Occupational therapists job description. Occupational therapists work with patients who have a physical, developmental or mental condition that affects their ability to carry out certain daily functions, and they help clients improve their performance of these day-to-day tasks. Therapists in this field use special treatments to help individuals develop and maintain essential living and working skills. They not only help patients improve their basic motor and cognitive skills, but they also help them compensate for loss of function.
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Other duties of occupational therapists include assessing and evaluating their clients’ performance skills and providing training on the use of assistive equipment. They help patients perform many different activities including using a computer, dressing themselves, preparing food and eating. To improve strength and dexterity, physical exercise may also be included in the treatment plan. Cognitive exercises include discerning patterns, developing better memory retention and enhancing hand-eye coordination. Occupational therapists may utilize computer software to assist patients with decision-making, reasoning, problem-solving, coordination and sequencing skills. They help patients who have permanent disabilities with special adaptive equipment, which may include wheelchairs, eating and dressing aids.
Occupational Therapists Job Summary
- To become an occupational therapist, one must hold master’s degree and obtain state licensure.
- Occupational therapists need to have patience, good interpersonal skills, creativity and flexibility to succeed in this field.
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts employment opportunities in this field to be good due to a growing elderly population and new medical advancements.
Work Environment for Occupational Therapists
Many occupational therapists work in rehabilitation centers, hospitals and psychiatric facilities. Other places of employment include schools, home health agencies, nursing facilities, adult daycare centers and vocational service centers.
Therapists who work in larger rehabilitation centers often work in big rooms that contain equipment, machines and other devices. Their work may be tiring, since they spend a lot of time on their feet. Occupational therapists may be exposed to work hazards such as back strain in cases where they have to lift and move equipment and patients.
Those who work full-time generally put in a 40-hour week. Some occupational therapists work part-time and may for multiple employers, which often involves travel to different facilities. Occupational therapists who work in a school might be required to attend meetings and activities both during and after school hours.
Education, Training and Licensing
Individuals seeking employment in this field should obtain a master’s degree in occupational therapy. They must also receive certification from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education by attending an approved academic program and passing a national exam. As of 2009, there were 150 accredited master’s or combined bachelor’s/master’s programs in this field, plus four accredited doctor of occupational health programs. Most colleges and universities offer full-time degree programs; however, an increasing number of schools offer part-time programs. Typical coursework includes biology, behavioral sciences, and occupational therapy theory and techniques. In addition, accredited programs require a minimum of 24 weeks of fieldwork.
High school students can prepare for a career in occupational therapy by taking classes in chemistry, biology, physics, health and social sciences. Admission officers consider volunteer or work experience in healthcare a plus when reviewing applications. Typical undergraduate majors include anatomy and physiology, biology, sociology and psychology.
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State licensure is required to work as an occupational therapist. Individuals who have graduated from an accredited program and passed the certifying exam received the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) designation.
Important qualities for occupational therapists include good interpersonal skills and patience, as clients may not show improvement immediately. Creativity and imagination in finding new ways to adapt activities to each patient are also beneficial skills. Therapists who work in home healthcare should also be flexible and adaptable to working in different settings.
Occupational Therapist Jobs Outlook and Salary Information
Occupational therapists held approximately 97,840 jobs in May 2009, according to research published by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most of these positions were in hospitals, offices of health practitioners, and elementary and secondary schools. Other employers include nursing care facilities and home healthcare services.
The BLS predicts employment in this field to be much faster than average compared to other occupations, especially in the area of elderly care. The demand for occupational therapists will be driven primarily through an increasing elderly population and people with disabilities. Due to the fact that new medical advances allow more people with critical illnesses and injuries to survive, these patients will ultimately need the services of an occupational therapist.
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BLS records for May 2009 indicate that the average annual salary for occupational therapists was $70,680. The middle 50% of professionals in this field earned between $57,230 and $84,150, while the lowest 10% had an annual income of about $45,340. The highest 10% earned approximately $100,430 per year.