Occupational therapists create and implement rehabilitative and assistive programmes to treat ill, injured or disabled patients. They use repetitive tasks, exercises and activities to help patients develop or recover the skills needed for daily life and work. They recommend and assist with adaptive devices and equipment.
Occupational therapists also guide caregivers and employers in modifying the patient's environment to accommodate their needs and abilities.
Duties and responsibilities
- Review a patient's medical history, ask questions and observe how they attempt daily living tasks
- Assess the patient’s realistic skill levels and recovery goals, and mental and physical abilities
- Create and implement a treatment plan to help patients develop or recover daily life skills
- Teach patients with disabilities how to complete tasks within the scope of their abilities
- Train caregivers to assist patients during and after therapy
- Suggest changes to patient's environment at home and work to accommodate their needs and abilities
- Create unique adaptive devices to accommodate a patient's specific disability
- Chart a patient's activities and progress
- Coordinate with physicians and other healthcare providers on the patient's treatment
Recommend adaptive devices and equipment; train patients and caregivers on their use and maintenance
Skills and knowledge
AVERAGE WORKING HOURS
Some nights and weekends
Occupational therapists work in hospitals, outpatient care facilities, doctors' offices, schools and nursing homes. They may also specialise in home healthcare. Some therapist positions require working at multiple locations, including home visits.
Occupational therapy requires long periods of standing while assisting patients with exercises and tasks. You may need to lift and move patients, as well as heavy adaptive equipment like wheelchairs.
Most therapists work full time. Physician and therapy offices typically operate in normal business hours, but hospitals and other care facilities may require shift work on rotation. Night and weekend hours are possible to accommodate a patient's schedule.
Annual salary estimates are based on percentile wage data collected through the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey of US workers.
Master's degree in occupational therapy
Occupational therapists must have a Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) degree from a programme accredited by an arm of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). Candidates must complete a four-year bachelor's degree first, with coursework in biology and physiology. Consult with the school of your choice about specific requirements for their OT programme.
A master's degree can typically be achieved in two to three years. Some schools offer concurrent bachelor's and master's programs that take five years in total. You will need to complete 24 weeks of supervised clinical work experience to earn your MOT.
Occupational therapists must be licensed in all states. This includes passing an examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). AOTA also offers certifications for specialties like gerontology, mental health and paediatrics.
Continuing education keeps occupational therapists up to date with the latest research, treatments and innovations. Experience and advanced knowledge will give you an edge when seeking out higher-paying jobs. Certification in a specialty will be particularly helpful.
Therapists who wish to transition to academia and research typically go on to earn a doctorate in occupational therapy.