April is Occupational Therapy Month and we thought it would be a great opportunity to turn the spotlight on the important role these professionals play in patient care. Jennifer Ferguson, OTR, and Jill Linder, MHS, OTR, were kind enough to share a bit about the path to being an occupational therapist (spoiler: it can take you places you might not expect) and why it might be the perfect fit for you.
What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy (OT) aims to help individuals or groups of people participate in activities that are important or necessary to live a healthy, meaningful and balanced life. Clients have a wide variety of different jobs, responsibilities and hobbies that drive their identity as a person in society. OT focuses on helping people who may have a disease, disability or other condition participate in meaningful activities that are relevant to that client’s lifestyle, safety and overall well-being.
What settings and populations does an occupational therapist work with?
An occupational therapist can work in a variety of settings, with people of all ages and backgrounds. You might see us in a hospital, an outpatient clinic or a school. OT has even expanded into the military, prisons and circuses. A career as an occupational therapist can literally take you anywhere!
How do I become an occupational therapist or an occupational therapy assistant?
Currently, the entry-level requirement for an occupational therapist is a two-year master’s degree following the completion of a bachelor’s degree. Another option is to become an occupational therapy assistant (OTA). OTA programs are currently offered as a two-year associate’s or four-year bachelor’s degree. The American Occupational Therapy Association recently announced plans to convert the current entry-level requirement for an occupational therapist from a two-year master’s degree to a three-year doctoral degree. There are many avenues to become an occupational therapist. Please visit https://www.aota.org/Education-Careers.aspx if you are interested!
What does a day as an occupational therapist look like?
An occupational therapist’s day will vary greatly between each setting. Typically, when an occupational therapist first meets a client, they will evaluate the client’s function during everyday tasks, such as toileting, bathing, cooking, and other daily self-care practices. From there, the occupational therapist will explore the client’s interests and evaluate performance in tasks that are meaningful to the client. The occupational therapist will then work with the client to create goals that are catered to their unique needs and interests.
For example, a client who had a stroke wants to return to playing guitar, the occupational therapist will write goals to help improve the skills needed to successfully play guitar. We also may look at ways to adapt equipment, such as the guitar or picks, or playing method to achieve the goal. Overall, the occupational therapist helps the client do the activities that they need or want to do and strive to increase independence!