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A perfect career option in the healthcare industry, occupational therapy allows professionals to work directly with patients, helping them make their lives easier. It is a career path that promises a lucrative salary, flexible schedules, and the ability to choose where they work.
While it is somewhat true that OTs have to deal with various setbacks and have to manage tough situations, this career is still very fulfilling, knowing that you get to help people significantly and make a huge difference in their way of life.
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Occupational Therapy as an Excellent Career Option
If your ultimate goal is to have a career in the healthcare industry that is generally less stressful but with high job satisfaction, a career as an occupational therapist might be your perfect choice for these reasons:
Occupational therapists can select their work setting.
Occupational therapists can work in different settings: skilled nursing facilities, pediatric outpatient clinics, therapist offices, adult outpatient clinics, nursing facilities, rehab facilities, and school systems. They also work in homes and workplaces. OTs can totally change their career in just a snap of a hand by simply changing settings.
Occupational therapy is never boring.
Working in the occupational therapy industry means you have the option to select which practice area best fits you. And the best part? You can always make the switch, too!
Certified occupational therapists can work in different OT practice areas, including:
- Children and Youth – OTs work with children who are at risk for developing physical disabilities, improving their cognitive and motor skills and sensory processing to lessen the possibility of developmental delays.
- Productive Aging – Occupational therapists help dementia patients by doing behavioral interventions (treatment plans) and dealing with personality changes that raise concerns for caregivers and patients’ families.
- Mental Health – An OT teaches people with Down Syndrome how to regain their independence through various self-care activities like dressing, eating, and playing.
- Rehabilitation and Disability – OT professionals help people overcome physical challenges. They recommend mobility changes to day-to-day equipment, like securing foot straps on bicycle pedals.
- Work and Industry – Occupational therapists help their coworkers with their work-related lower back pains through therapeutic exercises, on-site interventions, and work reconditioning.
Occupational therapists experience job satisfaction.
In occupational therapy, there are good days and occasional (although overwhelming) bad days. In the end, OTs go home after a long day’s work, knowing that they have significantly made progress in patients’ lives and are helping them put their lives back together.
Occupational therapists are well-paid.
Occupational therapy is one of the most lucrative careers with a steady paycheck. According to the US Labor Statistics Bureau, occupational therapists have a median pay of $93,180 per year, or $44.8 per hour. As for the job outlook, employment of occupational therapists is said to increase by 12% between 2022 and 2023, or about 9,600 job openings each year over the period.
There are challenges, too!
Occupational therapists deal with people from all walks of life with different impairments and disabilities. When the outcomes don’t meet expectations—in the forms of bone healing issues, pre-existing conditions that make patients poor candidates for surgery, scar tissues, or irreparable nerve damage—it can be discouraging and confusing even for the most seasoned occupational therapist.
As an occupational therapist, you need to learn to accept these types of situations. You must remain positive despite the setbacks. After all, how you handle these tough times could change your patient’s outlook and hopefully inspire them to keep going.
Occupational Therapy Job and Industry Outlook
At present, occupational therapy is one of the country’s top healthcare fields, and the demand for OT professionals continues to grow. With various practice areas across different occupational therapy settings, the demand for highly skilled and well-rounded occupational therapists will continue to increase.
US trends show health issues requiring occupational therapy as the treatment plan is continuously on the rise. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention underscores this fact based on the following health-related projections:
- The percentage of Americans with diabetes is critically alarming. Roughly 10% of Americans have diabetes, and about one-third are considered pre-diabetic. Plus, the number of young children diagnosed with diabetes is continuously rising.
- In the US, somebody has a stroke every 40 seconds. Every 3 minutes and 14 seconds, somebody dies of a stroke, according to a new CDC report. That sums up to about 795,000 people each year suffering from a stroke.
