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Occupational therapist jobs entail helping mentally or physically impaired patients recover a body part’s routine functions, perform everyday tasks, and manage their condition as well as possible.
The field of occupational therapy is especially attractive to those who are interested in helping others deal with the effects of injuries or disabilities. If this applies to you, then you might want to consider a career as an occupational therapist.
This article will help you learn more about this field and give you an idea of what it takes to establish a distinguished career as an occupational therapist. We will also discuss the average salaries, and how easy or difficult it is to find a job in this healthcare sector.
Occupational Therapist Jobs
What Do Occupational Therapists Do?
The occupational therapist job description involves helping impaired patients recover their ability to perform daily living and work-related activities. People in need of occupational therapists’ services have difficulties performing these tasks due to illnesses, injuries, disabilities, or effects of aging, and are looking for ways to overcome their impairment
Those in search of occupational therapist employment should be ready to support these patients as they slowly work their way towards full recovery or towards adapting to a new life after suffering a permanent injury.
Occupational therapists use the daily or occupational activities of a patient to rehabilitate damaged muscles, improve the patient’s range of movement, and otherwise improve their overall ability to go about their lives as comfortably as possible.
Depending on the challenges a patient is facing, occupational therapists can help design various treatment processes. Depending on the setting they are working in and the occupational therapist employers, they usually work as a part of a rehabilitation team that may consist of other related professions such as speech therapists, physical therapists, etc.
Treatment processes recommended by occupational therapists may range from physical exercises to the use of assistive equipment, etc.
Some occupational therapists also work with children with permanent disabilities. They do this by evaluating and modifying classroom or home equipment to accommodate for the kids’ disabilities and allow them to participate actively in school and home activities alongside their peers.
You can also find occupational therapists providing early intervention therapy for infants and toddlers who have or are at risk of having developmental delays.
Occupational Therapist Job Duties
Occupational therapists are charged with the following duties:
- Evaluating a patient’s condition and determining the course of action that can serve as a treatment plan for their problems.
- Reviewing the medical history of patients.
- Identifying specific goals for each patient and the type of activities that can help them reach those goals.
- Those contending for the best occupational therapist placements have to be capable of assisting disabled patients in performing the various tasks meant to help them heal and regain proper body function.
- Visiting and evaluating a patient’s home or workplace to identify potential improvements that can help them live independently.
- Communicating the patient’s condition to their families, employers, and caregivers.
- Recommending specific equipment (e.g. a wheelchair, crutches, eating aids, etc.) to help a patient recover faster.
- Monitoring the recovery process of a patient and making adjustments where necessary.
- Educating caregivers on ways to care for patients.
- Preparing healthcare reports on patient treatment that will be used by healthcare providers and insurance agencies.
Types of Occupational Therapy Jobs
Thanks to their broad job description and a number of different types of conditions and injuries they can assist with, occupational therapists can specialize in any number of fields.
Gerontology is one of the best occupational therapist career opportunities out there. Occupational therapists that specialize in gerontology are trained to care for the elderly as they adapt to life and illnesses that arise due to old age.
It is one of the most widespread occupational therapist job types due to the world’s aging population. Occupational therapists specializing in gerontology can work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, and home care settings.
There are different groups of the elderly that may need the services of an occupational therapist (OT), and they include:
- Those recovering from a stroke
- Those coping with low vision
- Those living with arthritis
- Those recovering from a hip replacement
- Those coping with Alzheimer’s disease
There is no lack of occupational therapist job opportunities for those who want to focus on helping mentally sick patients recover their mental health and wellness and prevent further complications. As an occupational therapist specializing in mental healthcare, you can work in hospital facilities, rehabilitation centers, etc.
Pediatric occupational therapist duties include helping struggling children (for instance, those with one of the five most common types of learning disabilities) successfully perform their daily activities such as learning, socializing, walking, and even playing. As a pediatric occupational therapist, you can work in hospitals, schools, home healthcare, rehabilitation centers, etc.
