Occupational therapy is a branch of rehabilitation that involves helping patients perform daily tasks that have been made more difficult by physical, emotional, mental or developmental conditions. Occupational therapists (OTs) and occupational therapy assistants help patients recover these abilities and maintain the functions that allow them to survive day to day. Occupational therapy employment can be found mainly in hospitals, although additional settings for this type of work include health practitioner offices, schools and nursing homes.
To work as an OT, one must earn a master’s degree. After completing an occupational therapy program at an accredited occupational therapy school, the candidate must pass a national certification examination. This is a comprehensive test that ensures the candidate has learned all the concepts necessary to work as an occupational therapist. Once the exam is passed, a license is granted, and the OT can seek occupational therapy employment.
In a typical occupational therapy employment setting, the OT will perform a variety of functions to help patients build their lives back after a condition or accident has left them disabled in some way. Daily duties of an OT and an occupational therapy assistant might include assisting patients with strengthening activities, aiding patients with exercise, stimulating the visual senses, using computer programs to help bring back decision-making, problem-solving, memory and perception skills, designing special equipment and developing alternative activities for patients with severe limitations. Occupational therapy employment may deal solely with one demographic of the population, such as the elderly, children or the mentally handicapped. OTs for the elderly will work primarily in nursing homes, while occupational therapy children will often be found in day cares or schools. Working with the mentally handicapped will require spending time in hospitals or health facilities.
Occupational therapy employment is increasing faster than many other professions, even among those in healthcare. Around one-quarter of all OTs work only part-time, and about one in ten therapists have a second job. Occupational therapy work can be tiring, as the therapist is usually on his or her feet for most of the day and is constantly interacting with others. OTs may work in large spaces with loud noises and machinery, and work often involves more than 40 hours a week, depending on the occupational therapy employment setting and conditions. Health hazards, such as strain from lifting heavy equipment, is also a risk.