Are you looking for a dynamic career where you can interact with people of all ages, in all places, and help create meaning in their lives? Consider becoming an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy is an incredibly flexible field, with opportunities to work in settings as diverse as hospitals, schools, homes, and community centers. Regardless of the setting, occupational therapisits can make a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. Are you interested in exploring this exciting career path? Read on to learn more about the field of occupational therapy.
What do occupational therapists do?
Long story short, occupational therapists help clients to participate in areas of their lives as independently as possible, doing the things that they find most meaningful. In practice, this can look many ways. OTs commonly work with clients who have injuries, acute illnesses, mental health and neurological conditions, and those who have recently had surgeries. The goal of the work is to increase a client’s ability to perform a task or tasks which are relevant to their daily lives. Examples of tasks are trips to the grocery store, socializing with friends, completing school work, engaging in tasks required by the client’s job, and performing certain physical movements. OTs also frequently participate in redesigning a client’s home or another space, in order to increase their independent use of that space.
Where do they work?
The work environments of occupational therapists are incredibly diverse. Depending on the nature of the task(s) that the OT is helping a client with, OTs may work indoors or outdoors, in hospitals, homes, or out in the community. An OT can often choose their work environment(s) based on the nature of their employment, for whom they work, and their client populations. For example, OTs employed in hospitals would be likely to work indoors in clinic/office settings, whereas OTs working with children would be more likely to spend time in schools and/or outdoors.
Who do they work with?
OTs can be employed by many types of organizations, and can also be self-employed entrepreneurs. This provides a lot of opportunities for growth and tailoring throughout a career: you can work in many settings, with many different kinds of colleagues and patients/clients, and in many types of organizations. It is fairly common for OTs to start out employed by various organizations, and to start their own independent practice later in their career. OTs who work in hospitals would tend to interact with other hospital staff, especially other practitioners seeing the same patients (such as doctors, physical therapists, nurses, etc.) In schools, OTs may collaborate with school staff such as teachers, school counselors, and advisors, as well as with parents.
What is the training required?
Practicing as an occupational therapist requires a license. The most common pathway to licensure is to attend a masters program in occupational therapy, which can take 2-3 years following a bachelor’s degree. A growing number of OT master’s programs are transitioning to OT doctoral programs. Browse a list of programs here and explore the differences between entry-level master’s and doctoral programs.
What is the job outlook?
The median annual salary for occupational therapists in 2020 was $86,280. Employment is expected to grow in the coming years. Occupational therapy is lesser known than some other similar fields, which often means there are jobs available with fewer candidates to fill them.
In the Know: Professional organizations and resources
Want to learn more, find resources, or connect with occupational therapists? It’s never too early familiarize yourself with professional organizations in your field of interest. Organizational websites can have a lot to offer, from program lists, to licensing information, to networks of professionals. Here are a few occupational therapy organizations:
- American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA)
- Wisconsin Occupational Therapy Association (WOTA)
- American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF)
Lawrence Connections: Alumni with occupational therapy backgrounds
These Lawrence alumni have backgrounds in occupational therapy. Feel free to message them on Viking Connect, Lawrence’s alumni platform. Alumni are on Viking Connect by choice (not by requirement), so they are here to connect with students! There is no better way to understand a profession than to speak to professionals in the field.
- Viking Connect Betty Barrett’s Profile (lawrence.edu)
- Viking Connect Rebecca Mezoff’s Profile (lawrence.edu)
Wherever your career path leads you, we’re glad you took the time to learn about this vibrant, flexible, and expanding field!