An occupational therapist (OT) is a health professional who is responsible for helping patients regain their ability to perform daily living and work activities. His or her patients have generally lost these abilities because of mental, physical or developmentally or emotionally disabling conditions. An occupational therapist is one member of a rehabilitation team that may also include a physical therapist, speech pathologist, psychologist and social worker.
Occupational therapists held about 108,800 jobs in 2010. Jobs are generally full-time, but a significant number worked in part-time positions.
Most occupational therapists worked in hospitals or in the offices of other health professionals. Many worked in nursing care facilities and schools.
OTs spend a significant amount of their workday standing. They often have to lift patients and heavy equipment.
One must earn a master's degree or a more advanced degree in occupational therapy to work as an occupational therapist. Biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, liberal arts and anatomy are all appropriate college majors for those who ultimately want to earn a master's degree in occupational therapy.
In the United States occupational therapists must be licensed in order to practice. To obtain a license, applicants must graduate from an accredited educational program and pass a national certification examination that is administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.
Certain personal qualities contribute to one's success in this field. An occupational therapist needs good communication skills in order to relay instructions to their patients. He or she must also be a good listener. Strong interpersonal skills will help him or her establish relationships with clients that are based on trust and respect. An OT must also have good writing skills since he or she often shares information with other members of a patient's healthcare team.
Employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations through 2020. As a matter of fact, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics places it near the top of a list of the fastest growing occupations that require a master's degree.
In 2011 occupational therapists earned a median annual salary of $73,820 and median hourly earnings of $35.49.
A Day in an Occupational Therapist's Life:
On a typical day an occupational therapist will:
- assist clients in performing activities of all types
- use physical exercises to help patients increase strength and dexterity
- use activities to help patients improve visual acuity and the ability to discern patterns
- use computer programs to help clients improve decision-making, abstract-reasoning, problem-solving, memory, sequencing, coordination and perceptual skills
- design or make special equipment needed at home or at work
- develop computer-aided adaptive equipment and teach clients with severe limitations how to use that equipment in order to communicate better and control various aspects of their environment
Occupational therapists may work with particular populations, for example children or the elderly, or they may work in specialized settings including mental health.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Occupational Therapists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm (visited December 17, 2012).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Occupational Therapists, on the Internet at http://online.onetcenter.org/link/details/29-1122.00 (visited October 17, 2012).