Occupational Therapists work with patients who may have either physical or mental challenges that stand in the way of their ability to manage their lives. They assist patients with learning or re-learning skills that they use in their everyday lives.
Description of health care career information and the daily work:
As an Occupational Therapist (OT), you will work with people of all ages who need specialized assistance in learning or relearning the skills that they need to lead independent, productive and satisfying lives. The term “occupation” in this health care setting does not refer to helping a patient with their job. Actually, Occupational Therapists assist patients with regaining the skills that they need to “occupy” their time they way in which they choose, including daily activities like eating, dressing and managing their own schedule.
OTs work with children suffering from developmental problems to adults with chronic health problems. Patients of Occupational Therapists may suffer from illnesses or conditions such as strokes, heart attacks, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis, learning problems, or depression. When skill or strength level cannot be developed or improved through exercises, or people experience challenges to thinking and develop memory loss, the OT offers creative solutions and alternatives for carrying out daily activities.
For those with physical disabilities, OTs may work on physical exercises to improve strength and dexterity. OTs assist the patient in performing daily tasks such as moving around their house safely, grooming, bathing, and preparing meals. Once these routine tasks are mastered, Occupational Therapists work with the patient to achieve more complex goals outside of the home related to education, employment and social interaction. Patients with mental or emotional challenges work with OTs to function independently by learning time management, budgeting, transition to work, and integration of social networks. As an Occupational Therapist, you may also use computer programs to help patients with memory loss and problem solving skills and improvement of decision making capabilities.
You may conduct evaluations of patients’ homes and work environments so that you can perform proper treatment and assess patients’ improvements or obstacles. You will also help people use adaptive equipment to achieve independence. Occupational Therapists often work with other therapists and health professionals as members of a treatment team. Occupational Therapists work in many types of settings including client’s homes, hospitals and hospital outpatient rehabilitation, mental health centers, nursing homes and schools and workplaces. The willingness to adapt to a variety of settings and the ability to bring creative thinking and problem solving to the job are a plus.
As an Occupational Therapist, you will need patience and understanding when dealing with patients. Work in occupational therapy can be challenging because patients often take a long time to make progress toward their goals. You may be working with physically and emotionally or mentally challenged adults and children, which calls for the qualities of understanding and compassion and the ability to work well with people.
The work hours for Occupational Therapists vary. They are typically Monday – Friday from 9:00 – 5:00 but may include evenings and weekends depending on the personal schedule of the client.
Education Requirements, Licensure/Certification:
Currently, Occupational Therapists must have a Bachelors’ degree in Occupational Therapy from an accredited occupational therapy professional program, complete all fieldwork requirements and have passed the certification exam in order to become an “Occupational Therapist Registered” (OTR) and work in the field.
This requirement will change beginning in January, 2007 at which time, you will need a Masters’ degree or higher from an accredited occupational therapy program in order to become an Occupational Therapist Registered (in addition to completing necessary fieldwork and passing the certification exam.) Accredited Occupational Therapy programs are now offering a combined Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in order to meet this new requirement by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). Before graduating, you will complete a number of clinical rotations under the supervision of certified Occupational Therapists. This six month fieldwork experience is an opportunity to put theory into practice and learn about the many types of health care settings and is required before you can take the certification exam. Once you have graduated from a program and fieldwork is complete, you will be eligible to take the national certification exam administered by NBCOT. In order to practice OTs must be licensed by the NBCOT. You will have to renew your certification every three years with the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.
If you are considering this profession, you should take high school courses in biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, health, and psychology. Many programs also require paid or volunteer experience working with people who have disabilities.
The full-time median annual earnings for Occupational Therapists nationally in 2002 was $51,990.
Career Path and/or Opportunities for Growth:
As an Occupational therapist, you may choose to specialize in working with certain patient populations such as pediatrics, gerontology, community-based programs, physical rehabilitation, or mental health. Or you may develop a specialty practice in assistive technology, adaptive equipment, driver rehabilitation, or hand therapy.
Experienced occupational therapists may move into a teaching, administrative, or supervisory role. A small number of experienced Occupational Therapists become self-employed and start their own private practice in direct care or as a consultant to agencies and organizations. The job growth for OTs is faster than average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
American Occupational Therapy Association
World Federation of Occupational Therapists