at risk of disability. OTs work with individually of all ages; one will find employers seeking therapy for children in early intervention and even the NICU. Occupational therapists assess and plan and implement interventions. They are concerned with the environment as well as the individual. They supervise assistants and aides who help them carry out treatment.

Like other states, California requires licensure. Licensure carries with it a broad scope of practice. However, some OTR/Ls take on roles that require very specialized training. The state has further delineated advanced practices.

Becoming a California OT

A prospective California OT will need to complete a Board-approved program. The program must be accredited by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) or approved by the AOTA Career Mobility Program.

Occupational therapy programs are available at the master’s and doctoral level. A California occupational therapist who has earned a doctoral degree in the field may use the letters OTD.

Typical prerequisites include anatomy and physiology, abnormal psychology, and statistics. Some programs have a requirement for a course that involves hand skills. The Samuel Merritt doctoral program has on its prerequisite list three-dimensional skill/craft. San Jose State University requires a skills course but accepts two-dimensional arts like drawing or painting.

The candidate will need to pass an entry level occupational therapy exam. The exam is offered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

An occupational therapist may work under a limited permit while waiting to take the exam and receive results.

A candidate who has been educated internationally must fulfill fieldwork experiences set down in the state practice act.

Advanced Competencies

The following are considered advanced competencies in California:

• Physical agent modalities
• Hand therapy
• Assessment, intervention or evaluation of swallowing

State code stipulates that the occupational therapist must demonstrate competency to the Board.

A Day on the Job

The University of Southern California has provided snapshots of things an occupational therapies might do on the job. The following are among them:

• Help children with children with autism and sensory issues
• Teach people with spinal cord injury to avoid pressure ulcers through use of technology
• Develop an alternative method that a person who has lost grip strength can use to hold a fork

News articles have delved more deeply into some roles. Outlook Newspapers profiled a Pasadena occupational therapist and her work with children with feeding disorders, including a five-year-old with Down Syndrome and a swallowing disorder (https://outlooknewspapers.com/pcda-helps-nurture-children-who-have-feeding-challenges). The organization featured here is Professional Child Development Associates (http://www.pcdateam.org).

The Student Doctor meanwhile wrote a profile of the California occupational therapist who founded Kidspace, a multidisciplinary therapy center for children (https://www.studentdoctor.net/2012/04/29/20-questions-lani-hessen-otrl/). KidSpace has Mountain View and San Francisco locations.

Top Employers

Employers are varied and may include private treatment centers, nursing facilities, home health organizations, schools, governmental entities, and major health systems. The following are among the many in California:

• Interface Rehab
• St. John’s Pleasant Valley Hospital
• High Five Hand Therapy and Rehabilitation
• Elevate Home Health
• Kaiser Permanente
• Sutter Health
• Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System
• Healthy Living at Home
• Valley Children’s Healthcare
• Los Angeles Jewish Home
• San Diego Unified School District
• US Department of Veterans Affairs

Education and Pediatric Occupational Therapy

California LEAs provide occupational services to children with special needs under IDEA, the special education act. Some also provide services under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act.

California Occupational Therapist Salary and Career Outlook

California’s OT occupation has been projected to grow by 24.8% across the 2016 to 2026 decade.

California is the third highest paying state for occupational therapists. California’s occupational therapists earned a mean salary of $95,160 in 2018. Those at the 10th percentile earned $65,330 while those at the 90th percentile earned $126,660; the median was $97,260.

A number of California cities made the BLS list of top paying metropolitan areas for occupational therapists. In fact, six out of ten of the metropolitan areas were in California. The relative small Vallejo-Fairfield area was second with an average of $106,270. The San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metropolitan area was just behind at $104,580. The Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, Visalia-Porterville, and Santa Cruz-Watsonville metropolitan areas were in fifth, sixth, and seventh place; Salinas ninth. In each of these metropolitan areas, the average salary topped $101,000.

California is below the average with regard to location quotient (job concentration). It makes up for it, though, in sheer numbers. The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim area has the third highest OT employment levels of any metropolitan area in the country; the state as a whole employs more OTs than any other state save New York.

Occupational Therapy Schools in Calfiornia

The University of Southern California occupational therapy program is a premier program, ranked #3 by US News and World Report. USC fieldwork sites span multiple countries. The program is housed in the USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy; it has a long history, going back to 1942.

San Jose State University, another well regarded provider, offers a Master of Science. The program has an international requirement. There are multiple options, including summer service trips.

Samuel Merritt University offers license-qualifying master’s and doctoral options. The doctoral degree can be completed in three calendar years; the final summer will be a capstone project. Samuel Merritt students offer OT services to the community as part of the Community Participant Labs; both adult and pediatric CPLs are available.

Occupational Therapy Student and Professional Resources

Licensing information is available from the California Board of Occupational Therapy (https://www.bot.ca.gov). Licensing questions can be addressed to ‘cbot at dca.ca.gov’.

The Occupational Therapy Association of California is the state professional association (https://www.otaconline.org/). Student membership is available at a reduced rate. Student members can compete for scholarships, grants, and traineeships.

California occupational therapists may be eligible for the Advanced Practice Healthcare Loan Repayment Program, or APHLRP (https://oshpd.ca.gov/loans-scholarships-grants/loan-repayment/aphlrp/).