Pros and Cons of Being an Occupational Therapist

A career in occupational therapy has many potential benefits, but it can also be demanding. Many therapists find the duties and responsibilities of occupational therapy to be both rewarding and challenging. The client-centered nature of this job can be both intrinsically enriching, as you are in a position to provide care and help to patients, but it can also lead to physical and emotional stress. If you are considering becoming an occupational therapist, it can be helpful to know the pros and cons of the industry and field.

Benefits of Being an Occupational Therapist

If you have the essential traits to become a successful occupational therapist and are looking for an economically sound career, occupational therapy could be a good choice for you.

Employment and Economic Opportunity

Healthcare occupations and the healthcare industry are projected to grow by 14% from 2018 to 2028, with the addition of nearly 1.9 million new jobs due to an aging population and a greater demand for healthcare services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational therapy job outlook projects employment of occupational therapists to grow 18% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations.

The growing demand of the industry makes the cost and duration of occupational therapy courses more manageable, as students may have better access to jobs upon graduation. Additionally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that occupational therapists make a median of $84,950 per annum and $40.84 per hour, making the career a lucrative choice with plenty of job opportunities. Many occupational therapists also have the opportunity to work full or part-time, providing valuable flexibility to their work and home life balance.

Plenty of Areas for Specialization

There are numerous areas of practice, expertise, specialty, and certifications that occupational therapists can choose to pursue in their careers. The diversity of types and specializations of occupational therapy may include:

  • Orthopedics and injuries;
  • Geriatrics;
  • Neurology;
  • Psychiatry;
  • Critical care;
  • Pediatrics;
  • Cardio-Respiratory;
  • Ergonomics;
  • Driving and mobility rehabilitation;
  • Hand therapy;
  • Vision therapy;
  • Feeding, eating, and swallowing;
  • Physical rehabilitation;
  • Environmental modification;
  • School system specialties.

There are also traveling occupational therapists who enjoy the ability to gain new experiences, expand their network, and work in a variety of settings independently, or with a placement service.

Working With People

Occupational therapists work with patients through rehabilitation and therapy to help their clients perform daily or physical activities, and work to improve the quality of life of their patients. Working closely, being a part of, and witnessing the growth and progress of patients can be deeply enriching on a personal level.

Work in a Variety of Settings

Occupational therapists can work in a variety of settings including:

  • Hospitals;
  • Physician offices;
  • Long-term or skilled nursing facilities;
  • Schools;
  • Home health settings;
  • Rehab centers;
  • Freestanding outpatient clinics;
  • Nursing homes;
  • Mental health facilities.

With the opportunity for job growth, certification, and specialization, an occupational therapist can enjoy a dynamic career in a variety of settings.

Job Satisfaction

A survey study on job satisfaction in occupational therapy settings found that roughly 94% of school-based occupational therapists and 67% of non-school therapists reported a rating of good or better for their overall job satisfaction. The sources of job satisfaction were primarily from client interactions, but also included interpersonal relationships with coworkers, as well as benefits associated with the career.

Disadvantages of Being an Occupational Therapist

Though occupational therapy is a rewarding career, there are also challenges associated with the industry that you will have to overcome to be successful.

Extensive Study Required

To become an occupational therapist, you will at least earn a master’s degree which may require prerequisite courses. You will need to choose your OT school wisely. It must be accredited from the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) for you to be able to sit for the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) exam, that is required for the state-level licensure.

Pursuing a master’s degree can be an expensive and time-consuming pursuit, but there are many OT scholarships and grants available, as well as online OT courses that can be more flexible and conducive to juggling a work-life-school balance.

Those unwilling or, for the moment, unable to commit to this level of schooling may consider becoming an occupational therapy assistant, or OTA, instead. OTAs are not exactly the same as fully certified OTs, but do work in similar settings and will get to practice many of the same skills. Working as an OTA can be a great springboard for returning to school and becoming an OT. Plus, OTAs can earn a competitive salary and do not need to go to school for as long to become certified.

Risk of Infection

Duties of occupational therapists may include working with bodily functions and fluids of patients. This may include vomiting, toileting, urinating, cleaning wounds, removing dying tissue, and dealing with blood. If you are looking to become an occupational therapist you will need to be prepared to handle these types of situations.

Emotionally Challenging

Though you may get to experience patients at their best, you may also experience patients in bad or misbehaving moods from frustration or pain. It is your responsibility to remain calm, quiet, and empathetic in these moments, which can be emotionally challenging.

You may also work with patients for a long time and see little or no progress in their situation regardless of your efforts. Patients may die due to their illness or condition and it will be out of your control. It can be extremely difficult to see patients in vulnerable conditions, which can lead to stress and depression, especially for those new to the career and industry.

Physically Demanding

Many activities that occupational therapists perform while serving patients can be physically demanding. This may include lifting clients from wheelchairs or beds and providing support during mobility exercises. Occupational therapists learn methods for helping patients overcome physical challenges while avoiding or minimizing the risk of injury. You may also need to stand on your feet for long hours during shifts.

Long Work Hours

Patients may require support during the day and night. If a patient is in critical condition, you may need to be by their side for excessive periods. Since illness does not stop for nights, weekends, or holidays, you may be required to work during these times too.

Though the hours may be long, and the job may be demanding and challenging, many occupational therapists find deep satisfaction in helping others to achieve independence, comfort, and increased quality of life. If you are concerned about the stress or emotional toll of this field, consider some inspiring quotes about occupational therapy to better see the rewards and fulfillment this demanding career can offer.