As an occupational therapist, you can make a difference in the lives of your patients as you help increase their mobility, reduce pain and help them develop a day-to-day plan to achieve independence both at work and at home.
Overview of Occupational Therapist Training
Join a growing industry by training to become an occupational therapist. These specialized workers are valued by the patients they help. The job is often collaborative, with occupational therapists partnering with patients, employers and doctors to find the best course of treatment and therapy.
From teaching physical exercises to performing on-site evaluations, the daily duties of an occupational therapist are as varied as they are challenging. A day in the life of an occupational therapist might include the following tasks:
- Help a patient with a spinal cord disorder adapt to a new wheelchair
- Evaluate the work space of a patient who has acquired a physically disabling condition
- Teach exercises to a patient who must re-learn how to use his or her hand
- Assist seniors with daily activities such as dressing, bathing or home chores
Working as an occupational therapist means earning a salary that rewards your knowledge and skill. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that occupational therapists earned mean annual wages of $70,680 in 2009.
The environment where you choose to practice can have a large effect on your salary. The BLS notes that occupational therapists who worked for home health care services earned more than average, with mean annual wages of $81,360 in 2009. That same year, therapists working in elementary and secondary schools earned less, at $63,190.
About a third of occupational therapists work part-time and it's not uncommon for therapists to work in multiple doctor's offices or clinics. With the proper occupational therapist training, this rewarding career offers high potential job growth and a healthy salary.
Occupational Therapist Training: Degrees and Coursework
A master's degree is considered the minimum educational requirement for entry-level positions in occupational therapy. Some schools offer combined bachelor's and master's degree programs designed to help streamline the process of pursuing an education in the field.
Coursework in an occupational therapist training program includes biology, physics and behavioral sciences along with specialized classes for occupational therapy. Take a look at a few typical coursework programs you'll find in an occupational therapist training program:
- Adaptive Activities
- Health Occupations Seminar
- Health and Disease
- Adaptive Living Skills
In addition to completing basic coursework, accredited occupational therapist training requires students to complete at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork. This hands-on training gives you a chance to work in the field and explore areas in which you would like to specialize, all while earning credits for school.
Because occupational therapists must be licensed in all states, attending an accredited college or university is important to your future career. In addition to graduating from an accredited school, aspiring occupational therapists must pass a national certifying exam.
Occupational Therapist Career Outlook
Job opportunities for occupational therapists are expected to be good in the coming years, particularly for those who wish to treat older patients. A growing elderly population is behind some of the expected job increases. Additionally, more patients may need extensive occupational therapy as life spans increase due to advanced medical equipment.
The BLS reports that about 26,800 new jobs for occupational therapists are projected to enter the industry between 2008 and 2018, for an overall growth of 26 percent. In addition to therapists with an interest in treating the elderly, occupational therapists with an interest in emerging specialties like the following should also have the best job opportunities:
- Driver rehabilitation
- Training for the elderly
- Ergonomic consulting
As with any health care occupation, keeping abreast of current research and continuing your education can help you stay competitive. Join a professional organization like the American Occupational Therapy Association to keep up with the changing face of occupational therapy.
Resources for Occupational Therapists