Occupational therapists (OTs) work with people who have mental, physical, developmental, or emotional disabilities. They strive to help these people live independent, productive, and satisfying lives. They assist them in developing or improving their ability to perform daily living and work skills. They help some patients recover their motor functions or reasoning abilities, and they help others deal with the permanent loss of these functions and abilities. OTs help clients perform a wide range of tasks, from operating a personal computer to basics such as eating, cooking, and dressing. They utilize computer programs to better assist clients in regaining decision-making, abstract-reasoning, problem-solving, and perceptual skills.
Occupational therapists assist people who have permanent disabilities, including spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy, or muscular dystrophy. They help them use equipment such as wheelchairs, splints, and aids for eating and dressing. They may also design specialized equipment for work or home. Other occupational therapists specialize in working with people whose ability to work has been impaired. They arrange employment, evaluate work environments, plan work activities, and assess the client’s progress. They often work with the employer to make sure that the worker’s needs are met.
Occupational therapists need to be imaginative in creating activities to suit the needs of various individuals with disabilities. They should also have a high degree of patience, as well as well-developed interpersonal skills. They must be able to inspire trust in their clients.
In 2002, occupational therapists earned a median annual salary of $51,990. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $35,130, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $74,390. The following shows the median annual salaries for the industries employing the highest numbers of occupational therapists:
- Offices of other health practitioners — $53,660
- Nursing care facilities — $53,930
- General medical and surgical hospitals — $53,210
- Elementary and secondary schools — $45,740
Training and Education
The minimum educational requirement for entry into the field of occupational therapy is a bachelor’s degree. Starting in 2007, a master’s degree will become the new minimum requirement. Occupational therapists must obtain the designation “Occupational Therapist Registered” (OTR) by graduating from an accredited program and passing a national examination. 38 schools offered bachelor’s degree programs, 3 offered post-baccalaureate certificate programs for students with a degree other than occupational therapy. 48 programs offered a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree, and 5 offered an entry-level doctoral degree. Coursework in occupational therapy programs includes physical, biological, and behavioral sciences and the application of occupational theory and skills. 6 months of supervised fieldwork is required for graduation.
In 2002, occupational therapists held about 82,000 jobs. 10% held more than one job, and the highest number of jobs were found in hospitals.
Between 2002 and 2012, employment of occupational therapists is expected to increase faster than the average. This will be due to the growing population, a bi-product of which is steady growth of individuals with disabilities. The aging baby-boomer generation will also increase demand for occupational therapists.
For more information on becoming a occupational therapist, please see our directory of schools offering Medical Training