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Getting Started in Occupational Therapy Career

Occupational Therapist

An occupational therapist is a health-care professional responsible for a patient's rehabilitation into his or her living and working environment. Like physical therapists, they help patients to manipulate their bodies, prosthetics, and even medical technology in a way that promotes healing and mobility.

However, occupational therapists are mostly concerned with helping patients to cope with their illnesses and injuries to continue life at home as well as possible. The goal is typically self-sufficiency or reduced dependence on the health-care system.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?

The daily role of an occupational therapist varies depending on the place of employment and any specialties. For example, some occupational therapists work primarily with the technology used to navigate various illnesses, while others might deal in physical exercises and promoting daily care activities like eating, dressing, and living at home with a wheelchair or other adaptive equipment.

Other areas of occupational therapy skills development include helping patients deal with memory loss or in regaining brain and motor function following an accident or stroke. Some occupational therapists work solely with children either at school or in a hospital setting, and others work primarily within the mental health-care setting.

Most occupational therapists work in hospitals or in clinics that specialize in rehabilitation services. Many of these types of clinics provide in-home care or require the evaluation of the patient's current living space, which may require professionals to work in a variety of different homes. The work can be strenuous (particularly when dealing with physical manipulation and moving or lifting heavy machinery), and often requires great mobility on behalf of the occupational therapist.

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No matter where the occupational therapist works, almost all of the assigned tasks are complemented by charting, billing, patient advocacy, and working as part of a team with doctors, nurses, and other health-care professionals. A good balance between this type of administrative work and more hands-on patient care is one way many occupational therapists are able to avoid burnout or excess physical or emotional strain.

Occupational Therapist Education and Training

The occupational therapy field is strongly regulated at the state and national level. Individuals must possess at least a Bachelor's Degree from an accredited program; most states have recently increased the requirements to a Master's Degree level of training.

The program attended must be recognized by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, and students must pass a national certifying exam. Once this exam is passed, occupational therapists become nationally licensed as OTR (Occupational Therapist Registered). Additional testing or certification at the state level may also be required. Annual continuing education credits are typically necessary to keep all licensing up-to-date.

Medical schools, major universities, and hospital-affiliated colleges are the primary places students can get occupational therapist training. High test scores and good grades are often needed to get into programs, although experience in the medical field can also help students to gain a competitive edge.

The coursework for becoming an occupational therapist is centered on basic sciences (including anatomy, psychology, biology, behavioral science, and chemistry) as well as 6 months of training in the field. Students typically enter the program at the undergraduate level and continue for 4 to 6 years of training, although some 2-year Master's Degree programs will consider those with an existing Bachelor Degree in a health-related field.

Occupational Therapy Job Trends and Salary

Like physical therapists, occupational therapy providers typically work more regular hours than many other health-care professionals. A typical workweek is Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 hours. Evening and weekend shifts, though rare, are available in some types of settings.

Because many of an occupational therapist's tasks are related to the care and rehabilitation of the elderly, job opportunities are expected to grow along with the aging population. The current trend for occupational therapists is to work in a more supervisory capacity, with much of the client work relegated to occupational therapy assistants and aides.

The average annual salary for an occupational therapists is $70,000 per year, though it can range from $50,000 to $100,000, depending on the type of employment and any specializations. Advancement in the form of supervisory positions or more specialized care can also offer increased salaries and benefits.

Becoming an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapy can be a very rewarding career for professionals who are compassionate and interested in helping others to cope with a variety of ailments. Many of the patients who require occupational therapists are dealing with a life-changing illness or accident, and they need the support of someone who honestly cares about their rehabilitation and is willing to work with them to reach the most positive outcome.

Click here to find an Occupational Therapist school near you.

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