Occupational Therapists Career Information
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Significant Points· Employment is projected to increase faster than the average, as rapid
growth in the number of middle-aged and elderly individuals increases the demand
for therapeutic services.
· Occupational therapists are increasingly taking on supervisory roles.
· More than one-third of occupational therapists work part time.
Nature of the WorkOccupational therapists (OTs) help people
improve their ability to perform tasks in their daily living and working environments.
They work with individuals who have conditions that are mentally, physically,
developmentally, or emotionally disabling. They also help them to develop, recover,
or maintain daily living and work skills. Occupational therapists not only help
clients improve basic motor functions and reasoning abilities, but also compensate
for permanent loss of function. Their goal is to help clients have independent,
productive, and satisfying lives.
Occupational therapists assist clients in performing activities of all types, ranging from using a computer, to caring for daily needs such as dressing, cooking, and eating. Physical exercises may be used to increase strength and dexterity, while paper and pencil exercises may be chosen to improve visual acuity and the ability to discern patterns. A client with short-term memory loss, for instance, might be encouraged to make lists to aid recall. A person with coordination problems might be assigned exercises to improve hand-eye coordination. Occupational therapists also use computer programs to help clients improve decision making, abstract reasoning, problem solving, and perceptual skills, as well as memory, sequencing, and coordination-all of which are important for independent living.
For those with permanent functional disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy, therapists instruct in the use of adaptive equipment such as wheelchairs, splints, and aids for eating and dressing. They also design or make special equipment needed at home or at work. Therapists develop computer-aided adaptive equipment and teach clients with severe limitations how to use it. This equipment enables clients to communicate better and to control other aspects of their environment.
Some occupational therapists, called industrial therapists, treat individuals whose ability to function in a work environment has been impaired. They arrange employment, plan work activities, and evaluate the client's progress.
Occupational therapists may work exclusively with individuals in a particular age group, or with particular disabilities. In schools, for example, they evaluate children's abilities, recommend and provide therapy, modify classroom equipment, and in general, help children participate as fully as possible in school programs and activities. Occupational therapy is also beneficial to the elderly population. Therapists help senior citizens lead more productive, active and independent lives through a variety of methods, including the use of adaptive equipment.
Occupational therapists in mental health settings treat individuals who are mentally ill, mentally retarded, or emotionally disturbed. To treat these problems, therapists choose activities that help people learn to cope with daily life. Activities include time management skills, budgeting, shopping, homemaking, and use of public transportation. They may also work with individuals who are dealing with alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, eating disorders, or stress related disorders.
Recording a client's activities and progress is an important part of an occupational therapist's job. Accurate records are essential for evaluating clients, billing, and reporting to physicians and others.
Working ConditionsOccupational therapists in hospitals and
other health care and community settings usually work a 40-hour week.
Those in schools may also participate in meetings and other activities, during
and after the school day. More than one-third of occupational therapists work
In large rehabilitation centers, therapists may work in spacious rooms equipped with machines, tools, and other devices generating noise. The job can be tiring, because therapists are on their feet much of the time. Those providing home healthcare may spend time driving from appointment to appointment. Therapists also face hazards such as back strain from lifting and moving clients and equipment.
Therapists are increasingly taking on supervisory roles. Due to rising healthcare costs, third party payers are beginning to encourage occupational therapist assistants and aides to take more hands-on responsibility. By having assistants and aides work more closely with clients under the guidance of a therapist, the cost of therapy should be more modest.
Occupational therapists held about 92,000 jobs in 2009. About 1 in 10 occupational therapists held more than one job. The largest number of jobs were in hospitals. Other major employers were offices of other health practitioners (including offices of occupational therapists), public and private educational services, and nursing care facilities. Some occupational therapists were employed by home health care services, outpatient care centers, offices of physicians, individual and family services, community care facilities for the elderly, and government agencies.
A small number of occupational therapists were self-employed in private practice. These practitioners saw clients referred by physicians or other health professionals or provided contract or consulting services to nursing care facilities, schools, adult day care programs, and home health care agencies.
Training, Qualifications, Adv.A bachelor's degree in occupational therapy
is the minimum requirement for entry into this field. All States, Puerto Rico,
and the District of Columbia regulate occupational therapy. To obtain a license,
applicants must graduate from an accredited educational program, and pass a
national certification examination. Those who pass the test are awarded the
title of registered occupational therapist.
In 1999, entry-level education was offered in 88 bachelor's degree programs; 11 postbachelor's certificate programs for students with a degree other than occupational therapy; and 53 entry-level master's degree programs. Nineteen programs offered a combined bachelor's and master's degree and 2 offered an entry-level doctoral degree. Most schools have full-time programs, although a growing number also offer weekend or part-time programs.
Occupational therapy coursework includes physical, biological, and behavioral sciences, and the application of occupational therapy theory and skills. Completion of 6 months of supervised fieldwork also is required.
Persons considering this profession should take high school courses in biology, chemistry, physics, health, art, and the social sciences. College admissions offices also look favorably at paid or volunteer experience in the healthcare field.
Occupational therapists need patience and strong interpersonal skills to inspire trust and respect in their clients. Ingenuity and imagination in adapting activities to individual needs are assets. Those working in home health care must be able to successfully adapt to a variety of settings.
Hospitals will continue to employ a large number of occupational therapists to provide therapy services to acutely ill inpatients. Hospitals will also need occupational therapists to staff their outpatient rehabilitation programs. Employment growth in schools will result from expansion of the school-age population and extended services for disabled students. Therapists will be needed to help children with disabilities prepare to enter special education programs.
Job OutlookEmployment of occupational therapists is expected to
Hospitals will continue to employ a large number of occupational therapists to provide therapy services to acutely ill inpatients. Hospitals will also need occupational therapists to staff their outpatient rehabilitation programs.
Employment growth in schools will result from expansion of the school-age population and extended services for disabled students. Therapists will be needed to help children with disabilities prepare to enter special education programs.
Median annual earnings of occupational therapists were $54,660 in May 2009. The middle 50 percent earned between $45,690 and $67,010. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $37,430, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $81,600. Median annual earnings in the industries employing the largest numbers of occupational therapists in May 2009 were:
|Home health care services||$58,720|
|Offices of other health practitioners||56,620|
|Nursing care facilities||56,570|
|General medical and surgical hospitals||55,710|
|Elementary and secondary schools||48,580|
Related OccupationsOccupational therapists use specialized knowledge to help individuals perform daily living skills and achieve maximum independence.
For more information on occupational therapy as a career, contact: For information regarding the requirements to practice as an occupational therapist in schools, contact the appropriate occupational therapy regulatory agency for your State.
Sources of Additional Information
For more information on occupational therapy as a career, contact:
For information regarding the requirements to practice as an occupational therapist in schools, contact the appropriate occupational therapy regulatory agency for your State.