Occupational Therapy License in Tennessee: Becoming an Occupational Therapist in Tennessee

Tennessee classifies occupational therapy as a healing arts profession. The state’s occupational therapists have a broad scope of practice; this allows them to assist people with many different types of condition. OTs develop people’s capacity to carry out routine activities, from self-care and independent living to work and leisure. OTs are concerned with the many factors that impede or facilitate function, from how easily people use their hands to how well they navigate their physical and social environments. They may modify environments and tasks as well as help people develop, maintain, or regain needed skills.

The authority to practice as an occupational therapist is granted at the state level. Some OTs seek additional third party certifications.

Occupational Therapist Tasks

The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga notes that occupational therapy services typically include individualized evaluation, customized intervention, and outcomes evaluation.

OTs evaluate both people and environments. They frequently help people use assistive and adaptive equipment. Treatment can include specially designed activities, guidance and training in carrying out tasks, and hands-on treatments like manual therapy. Some types of physical treatment such as electrical stimulation are permissible but require additional certification.

Associate’s level occupational therapy assistants help carry out treatment. Thus OTs often have supervisory roles. They may also take on consultative roles and care management roles.

Becoming an Occupational Therapist in Tennessee

Licensure depends on education and examination as well as legal and professional background.

A first-time OT will need to complete a master’s or doctoral program. The program is to be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). All programs include fieldwork experiences at at least two levels. All prospective OTs complete at least six months of in-depth ‘Level II’ experiences. Doctoral students have an additional capstone experience.

Tennessee has adopted the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy examination. The examination is available nationwide.

State licensure requires a separate application process. A prospective Tennessee licensee will have a background check and answer questions for a practitioner profile; this is made available to the public.

Some OTs will also need to apply for state certification in use of thermal agents and/ or electrical stimulation. They can meet requirements by completing Board-approved coursework. An OT who is certified by the Hand Therapy Certification Commission is considered to have met training requirements for both certifications.

Tennessee OT Work Settings

Work may take place in any of many places, including inpatient facilities, outpatient facilities, educational institutions, and home and community settings. The following are noted in state rule as examples of “institutional inpatient settings”: community hospitals, nursing facilities, acute rehabilitation facilities, and community hospitals. The following are noted as home and community settings: early intervention centers, assisted living facilities, day care, group living, sheltered workshops, and industry.

Duties may vary a good deal from one setting to the next. Some OT work closely with families of young children, helping them set up environments and routines that will foster optimal development. Some use play-based strategies to develop children’s coordination and sensory integration skills. Others work at the opposite end of the age span, ensuring that people have the skills and equipment to meet their needs safely at home or that they carry out the tasks that they are capable of in a supported environment. Some provide advanced treatments to help people with conditions that impact hand and arm mobility; others provide intensive rehabilitation to people who have had strokes or brain injuries.

Tennessee occupational therapists can seek specialization through third party organizations. State code references certifications in the following: geriatrics, neurorehabilitation, hand therapy, pediatrics, neurodevelopmental treatment, and sensory integration; the list is not comprehensive. Specialty certifications are granted by organizations such as the American Occupational Therapy Association and the Hand Therapy Certification Commission.

Top Tennessee Employers

The following are among Tennessee’s many OT employers:

• Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation
• University of Tennessee Medical Center Home Care Services
• Clarksville-Montgomery County School System
• Life Care Centers of America
• Morristown-Hamblen Health System
• Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center
• Vanderbilt University Medical Center

Tennessee Occupational Therapist Salary and Career Outlook

Tennessee occupational therapists earned a mean annual salary of $84,870 in 2018. Most full-time salaries fell between $60,870 and $110,140; 10% were below and another 10% above.

The Tennessee OT occupation has been projected to grow by 24.2% across the 2016 to 2026 decade.

Occupational Therapist Programs in Tennessee

The Belmont University entry-level program is doctoral level. Students receive advisement for their doctoral component begging their first semester; they complete the doctoral experience component in their final semester. The school also has a master’s program for practicing occupational therapy assistants. Physical therapy students who have experience working with an occupational therapist may also be eligible to apply.

Tennessee State University offers a professional entry-level master’s (MOT) degree. Neurobiology; applied psychosocial dysfunction; and pediatric lecture, lab, and practicum are among the courses Students can opt for an elective course in OT modalities that meets Tennessee certification requirements for physical agent modalities. Sensory processing and integration is among the other elective options.

The University of Tennessee-Chattanooga offers a fully accredited doctoral program; the first two graduating classes (2017 and 2018) achieved 100% pass rates on the licensing examination. UTC undergraduates who are considering graduate level OT study may want to join the Occupational/Physical Therapy Club.

State and Professional Resources

Tennessee occupational therapists are under the authority of the Tennessee Board of Occupational Therapy (https://www.tn.gov/health/health-program-areas/health-professional-boards/ot-board.html).

The Tennessee Occupational Therapy Association is the state professional organization (https://www.tnota.org). TNOTA currently has five special interest sections: neurorehabilitation, hand therapy, pediatrics, ICU, and mental health. The organization also has an active student section. It is piloting a mentorship program and recruiting individuals who have graduated or will graduate in the near future.