Occupational therapists (OTs) are health care professionals who focus on maximizing people's ability to function in daily life. The term "occupation" refers to anything a client needs or wants to do to function despite injury or illness. OTs work with people who have conditions that are mentally, physically, developmentally, or emotionally disabling.
Occupational therapists use treatments to develop, recover, or maintain the daily living and work skills of their patients. The therapist helps clients to not only improve their basic motor functions and reasoning abilities, but also to compensate for permanent loss of function. The goal is to help clients have independent, productive and satisfying lives.
Occupational therapists may work exclusively with individuals in a particular age group or with a particular disability. In schools, for example, a therapist may work with children individually, lead small groups in the classroom, consult with a teacher, or serve on an administrative committee. Other OTs may work with elderly patients, helping them lead more productive, active and independent lives through a variety of methods.
An occupational therapist must have many important personal qualifications including strong interpersonal skills, creativity, responsibility, compassion, determination and patience. A therapist must also be comfortable touching and treating the human body. For more information, check the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook.
The most competitive applicant is one who has seriously investigated the field, taken the proper prerequisite courses, and given much thought to the reasons for selecting occupational therapy as a career. Criteria used in the selection of applicants for occupational therapy school include GPA, work experience or exposure to the field, letters of recommendation, personal statement, applicable test scores (such as the Graduate Record Exam, or GRE), extracurricular activities, and interview scores. GPA ranges fluctuate with each applicant pool and each school. For more information on occupational therapy as a career, go to The American Occupational Therapy Association Website.
A master's degree is the minimum requirement for entry into this profession. In 2007 there were 124 master's programs, 66 combined bachelor's/master's programs, and 5 entry level doctoral degree programs. Coursework in OT programs includes physical, biological and behavioral sciences, specialized professional subjects, and completion of six months supervised field work. The master's program is a two to three year course of study involving clinical training as well as preparation for teaching, research and administrative work. Master's programs require a bachelor's degree in some field and completion of required prerequisites before entrance into the program. Graduates of all programs take a national certification examination that meets the requirements of states which license occupational therapy practitioners. For more information on OT programs and their requirements, go to the American Occupational Therapy Association's list of schools.
OT's need patience and strong interpersonal skills to inspire trust and respect in their clients. Ingenuity and imagination in adapting activities to individual needs are assets for Occupational Therapy students.
The 2008-2009 Bureau of Labor Statistics states that employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase 23 percent between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the average for all occupations. The increasing elderly population as well as the increasing number of individuals with disabilities or limited function who require therapy services will drive growth in the demand for occupational therapy services. In addition, medical advances now enable more patients with critical problems to survive patients who ultimately may need extensive therapy. Hospitals will continue to employ a large number of occupational therapists to provide therapy services to acutely ill inpatients. Hospitals also will need occupational therapists to staff their outpatient rehabilitation programs. Employment growth in schools will result from the expansion of the school-age population, the extension of services for disabled students, and an increasing prevalence of sensory disorders in children. Therapists will be needed to help children with disabilities prepare to enter special education programs.