Do I need my doctor of occupational therapy degree by 2027?
The simple answer is no.
In August of 2017, the Accreditation Council of Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) mandated that by 2027, all Master of Occupational Therapy programs would be required to move to a doctoral level. In April of 2019, after two years of discussion between the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and ACOTE, the determination was made that AOTA had the authority to mandate educational changes and the representative assembly voted to maintain dual entry level degrees.
This is referred to as Dual Point of Entry because it means you can enter the field as an occupational therapist (OT) at either the master’s or doctoral level.
“It’s unfortunate that there is misinformation about the degree that is required to become an OT,” said Michelle Sheperd, program director and chair of the Master of Occupational Therapy program at North Central College. “The most important thing a prospective student should do, prior to enrolling in an OT degree program, is to access information from reliable sources like ACOTE and AOTA.”
What does this mean for potential students about to enter a program?
Students who graduate from a program accredited by the accreditation standards of ACOTE will be eligible to work as an occupational therapist whether they have a doctoral degree or a master’s degree. If AOTA reaches the decision to move to a single point of entry and mandates that point of entry to be a doctoral degree, the OTs with their master’s degree will be grandfathered in and will not require any additional education.
Even though AOTA has maintained two points of entry for the educational standards, there is still misinformation out in a variety of websites indicating that by 2027 (or 2025 depending upon which website) there is a mandate to have all schools be at the doctoral level. This is currently not an accurate statement. There are two points of entry for an OT education.
Is there a difference in opportunity if I have a doctorate instead of a master’s?
As a graduate of a master’s degree program the OT is eligible to sit for the national certification examination. States require licensure as well as successful completion of the exam, and graduates of master’s degree programs can obtain a license in any state in the country. OTs with their master’s degree are qualified to evaluate, treat and determine outcomes of clients across the life span.
They have received their education in theory and intervention with knowledge of applying evidence-based practice as part of their treatment. Master level students complete 24 weeks of fieldwork. A master’s degree in OT typically is two years in length.
As a graduate of a doctoral degree program, the OT is qualified to sit for the national exam and obtain a license in any state in the country. They are also qualified to evaluate, treat, and determine outcomes for clients across the life span.
They have received training in theory and intervention as well as additional training in evidence-based practice and completion of research as a student. Doctoral students also complete 24 weeks of fieldwork and an additional fourteen weeks of a Capstone Project. A doctoral degree in OT is typically three years in length.
“Prospective students need to be clear about their career objectives,” said Sheperd. “Degree requirements can differ depending on whether you want to work directly with clients as an OT practitioner, or if you want to go into teaching or research.”
There is no difference in salary for an OT based on their educational degree. The students that seek the doctorate degree will have typically one additional year of loan repayments.
Why do I need a doctorate in occupational therapy?
If a student wants to go into teaching or research, the appropriate degree for them to seek is a doctoral degree. If a student wants to provide treatment to clients, the appropriate degree for them to seek is a master’s degree.
For more information about the Master of Occupational Therapy Program at North Central College, visit their website.
Genelle Iocca is the recruitment and social media coordinator for graduate education programs at North Central College.