More occupational therapists needed by 2030

Growth of aging population increases demand


Increasingly, advocates are sounding the alarm about a growing shortage of health care workers: doctors, nurses, clinicians across the spectrum of disciplines. Though the reasons for this vary, one principal factor stands out: the needs of an aging Baby Boomer generation.

By 2030, all those born between 1946 and 1964 will be age 65 or older, an estimated 73 million people or about 22% of the population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Because so many health care concerns arise with age, provider shortages will become increasingly evident in the years ahead, especially in states with the largest populations of senior citizens, such as Florida.

One of the reasons for this is simple: Many retirees are relocating to the Sunshine State where they find life more amenable than in other places.

St. Johns County is keeping up with the trend, with about one person in five older than 65.

When selecting careers, many students are naturally drawn to those with higher profiles. Some professions, such as occupational therapy, may be overlooked, though the need for practitioners is increasingly critical.

“We are expecting a 14% increase in job need for occupational therapists that serve the aging population,” said Tia Hughes, associate dean of the College of Rehabilitative Sciences for Occupational Therapy at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences.

Occupational therapists treat patients who have sustained an injury or illness or who have a disability that impairs everyday activities. For the older population, it can mean the difference between remaining independent and having to move into a nursing home.

Colleges like the University of St. Augustine are seeking to meet the growing need for occupational therapists.

“When we bring students in, we want to make sure that we are really giving them the hands-on experience and skills they need to hit the ground running in the field of tomorrow’s patients,” Hughes said.

Students can pursue either a master’s degree or a doctorate, either of which will get them working in the field. For students who have weekday responsibilities and are unable to return to college full time, the University of St. Augustine offers a weekend program.

A degree in occupational therapy is portable. It can be taken state to state without the need for recertification.

“It’s very, very flexible,” Hughes said.

In addition, the pay is good. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for occupational therapists in 2021 was $88,570.

Of course, not all therapists choose to specialize in geriatrics. The profession addresses needs for patients of all ages, so some practitioners choose to focus on pediatrics or some other area. Occupational therapists work in hospitals, schools, private homes, senior living facilities, rehab centers and more.

Because students determine their careers as undergraduates — and sometimes before high school graduation — the college is spreading the word about this profession.

“We’re reaching out to younger students because it is maybe an area that students just don’t know about,” Hughes said.

The University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences has five campuses: St. Augustine; San Marcos, California; Miami; Austin, Texas; and Irving, Texas. For further information, go to

Click here to read the companion article, "Watch for signs that occupational therapy is needed."