Occupational therapist job openings in this field are most likely to be interesting to those trained in implementing physical rehabilitation processes in the treatment of patients.
Occupational therapists who specialize in physical rehabilitation may recommend exercise programs meant to help patients recover from knee injuries, broken limbs, or any number of other physical impairments. You can most commonly find these therapists working in rehabilitation centers and hospitals.
Part- or full-time occupational therapist jobs in this field involve creating a workable independent environment for patients. Therapists specializing in this field are trained to change or modify the patient’s environment (which may include work, home, school, etc.) to aid their recovery process.
They also try to assess the environmental needs of a patient and are charged with the responsibility of putting strategies, gadgets, and other assistive technologies in place that can help a patient independently carry out their daily tasks.
Feeding, Eating, and Swallowing
This highly specialized occupational therapist job attracts people interested in treating patients with eating, feeding, and swallowing disorders. These therapists design the daily practices and activities meant to help patients with the related disorders regain their natural capacity to eat, feed, and swallow safely without pain or discomfort.
As such, those interested in specializing in this kind of occupational therapy jobs have to show they’re capable of effectively using sophisticated equipment, developing feeding patterns, and monitoring the patients during the oral, pharyngeal, and esophageal phases of feeding in order to be able to promptly react to potential issues.
The services of these therapists can be required in hospitals, outpatient rehabilitation centers, skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, schools, and in-home healthcare settings.
Low Vision Therapists
This category of occupational therapists is trained to care for patients with eye conditions or injuries. They often work together with optometrists, ophthalmologists, and other vision rehabilitation professionals in helping their patients enhance their damaged sight.
You will mostly find low vision occupational therapy jobs in homecare settings.
As an occupational therapist, you will find yourself working mostly with temporarily or permanently disabled patients who will occasionally need your help to carry out the tasks that you have set out for them.
Occupational therapists spend a lot of time on their feet and they often have multiple employers at a time, so you might find yourself constantly on the road, going from one place of employment to another.
According to a 2019 report on occupational therapist employment statistics, in the US alone, they accounted for 143,300 jobs, with the largest employers being:
- Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities): 8%
- Home healthcare services: 9%
- Elementary and secondary schools (state, private, and local): 12%
- Offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists, and audiologists: 26%
- Hospitals (state, private, and local): 26%
Injuries and Illnesses
Occupational therapists often suffer from low back pain and musculoskeletal problems. This is typically the result of having to move and lift patients or heavy equipment.
Fatigue is also a common issue amongst occupational therapists due to working long and irregular hours that involve a lot of standing.
Most occupational therapist job vacancies are on a full-time basis. However, depending on the needs of a patient, your schedule could change from time to time, as you would have to be available in emergencies. You might also have to work on weekends and holidays occasionally.
How to Become an Occupational Therapist
If you are considering a career as an occupational therapist, it is important you understand that you will be required to have at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy, while some will decide to go a step further and earn a doctorate. However, you have to be licensed before you are allowed to treat patients of your own.
Aside from being disciplined and studious enough to earn a degree and a license, those hoping to qualify for the best occupational therapist jobs also need the following qualities:
- Communication skills: The ability to listen and communicate effectively is a must-have for occupational therapists, as explaining the patient’s situation to family members, caregivers, and even the patients themselves is a large part of their job.
- Compassion: Having compassion for your patients is an important quality to possess for anyone considering occupational therapist or occupational therapist assistant jobs. Compassion is what ensures that you can connect with your patients on an emotional level. It is how you let them know that you feel their pain due to their current condition.
- Flexibility: Occupational therapists need to be capable of designing treatment plans according to each patient’s condition and health status. Being flexible also often refers to occupational therapists being prepared to work odd hours or on holidays.
- Interpersonal skills: It’s practically impossible to find occupational therapist jobs that don’t involve a lot of talking with the patients, which is why interpersonal skills are essential in helping them earn the patients’ trust and respect.
