Exploring an Occupational Therapy Degree and Career

Occupational therapy is basically the treatment to overcome, enhance or maintain the everyday life and work skills of the people suffering from a physical, cognitive, or mental disorder. This therapy emphasizes on adapting to the environment, teaching the skill, educating the client and his/her family, and adjusting the task as per the client’s requirement, to raise the involvement in daily activities that are important to the client. The very first step that will lead you towards a very successful career in this field is opting the best occupational therapy school. A degree from an accredited college or school will open the doors of several jobs for you. Some skills like a creative and adaptable approach towards work, good written and spoken communication skills, patience, determination, positive attitude, strong desire to help people, ability to design and develop individual treatment programs are quite essential for a candidate to become an occupational therapist.

Occupational Therapy Schools
Occupational Therapy Schools

What is Occupational Therapist?

Occupational Therapists are the professionals who assist people with mental, physical or social disabilities so that they can live their lives normally and carry out everyday tasks and occupations easily, satisfactorily and in a fulfilled manner. Their clients can be anyone from children to the adults of all ages who have been suffering from the problem since birth, after an accident, illness, aging or lifestyle. They create individual treatment programs so that they can encourage people to do their routine work more enthusiastically, confidently, and with independence. These therapists examine the treatments periodically, analyze the improvement and even change the treatment, if needed.

Occupational Therapists Assistants

An occupational therapist assistant works under the supervision of an occupational therapist to guide the patients of all ages, to grow and enhance positive skills, rehabilitate after injury, monitoring their chronic conditions and diagnosing their illnesses. Thus, they improve the quality of their day to day life using their skills and abilities.

They work wherever occupational therapists work and thus, experience a variety of potential workplace environments like schools, nursing homes and facilities, private clinics, etc. Occupational therapists assistants and occupational therapists aides are totally different jobs – aides mostly do not help with exercises or treatments.

Assistants work for more than 40 hours in a week which may include weekends, early morning/evening or late night schedules. This job demands physical work like supporting patients’ weight, bending, stooping and lifting, as these professionals assist the patients to perform exercises for the whole day.

Online Occupational Therapy Programs

These days, online occupational therapy programs are becoming popular since they are quite beneficial for the aspirants who don’t have enough time to attend the classroom programs. Likewise classroom programs, online programs also give the extended knowledge and skills to the students. Though, such programs do have disadvantages along with the advantages. So, one must research properly before enrolling in them. Besides this, it is also essential that the program you are planning to join must be an accredited one.

Advantages of Online Occupational Therapy Degree Programs

  • The first and foremost benefit of online programs is that students need not to attend the lectures on a particular time. These classes provide flexibility to the students for taking their classes at their own convenience along with continuing their job.
  • These programs are more economic as compared to traditional on-campus occupational therapy degree programs.

Disadvantages of Online Occupational Therapy Degree Programs

  • One of the disadvantages of online programs is that some out of them might not be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education. If one wants to legally practice as occupational therapist in the United States, then it is essential for him/her to receive the degree from an accredited institute.
  • Second thing is time duration of the program. There is a possibility that an occupational therapy online degree program might take more time as compared to a classroom one. So, before joining the online program, students must know the duration of time it is going to take to complete. This duration may vary from program to program.
  • Hands-on experience is another advantage that online occupational therapy degree programs lack. As online programs mostly take place over the internet, thus you get no opportunity for hands-on experience.

What Do Occupational Therapists Do?

Occupational Therapists are the health professionals who are trained in biological, physical, medical and behavioral sciences like neurology, anatomy, physiology, human development, psychology, orthopedics, etc. There are many kinds of works that occupational therapists do. Some of them are as given below –

1. Working with children

  • Assisting children to get their developmental milestones like motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
  • Educate and make the parents and care takers a part of the children’s normal development and learning.

2. Rehabilitation and elderly care

  • Aiding clients to get back or improve their daily lives after the events like hip replacement or stroke.
  • Evaluating and adjusting clients’ home and community environment to enhance their safety and independence.
  • Educating clients and caretakers about the use of adaptive equipment.

3. Acute Care

  • Specialists provide care in different health conditions like surgery, burns, HIV and acute mental health.
  • Determining clients’ awareness, function and physiological needs.
  • Examining clients’ function and improvement, using adaptive equipment in order to assure safety after discharge from the hospital.

4. Injury Management

  • Using specialized evaluations to find out the functional requirements of many jobs and clients’ abilities to get back to work.
  • Educating clients in safe and secure work practices.
  • Adjusting the work environment to fulfill the needs of individuals in order to prevent or minimize the injuries or illnesses.

5. Mental Health

  • Creating individual or group programs and activities to develop clients’ independence in day to day activities.
  • Enhancing coping strategies for clients to help them recover their mental health problems.
  • Advance clients’ confidence and self-esteem to counter adverse social situations.

How to Become an Occupational Therapist?

Clinical settings where you can find occupational therapists working are schools, hospitals, the military, wellness programs, nursing programs, community agencies, rehabilitation centers, pediatric practice, etc. To start career as an occupational therapist, a master’s degree is essential for entry level, although many students also gain a doctoral degree. With this, students must also clear a certifying exam conducted by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy and be licensed in their state, as every state has its own education requirements for license.

Steps that one must follow to become an occupational therapists are:

  1. Complete coursework in biology or physiology in order to apply.
  2. Complete an accredited occupational therapy program.
  3. Pass the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapists exam.
  4. Apply for license in your state.
  5. Work for an agency, hospital or clinic to gain experience.
  6. You can also do your own private practice.
  7. Fulfill all the requirements to renew your license.

Working Environment of the Occupational Therapists

You can find occupational therapists working in hospitals and community settings. Mostly, they work for 40 hours in a week. Therapists working in schools may involve in other activities during and after the school. They also work in rehabilitation centers. They have to remain on their feet for most of the time and may face back strain due to lifting or moving the clients and equipment. Thus, their job can be very tiring. But, at the same time, this profession instills a feeling of satisfaction as you are making the difference in others’ lives.

Salary and Career Outlook of an Occupational Therapist

As per the reports of the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for occupational therapists are estimated to grow by 24 percent from the year 2016 to 2026. This means there is an awesome future scope for the aspirants who want to become occupational therapists. It is because these days several states need insurance companies to cover autism-related services. For this, more therapists will be required in the schools to help children with autism in enhancing their social skills and supporting them in accomplishing their daily activities.

According to the BLS, the mean annual salary and hourly wages for occupational therapists in May 2017 were $84,640 and $40.69, respectively.

According to payscale.com, the median salary of occupational therapists was around $35.00 per hour (as ofAug. 26, 2018). As per indeed.com, the occupational therapists made about $90,189 per annum (as of August 31, 2018).

Though, it is considered as on of the most stressful jobs in the United States but at the same time, it is also ranked as 14th out of 50 best jobs in America. Therapists who work with the elderly people are expected to have more chances of growth as compared to others. This profession is also among the best 25 paid jobs for college graduates.

NCLEX-PN Examination
Just like occupational therapy degree and courses, NCLEX-PN is an examination held every year for checking the necessary knowledge and licensing of practical nurses in the United States. Before appearing for the exam, you can know about it by giving free NCLEX-PN practice tests and enhance your career.

List of the Schools Offering Occupational Therapist Courses in the U.S.

Though there are numerous accredited schools in the United States that offer the degree in occupational therapy, but here is a list of some famous ones. Check it out!