Occupational therapists carry out treatment plans to help patients with a variety of daily tasks. Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.
What Occupational Therapists Do
Occupational therapists treat injured, ill, or disabled patients through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. They help these patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for daily living and working.
Occupational therapists typically do the following: Observe patients doing tasks, ask them questions, and review their medical history Evaluate a patient’s condition and needs Develop a treatment plan for patients, laying out the types of activities and specific goals to be accomplished Help people with various disabilities with different tasks, such as leading an autistic child in play activities Demonstrate exercises—for example, joint stretches for arthritis relief—that can help relieve pain for people with chronic conditions Evaluate a patient’s home or workplace and, based on the patient’s health needs, identify potential improvements, such as labeling kitchen cabinets for an older person with poor memory Educate a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient Recommend special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids, and instruct patients on how to use that equipment Assess and record patients’ activities and progress for patient evaluations, for billing, and for reporting to physicians and other healthcare providers
About half of occupational therapists work in offices of occupational therapy or in hospitals. Others work in schools, nursing homes, physicians’ offices, and home health services. Therapists spend a lot of time on their feet while working with patients.
| Quick Facts: Occupational Therapists
$75,400 per year
$36.25 per hour
|| Master’s degree
||29% (Much faster than average)
How to Become an Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists typically have a master’s degree in occupational therapy. All states require occupational therapists to be licensed or registered.
The median annual wage for occupational therapists was $75,400 in May 2012.
Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 29 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb.
Occupational therapists held about 113,200 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most occupational therapists in 2012 were as follows:
|Hospitals; state, local, and private
|Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists
|Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private
|Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)
|Home health care services
Therapists spend a lot of time on their feet while working with patients. They also may be required to lift and move patients or heavy equipment. Many work in multiple facilities and have to travel from one job to another.
Most occupational therapists enter the occupation with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. In March 2013, there were 149 occupational therapy programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, part of the American Occupational Therapy Association; 145 are master’s degree programs and the remaining 4 are doctoral degree programs.
Admission to graduate programs in occupational therapy generally requires a bachelor’s degree and specific coursework, including biology and physiology. Many programs also require applicants to have volunteered or worked in an occupational therapy setting.
Master’s programs generally take 2 to 3 years to complete; doctoral programs take about 3 years. Some schools offer a dual-degree program in which the student earns a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in 5 years. Part-time programs that offer courses on nights and weekends are also available.
Both master’s and doctoral programs require at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork, in which prospective occupational therapists gain clinical work experience.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require occupational therapists to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapists (NBCOT). To sit for the NBCOT exam, candidates must have earned a degree from an accredited educational program and completed all fieldwork requirements.
Therapists must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title “Occupational Therapist Registered" (OTR). They must also take continuing education classes to maintain certification.
The American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of certifications for therapists who want to demonstrate their advanced level of knowledge in a specialty area, such as pediatrics, mental health, or low vision.
Communication skills. Occupational therapists must be able to listen attentively to what patients tell them and be able to explain what they want their patients to do.
Compassion. Occupational therapists are usually drawn to the profession by a desire to help people and improve the daily lives of others.
Flexibility. Occupational therapists must be flexible when treating patients. Because not every type of therapy will work for each patient, therapists may need to be creative when determining the treatment plans and adaptive devices that best suit each patient’s needs.
Interpersonal skills. Because occupational therapists spend their time teaching and explaining therapies to patients, they should be able to earn the trust and respect of their patients.
Patience. Dealing with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities is frustrating for many people. Occupational therapists should be patient in order to provide quality care to the people they serve.
Writing skills. When communicating in writing with other members of the patient’s medical team, occupational therapists must be able to explain clearly the treatment plan for the patient and any progress made by the patient.