Interested in pursuing occupational therapy as a career? Read on to find out more information about what a job as an occupational therapist looks like!
As an occupational therapist, frequently your job will involve evaluating and assisting people with various physical and/or neurological disabilities. For example, you may lead an autistic child in reciprocal play, or demonstrate healthy and/or alleviating exercises for people with chronic health conditions. As a result, your day to day activities will vary, and require a lot of flexibility. Part of this may include evaluating and assisting with updating a person’s home and/or work environment to ensure their health needs are being met. This often includes educating family, caregivers, and employers on how a patient can be best accommodated, providing information such has how to help them through a meltdown or flareup of symptoms, and how to use special equipment when necessary. Finally, occupational therapists work with the patient to develop a treatment plan to help the patient meet their own health goals.
Where They Work
Occupational therapists work in a variety of locations, depending on the patients they see. Many occupational therapists are employed by either hospitals or private healthcare practices. However, some work in educational settings, as schools will sometimes hire occupational therapists to help with child development in special needs circumstances. Retirement facilities will additionally hire occupational therapists to assist their elderly residents get accustomed to life in assisted living. And as may be suggested by the job duties, many occupational therapists additionally visit the homes of their patients to provide better hands on care.
Work hours for occupational therapists are often flexible, suited to their patient’s needs. Most occupational therapists work full time (40 hours a week), and many work only during weekdays, similar to a typical day job. However, many also work nights and/or weekends when needed, in order to accommodate their patients and better recognize their needs. As previously mentioned, most will work in either an office of occupational therapy or hospital as a type of home base — where paperwork and planning commences. However when engaging with their patients, typically occupational therapists will spend a lot of time on their feet. This can include helping a patient get outside for some exercise, generally assisting around the house, etc. Additionally, local travel is often necessary for OTs who may need to visit patients in their homes as well as patients in a hospital or hospice care situation, as many OTs will treat patients in multiple facilities.
Who They Work With
The disabled, chronically ill, neurodivergent, and elderly are the populations typically served by occupational therapists, although exceptions exist. An occupational therapist will have the most interaction with their patients and caregivers, in addition to other occupational therapists. This is especially true if they work out of a private practice or hospital setting, where multiple occupational therapists are employed by the same organization (by contrast, schools will typically only hire one occupational therapist). In a hospital setting, an occupational therapist may expect to work with nurses and doctors as well, when necessary.
Education and Training
Occupational Therapists are required to go through quite a bit of education and training. The first major step is to take the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam in order to get their license to practice. However, most occupational therapists elect (and most states require) to obtain a 2-year associates degree in Occupational Therapy, as these programs prepare you to sit the COTA. After successfully passing the COTA, you can find work as an occupational therapist assistant and gain valuable fieldwork experience. In order to become a full-fledged Occupational Therapist, a masters’ degree in Occupational Therapy is required — although many programs exist that combine bachelor’s and master’s in occupational therapy. Finally, you must take a final exam — the Occupational Therapy Registered (OTR) — and obtain state licensure, whose requirements vary based on location. Then you’ll be able to practice!
Pay and Job Outlook
Pay varies based on state and on where you are on your career journey. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that in 2020, the median pay for an occupational therapist was $86k per year, or $41 per hour. However, occupational therapy assistants make a little less, on a range from around $36k/year to as much as $60k/year — all dependent on geographic location. As can be expected, occupational therapists in the midwestern states and smaller cities/towns make a smaller average than occupational therapists who work in large cities, especially along the coasts. That said, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics expects employment for occupational therapists to grow up to 16% in the next ten years, which is much faster than the average employment growth across all occupations. They suggest that occupational therapy will continue to be vital in treating people with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, autism, or the loss of a limb.