- The percentage of diabetics is incredibly alarming. Roughly 10% of the total population in the US are diabetics, and about a third of adults are pre-diabetics. Plus, more and more younger Americans are diagnosed with diabetes, and to this day, the numbers continue to rise.
Who OTs Usually Work With
The issues mentioned above factor into what occupational therapists can help with. These professionals are instrumental in helping children on the autism spectrum address the stress brought about by social situations like going to school.
In obesity and diabetes cases, occupational therapists can help pinpoint the habits that can be changed for a better and healthier lifestyle.
Stroke survivors normally suffer the loss of coordination and skills, and occupational therapists can help them gain back their abilities and even help mitigate the risk of another stroke.
Progressing In Your Career as an Occupational Therapist
Occupational therapists need a graduate degree, a certification, an internship, and a license to work. Some even pursue advanced and specialized certifications. The most fundamental requirements are as follows:
- A master’s degree normally takes up to three years to complete and includes courses in occupational therapy theory, research applications and methods, plus 24 weeks of supervised clinical work.
- Doctoral programs that run three to four years and include clinical courses, seminars, supervised clinical work, and a capstone project. In the US, the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) approves the master’s and doctoral degree programs in Occupational Therapy.
- OTs receive training in post-graduate internships. Some therapists complete on-the-job training to learn about their facility’s procedures, processes, and workflows.
- The NBCOT-National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy governs professional credentials in the occupational therapy field. NBCOT requires would-be occupational therapists to earn a degree from an accredited program and complete the written exam. The NBCOT credential normally requires renewal every three years.
- All states require an occupational therapist to obtain a license. While requirements for licensing will vary from state to state, all candidates are required to pass the NBCOT exam before they can apply for a license.
- The AOTA (American Occupational Therapist Association) advises getting an advanced certification in the areas of mental health, pediatrics, gerontology, and physical rehabilitation.
Basic Skills Expected of Occupational Therapists
- Communication. Because occupational therapists work closely with patients, they should know how to actively listen to patients and speak clearly when giving instructions or offering advice.
- Computer Literacy. To remain on track with patient progress and treatment plans, occupational therapists should have basic computer skills. They should be able to use spreadsheets, word processing, presentation, and industry-specific software.
- Empathy. To help patients deal with their challenges, occupational therapists need to understand what their patients are experiencing.
- Flexibility. Occupational therapists employ a handful of methods and techniques when performing therapies. Because not every patient will respond positively to each kind of treatment, an OT should make adjustments to address the needs of the patient.
- Interpersonal skills. Occupational therapists help patients with their tasks for longer periods and must, therefore, build trust with their patients and caretakers.
- Patience. Therapy patients have limited mobility because of chronic illnesses, serious injuries, or disabilities—and they need a very patient occupational therapist who can handle patient frustrations and disappointments and move forward regardless.
Occupational therapy and ABA therapy both focus on addressing behavioral and developmental issues in individuals. They often work together to develop individualized treatment plans and strategies for children with autism spectrum disorders or other behavioral challenges.
Occupational therapy and speech and language pathology both play a role in helping children with communication difficulties. While speech and language pathology focuses on the production and understanding of speech and language, occupational therapy can address underlying motor and sensory issues that may be affecting a child’s communication skills.
Occupational therapy is often included as a related service in a child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in special education. Occupational therapists work closely with special education teachers to address a child’s sensory, motor, and self-regulation needs in the classroom. They may also collaborate to modify the environment or develop sensory-based strategies to help a child participate in classroom activities.
In addition, occupational therapists can also provide support to students with various disabilities, such as physical disabilities or learning disabilities, to help them participate in academic and daily living tasks. They may also work with the school to modify the environment and recommend adaptive equipment to promote independence and participation.
Overall, occupational therapy works closely with ABA therapy, speech and language pathology, and special education to provide a holistic and comprehensive approach to addressing the educational, behavioral, and communication needs of individuals with disabilities.
Working together, these professionals can provide a well-rounded approach to address a child’s communication needs.