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Salary Range: $80,000 or more
Average Hourly: $ 41.48
Education: Master's degree
Number of Jobs: 131600
Jobs Added to 2029: 23000
Growth: Much faster than average
Go here to see salary and job data specific to the United Kingdom.
What Occupational Therapists Do
Occupational therapists typically do the following:
- Review patients’ medical history, ask the patients questions, and observe them doing tasks
- Evaluate a patient’s condition and needs
- Develop a treatment plan for patients, identifying specific goals and the types of activities that will be used to help the patient work toward those goals
- Help people with various disabilities perform different tasks, such as teaching a stroke victim how to get dressed
- Demonstrate exercises—for example, stretching the joints for arthritis relief—that can help relieve pain in people with chronic conditions
- Evaluate a patient’s home or workplace and, on the basis of 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
Patients with permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, often need help performing daily tasks. Therapists show patients how to use appropriate adaptive equipment, such as leg braces, wheelchairs, and eating aids. These devices help patients perform a number of daily tasks, allowing them to function more independently.
Some occupational therapists work with children in educational settings. They evaluate disabled children’s abilities, modify classroom equipment to accommodate children with disabilities, and help children participate in school activities. Therapists also may provide early intervention therapy to infants and toddlers who have, or are at risk of having, developmental delays.
Therapists who work with the elderly help their patients lead more independent and active lives. They assess patients’ abilities and environment and make recommendations to improve the patients’ everyday lives. For example, therapists may identify potential fall hazards in a patient’s home and recommend their removal.
In some cases, occupational therapists help patients create functional work environments. They evaluate the workspace, recommend modifications, and meet with the patient’s employer to collaborate on changes to the patient’s work environment or schedule.
Occupational therapists also may work in mental health settings, where they help patients who suffer from developmental disabilities, mental illness, or emotional problems. Therapists teach these patients skills such as managing time, budgeting, using public transportation, and doing household chores in order to help them cope with, and engage in, daily life activities. In addition, therapists may work with individuals who have problems with drug abuse, alcoholism, depression, or other disorders. They may also work with people who have been through a traumatic event, such as a car accident.
Some occupational therapists, such as those employed in hospitals, work as part of a healthcare team along with doctors, registered nurses, and other types of therapists. They may work with patients who have chronic conditions, such as diabetes, or help rehabilitate a patient recovering from hip replacement surgery. Occupational therapists also oversee the work of occupational therapy assistants and aides.
About half of occupational therapists work in offices of occupational therapy or in hospitals. Others work in schools, nursing homes, and home health services. Therapists may spend a lot of time on their feet while working with patients.
Work Environment Details
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||29%|
|Offices of physical, occupational and speech therapists, and audiologists||25|
|Elementary and secondary schools; state, local, and private||12|
|Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities)||8|
|Home healthcare services||8|
Therapists may 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 work full time. They may work nights or weekends, as needed, to accommodate patients’ schedules.
Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 17 percent from 2020 to 2030, much faster than the average for all occupations.
About 10,100 openings for occupational therapists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.
How to Become an Occupational Therapist
Most occupational therapists enter the occupation with a master’s degree in occupational therapy. In 2017, there were about 200 occupational therapy programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, part of the American Occupational Therapy Association.
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. Candidates should contact the program that they are interested in attending about specific requirements.
Master’s programs usually take 2 to 3 years to complete; doctoral programs take about 3 and a half 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. In addition, doctoral programs require a 16-week capstone experience.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require occupational therapists to be licensed. Licensing requirements vary by state, but all require candidates to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (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 board and specialty certifications for therapists who want to demonstrate their advanced or specialized knowledge in areas of practice, such as pediatrics, mental health, or low vision.
Adaptability. 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.
Communication skills. Occupational therapists must listen attentively to what patients tell them and must explain what they want their patients to do. When communicating with other members of the patient’s medical team, therapists must clearly explain the treatment plan for the patient and any progress made by the patient.
Compassion. Occupational therapists are usually drawn to the profession by a desire to help people and improve their daily lives. Therapists must be sensitive to a patient’s needs and concerns, especially when assisting the patient with personal activities.
Interpersonal skills. Because occupational therapists spend their time teaching and explaining therapies to patients, they need to earn the trust and respect of those patients and their families.
Patience. Dealing with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities is frustrating for many people. Occupational therapists should exhibit patience in order to provide quality care to the people they serve.