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Overview

Occupational therapy is one of the fastest growing fields in the nation. As the baby boom population ages, occupational therapists will be called on to help its members get older gracefully by adapting or creating new ways to do tasks at work or home. You will also be helping infants with disabilities, children with brain injuries, or adults who’ve had accidents or debilitating injuries. In other words, you will be helping people of all ages to live as independently as possible while treating their minds and spirits.

The "occupation" in "occupational therapy" doesn’t always refer to on-the-job work; it also covers daily living tasks in the home or at school. Occupational therapists assess the needs of their patients, then modify or adapt ways for them to succeed at particular tasks. For example, many autistic children have trouble with small-motor skills. An occupational therapist (OT) would help the child hold their pencil properly. Another patient might be an older person with Alzheimer’s, and an OT might work closely with the patient’s spouse or caregiver to find ways to make daily living easier or write a schedule that the patient can follow to lessen his or her confusion.

Degree Information

Some students earn both an undergraduate and master’s degree in one continuing five- to six-year program. If you already have an undergraduate degree in something else and you’re interested in occupational therapy, that’s okay too. Many schools offer two types of master’s degrees in occupational therapy: one, a post-professional master’s for those working in the field; the other, an entry-level master’s program for folks who have an undergraduate degree in something else. It helps a lot if that degree is in a science or technology field, but it is not mandatory. Applicants who lack certain preliminary coursework may be required to take some prerequisite courses before matriculating into the actual program. The entry-level master’s degree will have more clinical fieldwork requirements than the post-professional master’s program, because students will have little, if any, professional experience in a clinical setting.

Other degree options might be an occupational therapy assistant technical degree, a doctorate in occupational therapy, or the imposing-sounding Ph.D. in Occupational Science degree (for those who want to do research or teach).

You must pass clinical internships in order to graduate. Many states require extensive background checks and physical and mental health assessments as well.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Choosing a Degree Program

  • Is this program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education?
  • If you’re already working in the field, does the program offer weekend or evening classes? Can you fit the course of study into your busy schedule?
  • What kind of research opportunities does the program offer?
  • What is the placement rate after graduation?

Career Overview

When your patients are under the age of five, playing will be an important aspect of therapy. Playing catch, bouncing a ball, or twirling a hula hoop are examples of the many, many types of games you’ll use to work on gross motor skills. Maybe you’ll teach an older child to set the table or empty the dishwasher. Working with adults won’t be as playful but will require just as much, if not more, creativity. First, you’ll need a lot of patience, because you’ll probably be teaching skills that adults once had but lost due to illness or injury. You will be helping the muscles to recover or adapt other muscles to do the job, but you’ll also be rehabilitating the spirit. Adults have a much higher degree of frustration and anger, which will be one of your challenges to deal with in a professional, yet compassionate, manner. Again, patience is a must, because it can take months of work for small amounts of progress.

Besides patience, another necessary trait of the occupational therapists is creativity. You’ll adapt or create new ways for patients to accomplish daily tasks. You may be building ramps or find new faucets with extra-long handles for someone with weak hand muscles to operate.

Career/Licensing Requirements

Upon graduation, you will be required to pass a certification exam given by NBCOT, the National Board for Certification in Occupation Therapy. Some states require background checks. In addition, you may be required to pass health exams, possibly including personality/mental health exams. In some states, you may be required to have personal and professional liability insurance before starting a field placement.

Salary Information

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of occupational therapy is experiencing a lot of growth, but this growth is tempered somewhat by rising health care costs. Starting salary range is around $35,000 to $40,000, increasing to around $60,000 after about five years. Approximately ten percent of occupational therapists earn more than $75,000.

Related Links

American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
AOTA is the national professional association for occupational therapists. It includes an online journal for subscribers, a jobline, and more.

AOTA Tips for Living
Useful to the patient and family as well as the therapist, this site is a good overview of an occupational therapist’s responsibilities, providing tips for living to patients of all ages.

National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT)
NBCOT provides information about certification requirements and school programs.

Health Occupations Student Association (HOSA)
HOSA is a student-run organization that offers members the latest news in various healthcare fields. You can chat with other OTs, participate in bulletin-board discussions, access professional journals, or search their career center for job postings.




SAMPLE CURRICULUM

  • Human Functional Anatomy

  • Challenges For Adults And Older Adults

  • Challenges For Infants And Young Children

  • Challenges For Older Children And Adolescents

  • Conceptual Foundations For Occupational Therapy

  • Directed Research

  • Fieldwork/Clinical Internships

  • Human Physiology

  • Motor Aspects Foundations For Occupational Therapy

  • Neuroscience For Occupational Functions

  • Occupational Therapy Management

  • Professional Ethics

  • Sensory/Perceptual Foundations For Occupational Therapy