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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Choosing a Health Care Career

Published July 7, 2015 3:10 PM by Debra Karplus
At a dinner party the other night, one young man, Mike, a newly graduated anesthesiologist, was "holding court," answering "doctor questions" from some of the other guests. One guest, a man with a son in college and a daughter finishing high school, asked Mike if he had to do it over again, would he become a physician. Mike, without hesitation, responded "no." 

I responded that I always encourage young people to consider occupational therapy as a career, and Mike stated that his cousin who is a speech and language pathologist (SLP) says the same thing that I, the occupational therapist, say.

When I asked why he would have chosen a different profession, Mike was quick to divulge that he had over $100,000 in student loan debt, as did his doctor wife. They have a new house and a baby. That all sounds idyllic; but the dark cloud of all this debt makes life somewhat scary for this couple in their early thirties.

These are honest folks but, still, I could hardly believe that anyone of any reasonable intelligence and maturity could rack up so much debt, even if for the honorable pursuit of becoming a doctor. So I looked online, and searched "average student loan debt after medical school". 

According to in a September 2013 report, I discovered that at that time, $166,750 was the average debt after medical school. The article indicated that it would take about thirty years of doctoring to recoup that money. That would put your average doctor into his or her fifties or even sixties. What doctor could ever retire with such a financial dilemma?

I don't remember even having any student debt, but then I went to college and occupational school in the early 1970s when the subject of student loans never made the front page news. And even when I returned to school in the mid-1990s to complete my Master's Degree, huge amounts of student college debt did not seem to be an issue for many people at that point in time either.

I got back online and tried to find out what current students of occupational therapy are accruing as debt, but I could not find any data.

So I would be curious to hear from readers, especially new graduates of OT school, their personal experience with student loan debts.


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My daughter will finish her MSOT this year.  She'll have a total of $45k in loans.  I think that's reasonable given the high demand for OTs and her expected salary.

Suzanne April 23, 2016 5:48 PM

I graduated in 2007 with an undergrad and Masters with $32,000 in debt. I worked my bottom off to earn scholarships for the first 2 years, then worked a part-time job years 3 and 4, and finally had to succumb to student loan debt my 5th year to pay for the whole year. I paid my loan off in 3 years...using Dave Ramsey's advise :)

Nicole, OTR/L September 3, 2015 8:16 PM

I'm currently in school to get my masters degree. When all is said and done I will have just over $100,000 in student loan debt. It is absolutely daunting!

Michelle , Occupational Therapy - COTA, SNF July 10, 2015 11:30 PM
Albany NY

I graduated in 2013 with $204,000 in student loans. Several of my classmates had significantly more than that. Many of the OT and PT students at my school who went to private schools for their undergraduate degrees had closer to $300,000 - $400,000. Many of these people are banking on the non-profit student loan forgiveness program through the federal government. Personally, I don't think this program will come to fruition, and these huge amounts of student loan debt are going to cause another economic crash. Our education system is not sustainable.  

Danielle July 10, 2015 6:26 PM
Omaha NE

The COTA to OTR program at a college in WI runs approximately $100,000.  As a COTA who has explored going back to school, that amount of debt is staggering to take on at my age and, realistically in our economy, anyone for that matter. I have been a COTA for 20 years and my A.A.S Has served me quite well.  I am currently making $40,000 more per year than I did when I graduted in 1995.  I'd say that is not too shabby.  With that being said, I have a hard time with the minimum requirements of an OTR/L being a Master's degree and PT being a Doctorate.  I honestly do not feel the higher degrees are needed to work in a clinical practice setting.  If teaching or research is what is desired, then yes it is appropriate.  I know many OTRs with Bachelors and, yes, even COTAs making better clinical decisions than new and recent grads wit higher degrees.  

Marci, SNF - COTA/L July 10, 2015 5:42 PM

I graduated with $85k from OT school (undergrad and grad school) in 2003

lori, Peds - OT July 10, 2015 5:08 PM
albany NY

When I graduated with my masters in OT 8 years ago I had 98k of debt. As you can imagine I'm still paying it off.

Danielle, OT July 10, 2015 1:42 PM
Monroe CT

Thank you for reading and commenting on my article, Kevin.  I am shocked at those high dollar amounts of student debt of OT and OTA students.  An occupational therapy practitioner would need to work a few years to work off that kind of debt.

..Debbie K, author

Debra Karplus July 10, 2015 9:36 AM


"How much can occupational therapy students expect to owe in student loans after graduating?

The answer? It varies; however, OT and OTA students reported a range between $40,000-$100,000 in student loans."

Kevin July 8, 2015 10:37 AM

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