What is an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational TherapistIf you’re looking for an in-demand career in healthcare away from the bedside, then you may want to consider becoming an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy is defined as a client-centered practice that uses therapeutic interventions to develop, recover, and maintain good daily living skills. Occupational therapists are highly trained health professionals who help injured, ill, or permanently disabled clients improve their ability to complete everyday tasks. With the large aging baby boomer population and the increased diagnosis of disabilities like autism, the employment of occupational therapists is expected to skyrocket rapidly by 29 percent over the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The following is a brief job overview to help determine whether you should become one of the 32,800 new occupational therapists needed in America.

What Occupational Therapists Do

Occupational therapists work with clients across the lifespan to make daily life accommodations and create more functional work environments so that they can lead independent lives. First, occupational therapists will evaluate a client’s condition by observing how they complete daily tasks and reviewing their medical history. Occupational therapists will then create a customized treatment plan to assist clients in reaching their individual goals. For instance, some may lead children in play therapy activities, demonstrate physical exercises to relieve chronic pain, or teach clients to use an eating aid. Continually, occupational therapists will assess their client’s progress and collaborate with other healthcare providers for well-rounded treatment. Many also supervise occupational therapy assistants or aides who offer essential support.

Where Occupational Therapists Practice

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are around 113,200 occupational therapists currently working in the United States to make coping with various medical or mental health conditions easier. The highest percentage of occupational therapists are employed in state, local, and private hospitals for helping patients recover from injuries before discharge. Occupational therapists can work in many other settings though, including schools, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, home health services, physician offices, mental health clinics, and their own private practices. The majority of occupational therapists are employed full-time, but their hours can be irregular with evening or weekend appointments to meet their clients’ needs.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist

Working as an occupational therapist will require that you hold at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy and have completed at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork. Master’s programs often take two to three years full-time to develop the practical skills necessary to implement effective therapeutic solutions. It’s best to choose a program accredited through the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) for the best career preparation. All 50 states then require graduates to become registered by passing the national exam granted by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). The field is starting to consider mandating a doctoral degree requirement, so going this extra step may pay off down the road too.

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Overall, occupational therapists play an important role in helping clients improve their ability to perform everyday activities at home, in school, and while working. They assist clients in dealing with the everyday problems of frustrating disabilities to enhance their well-being. Occupational therapy has been recognized by Forbes magazine for being America’s seventh best master’s-level job with a mid-career median salary of $79,200. If you’re compassionate, flexible, patient, and good at working with other people, becoming an occupational therapist may be the perfect fit.