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Career Highlight: Occupational Therapist

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!

Job Duties
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.

Working Conditions
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.

Career Highlight: Applied Behavioral Analyst

Interested in pursuing a career as an applied behavioral analyst? Read on to find out more information about what this job looks like!

Job Duties
As an applied behavioral analyst, your primary patients will be children, especially those with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other neurological and developmental disabilities or disorders. This position often requires conducting an initial interview to assess the child, as well as setting short- and long-term goals with the child and their parents/caregivers and tracking growth and/or behavioral shifts. Tracking may include identifying improvements in addition to conditioning harmful or maladaptive behaviors. Much of the work involves leading applied behavioral analysis therapy sessions, in addition to communicating with parents/caregivers regarding the child’s progress. Applied behavioral analysts often work 1:1, although group work is relatively common, typically through a school or other community organization. Finally, an applied behavioral analyst may additionally provide training — both to ABA interns and lower-level employees who may interact with the child, and to the child’s parents/caregivers.

Where They Work
Applied behavioral analysts often work through organizations dedicated to working with autistic children — for example, the Wisconsin Early Autism Project is a major hub for applied behavioral analysts in Wisconsin — as well as having opportunities to work through schools or even children’s hospitals.

Working Conditions
A general requirement is that as an applied behavioral analyst will be working with children — they will need to be able to work alongside them, and within the typical environments they occupy, including the home, school, etc. This is very varied to each child’s needs, but typically requires a great degree of movement that would not be found at a typical desk job — for example, you may be expected to spend most of the day transitioning between kneeling, sitting, squatting, standing, even carrying the child. Local travel is often necessary, although the degree to which you will need to travel varies. Many applied behavioral analysts work within a patients home environment, others work from a home-base clinic where the patients come to you. Permanent employment within an organization is likely and many applied behavioral analysts work full or mostly-full time — however, children/families may cycle according to their needs. Additionally, many organizations offer part-time employment in addition to full-time; this most notably includes offers to those still currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree.

Who They Work With
Applied behavioral analysts work primarily with children with ASD and their families and/or caregivers. Most frequently, an applied behavioral analyst will work by themselves with the child, although they may be expected to communicate with other members of a treatment team (the child’s pediatrician, other members of the clinic, etc.). Some applied behavioral analysts additionally work in a group setting, with multiple children.

Education and Training
Education really varies by state, and there are a couple of very similar positions to applied behavioral analyst. For example, an applied behavioral analysis technician (or assistant) typically only requires a high school degree — however these positions are almost always part-time. Typically an applied behavioral analyst either has a degree in a related field (commonly psychology, behavioral analysis, etc.) or is currently in pursuit of that degree — although some positions will prefer a candidate with a master’s (of psychology or behavioral analysis). As applied behavioral analysis as a therapeutic technique is quite specific, most organizations will provide extensive training as the initial job duties after first being hired — this will then transition into the typical job duties described above.

Pay and Job Outlook
As with many therapy positions, pay varies between states. As such, a general range of estimated yearly salary is between $35k per year and $62k per year — with the lower end pulling from more rural areas and the higher end reflecting potions in large cities. Pay is also significantly dependent on education and experience on the job — applied behavioral analysts will typically experience a peak in their salary after about 5 years of experience. Additionally, demand for applied behavioral analysts is very high. Employment growth over the next ten years, as reported by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, is expected to be 18-20%, which is much faster growth than the average across all positions and fields.