Occupational Therapy as a Career

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As an occupational therapist, you are trained to provide treatment and services that help individuals of all ages — infants to elderly — regain, develop, or master everyday skills so they may live independent, productive, and satisfying lives. You'll assess your clients' physical and mental challenges and develop a plan to address the activities of daily living that suit them best, focusing first on critical daily routines such as dressing, grooming, bathing, and eating. Client plans then may be expanded to include education, caring for a home and family, or finding and holding a job.

Your education as an occupational therapist typically includes a bachelor's degree in fields such as biology, kinesiology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, liberal arts, or anatomy. All of those subjects, in addition to strong communication skills, a desire to help others, and actual experience working with people with disabilities, are valuable to the performance of your future profession. Fieldwork assignments provide the opportunity to put your classroom instruction into practice and learn the expectations of the profession under the guidance and model of an experienced practitioner. Your entry-level professional study prepares you to be a generalist first; you may decide to specialize at any time during your career.

Occupational therapists work in a variety of settings, including public schools, hospitals, skilled nursing facilities, mental health centers, nursing homes, long-term care and psychiatric facilities, physician offices, outpatient rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, community health programs, and private practice. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for occupational therapists to increase at a faster than average rate of 24 percent through 2026. 

The president of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) was cited by Monster.com describing "six hot OT practice areas," including:

  • Support for 'aging in place,' including assisted living, home safety, and home modification
  • Driver assessments and training programs, including low-vision rehabilitation
  • Community health and wellness, such as Alzheimer's disease, caregiver training, disease management, and life skills training
  • Addressing the needs of children and youth
  • Ergonomics, design, and accessibility consulting
  • Technology and assistive-device development and consulting

If you want to be the type of healthcare professional who sees a whole person rather than a symptom or illness; someone who gets to know your patients as people and wants to be involved in your community; someone who is compassionate, has a healing touch, and communicates well; and someone who enjoys knowing a diverse range of people from different backgrounds, a career in occupational therapy may be just right for you.

Sources: American Occupational Therapy Association; http://ExploreHealthCareers.orgUS News & World Report, August 17, 2008; OT Practice, January 2005

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