- Patience: Even though it’s highly rewarding, helping people with injuries, illnesses, and disabilities comes with a heavy emotional toll. Occupational therapists need to be able to stay collected and calm in stressful situations if they are to provide quality care to the people they serve.
Education requirements for occupational therapist jobs entail that one would need to first acquire a bachelor’s degree in either biology, psychology, liberal art, anthropology, sociology, or anatomy.
Then you would need to complete a master’s degree program in occupational therapy from any institution accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). Some won’t stop there and may instead choose to spend more time studying and earn a doctorate, opening themselves up to a much wider range of potential occupational therapist job advancements later on.
Studying for an undergraduate occupational therapy degree usually takes anywhere between three to four years. Getting a master’s degree in occupational therapy, on the other hand, takes between two to three years; whereas people typically need three and a half years for a doctorate. However, some institutions are offering combined bachelor’s and master’s courses that can be completed in 5 years.
It’s important to note that you’ll also need at least six months of compulsory field experience. This ensures the available occupational therapist jobs will go to those who have had a chance to gain the necessary clinical work experience under a more experienced occupational therapist.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Aspiring occupational therapists who wish to treat patients of their own must first obtain all the necessary educational certificates and the required field experience. After this, you would need to pass the compulsory exam set by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) before you can be issued a medical license.
For those looking to advance their skills and work amongst some of the best occupational therapy practitioners worldwide, there is also the option of enrolling for board certification in any subspecialties of occupational therapy (e.g., pediatrics, low vision, or mental health therapists).
Occupational therapist career advancement opportunities might include administrative roles in hospitals and rehabilitation centers where they can work as senior occupational therapists or regional rehabilitation directors.
Like with every other career out there, the average occupational therapist job salary will depend largely on factors such as location, experience, level of education, employer, etc. As of May 2019, the median annual occupational therapist salary was $84,950. While the lowest-earning 10% earned below $56,800, the top 10% earned more than $121,490.
A further breakdown of the salary range of an occupational therapist is delineated below:
- Nursing care facilities (skilled nursing facilities): $90,830
- Home healthcare services: $89,220
- Offices of physical, occupational, and speech therapists, and audiologists: $87,190
- Hospitals (state, local, and private): $85,510
- Elementary and secondary schools (state, local, and private): $74,670
The job outlook for occupational therapists shows that, because of the world’s aging population and the rampant diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s) and illnesses (e.g. diabetes) that can result in different types of disabilities, there will always be a need for skilled therapists.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of available jobs for occupational therapists is expected to grow by 16% between 2019 and 2029. If you are only interested in pursuing the best occupational therapist job vacancies, the report also shows that occupational therapists with more certifications will have better job opportunities open to them in the field.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics report on occupational therapist job prospects also shows that occupational therapists who specialize in a particular area of expertise will have better chances of landing a job than their non-specialized colleagues.
What jobs can an occupational therapist do?
Occupational therapists help physically or mentally disabled patients recover their ability to perform daily activities. They specialize in a range of fields, including but not limited to gerontology, mental health, pediatrics, etc.
How much does an occupational therapist get paid?
The average annual salary of occupational therapists as of May 2019 was $84,950. While the lowest-earning 10% earned below $56,800 that year, the top 10% earned more than $121,490. However, occupational therapist pay will depend on several factors like education, experience, location, etc.
Is the occupational therapist a good career?
According to the US BLS, during the next decade, the number of job opportunities for occupational therapists could grow at a much faster pace than the employment rate for most of the other professions. As such, aspiring occupational therapists can rest assured that this field is an excellent career choice.
Those hoping to do well in occupational therapist jobs need an in-depth understanding of the effects of mental and physical impairment and of ways to help people suffering from a temporary or a permanent disability.
This includes everything from recommending exercises that will help a patient recover the functionality of an injured limb, to designing environments that allow disabled patients as much independence and comfort as possible. While the emotional strain that comes with this kind of work is by no means negligible, being able to offer support and relief to people when they need it the most is extremely rewarding.