Education and Training: Master's degree
Salary: Median—$54,660 per year
Employment Outlook: Excellent
Definition and Nature of the Work
Occupational therapists (OTs) help people who have physical, mental, or emotional impairments improve their ability to perform routine tasks at both home and work. They help patients improve their basic motor functions and reasoning abilities or compensate for permanent loss of function. Their goal is to help patients live independently.
Some patients need exercises that will increase their physical strength, dexterity, visual perception, and ability to distinguish patterns. Others need to relearn basic daily functions: dressing, cooking, eating, and using computers. Patients who have permanent disabilities, such as spinal cord injuries, need training in the use of wheelchairs and aids for eating and dressing. In some cases, OTs may make special equipment that patients need at home or at work.
Most occupational therapists work in hospitals. Government and private agencies, rehabilitation centers, clinics, and nursing homes all hire OTs, often as consultants. In schools, OTs help young patients participate as fully as possible in school programs and activities. In mental health facilities, they may choose activities that help patients learn to engage in and cope with daily life.
Education and Training Requirements
Bachelor's degrees in occupational therapy, which have long been acceptable education for entry into the field, are no longer sufficient. As of 2007, OTs must have at least master's degrees from accredited programs. In addition, they must be licensed by passing certification exams. OTs who work in schools or with very young children may need other credentials depending on the state.
Getting the Job
Job seekers can apply directly to hospitals and clinics. School placement offices, professional associations and journals, newspaper classified ads, and job banks on the Internet are other sources of employment leads.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Therapists who work in hospitals or clinics can be promoted to senior therapists and directors of occupational therapy programs after many years of experience. They can also become teachers and consultants.
The employment of occupational therapists is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2014. New medical technology is saving more lives, increasing life expectancy, and spurring demand for rehabilitative care. As the baby-boom generation gets older, demand for cardiac rehabilitation programs may increase as well.
Most occupational therapists work forty-hour weeks. Evening and weekend hours may be required. Part-time jobs are also available.
Occupational therapists should be warm and creative people, for they work closely with patients and other health-care workers. They must be able to use their own initiative in planning and carrying out programs.
Where to Go for More Information
The American Occupational Therapy Association
4720 Montgomery La.
PO Box 31220
Bethesda, MD 20824-1220
National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy
800 S. Frederick Ave., Ste. 200
Gaithersburg, MD 20877-4150
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries vary depending on education and experience. In 2004 the median salary of occupational therapists was $54,660 per year. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.