Do you want to help people overcome their physical, social and emotional hindrances? Occupational therapy is a field of health care that can help people recover following serious injury or trauma. Continue reading to learn about what's involved in occupational therapy, the career outlook and the academic requirements.
According the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA), occupational therapists help patients improve their ability to accomplish everyday activities at home, work and school (www.aota.org). They help patients improve cognitive and problem solving skills, coordination and memory . Occupational therapy assistants help clients follow a treatment plan developed by occupational therapists. As an occupational therapist or an occupational therapy assistant, you may help children overcome physical, emotional or learning disabilities, so they can perform better in school and interact with others. You could also help people recover after an injury, such as a broken bone or a stroke.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), occupational therapists must have strong interpersonal skills and creativity (www.bls.gov). Patience, listening and teamwork skills are important for occupational therapy assistants. Physical strength is also useful, since you may have to lift or turn patients, which can take a toll on your back, knees and legs. According to the BLS, some occupational therapists may work at more than one location, and about 31% worked part-time.
The BLS reported that in 2010 about 27,720 people worked as occupational therapy assistants, 7,180 worked as occupational therapy aides and 100,300 worked as occupational therapists. The BLS projected that, between 2008 and 2018, the employment of occupational therapists would increase by 26%, which is much faster than the average growth for all occupations. The BLS projected that employment of occupational therapy assistants would increase by 30% and that it would increase by 31% for aides. One reason for the increase in employment is a growing elderly population that will need therapy following injuries such as falls and illness.
According to the BLS, the median annual salary for occupational therapists was $72,320 as of May 2010. For occupational therapy aides the median annual salary as of May 2010 was $27,430, and it was $51,010 for occupational therapy assistants. Occupational therapists and their assistants may work in hospitals, nursing care facilities, doctor's offices, community care facilities and other health care centers.
You must have at least an associate's degree to earn your license to become an occupational therapy assistant. Through entry-level associate's degree courses, you'll study human anatomy, therapeutic methods, the theory behind physical rehabilitation and possible physical problems that could require therapy. You'll have the opportunity to engage in fieldwork and complete clinical experiences. You'll also be prepared to pass the national certifying exam to earn voluntary certification from AOTA or the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).
To become an occupational therapist, a bachelor's degree is a good place to start. However, according to the BLS, you'll need to have at least a master's degree to practice. Some schools offer combination bachelor's and master's degree programs; doctoral degree programs are also available. You'll need to pass a licensure exam offered by your state to work as an occupational therapist and you can earn voluntary certification from AOTA or NBCOT.
Through bachelor's degree programs or combination bachelor's and master's degree programs, you'll study human anatomy and physiology, neurology and research methods, learn about the responsibilities of occupational therapists and discover how mental disorders can affect someone's life. You'll also gain practical experience applying your therapy skills in real-world situations. At the master's degree level, you may explore industry trends, conduct research in occupational therapy and develop professional skills. Through most doctoral degree programs in occupational therapy, you'll learn about therapeutic practices, conduct research and take courses such as measurement theory, grant writing and biostatistics. The program concludes with the completion of a doctoral dissertation.