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Occupational Therapy Careers, Jobs and Employment Information

Occupational Therapy Career Overview and Description

The primary role held by an occupational therapist is to help people improve their quality of life by helping them gain productivity and independence. They work with patients suffering from developmental, mental, emotional, and physical debilitations. Patients work with occupational therapists to improve reasoning and motor skills and learn how to function with permanent disabilities.

While some patients need assistance learning how to perform daily activities such as eating and dressing, others require help learning how to be successful in a work environment. Computer programs are utilized by occupational therapists to help patients develop better problem-solving, decision-making, coordination, memory, abstract-reasoning, and sequencing skills.

Patients suffering from permanent disabilities including muscular dystrophy, paralysis, and cerebral palsy are taught by therapists to use special equipment, such as wheelchairs, to help improve their independence. Therapists create equipment to aid patients’ individual needs, helping them learn to function in their home and work surroundings. Computer programs and equipment are also frequently used to aid in communication and numerous tasks.

When a person loses the ability to work in their particular work environment, occupational therapists arrange alternate employment or help modify working conditions. Therapists evaluate patient progress and help to devise tasks that patients are capable of completing. By working with the patient and employer, therapists help to provide essential communication and the workplace modification needed for the patient’s success.

Some occupational therapists specialize in particular areas of expertise. While some may work with only school-aged children, others work exclusively with the elderly. Therapists may also work solely with a certain disability such as cerebral palsy or certain spinal cord injuries.

To treat patients with mental disabilities, occupational therapists use activities to teach people how to live and cope in society. They work on skills such as shopping, management, transportation use, budgeting, and housework. Therapists also treat mental disorders including depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and eating disorders.

An occupational therapist is responsible for tracking the progress and activity of patients. These records are used to contact other healthcare workers and doctors, as well as for billing and patient evaluation.

Occupational therapists working in the community, healthcare facilities, and hospitals typically work full-time. Employment in schools may require extra after-school hours to attend meetings and conferences. Over 25% of occupational therapists only worked part-time in 2002.

Occupational therapists working for a home healthcare service spend a large part of their day driving from patient to patient. They also encounter the possibility of injury from moving and lifting heavy machinery and clients. Therapists working in rehabilitation centers spend most of the day on their feet, working in large rooms filled with tools and noisy machinery.

Insurance companies are supporting an increased use of therapist aides and assistants. By having these workers play a greater role in therapy, therapists will increasingly have more supervisor duties. This should also help decrease the high expense of therapy.

In 2002, there were around 82,000 occupational therapists working in the U.S. Most of these jobs were in hospitals, health practitioner offices, nursing care facilities, and in educational institutions. Other therapists were employed by government agencies, doctor’s, community centers, home healthcare services, individual and family services, and outpatient care centers. Private practices are owned by a few occupational therapists. These therapists contract services to schools, healthcare agencies, daycare programs for adults, and nursing care facilities. They also treat patients sent by other doctors or healthcare workers.

Occupational Therapy Training and Job Qualifications

To begin working as an occupational therapist, a bachelor’s degree in the field is required. A graduate degree or higher will become the minimum requirement in 2007. Since occupational therapy is regulated, a license is needed to begin practice. This is obtained by passing an exam to become “Occupational Therapist Registered” and by earning a degree from an accredited program.

In preparation to become an occupational therapist, high school classes in social sciences, physics, biology, health, chemistry, and art are helpful. Experience in the field, either from working or volunteering, is important for acceptance into many college programs. Once accepted in a program, course study includes behavioral, physical, and biological sciences as well as therapy skills and theory. Six months of fieldwork under the supervision of other therapists must also be completed.

Good people skills, imagination, patience, and trust are essential qualities to have if you are interested in occupational therapy. Therapists must be able to motivate and encourage patients. They also need to be able to adapt to different surroundings and to the individual needs of each patient.

Occupational Therapy Job and Employment Opportunities

Employment opportunities are rising for occupational therapists through the year 2012. As the population grows, more people suffer from disabilities and require therapy. Stroke and heart-attack damage is increasing as the baby-boomers enter middle age. The elderly population is also rapidly increasing, as the population continues to grow and people are living longer. These people also have a high rate of suffering from health debilitations, increasing the need for therapy. Advancing technology also helps people survive life-threatening problems. Many of these survivors will need long-term therapy.
Employment in hospitals continues to increase due to therapy needed by many patients. Outpatient rehabilitation programs through hospitals also need occupational therapists on staff. Schools will also provide more jobs for occupational therapists as the population continues to grow and a higher number of students suffer from disabilities.

Historical Earnings Information

In 2002, around $52,000 was the average annual salary for occupational therapists. Salaries ranged from as low as $35,000 to higher than $74,000.