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A Career in Occupational Therapy

Considering or developing occupational therapy as a career? Read on.

 

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OT Career FAQ

How do I go about finding and applying to a university?


You can search worldwide for approved entry level occupational therapy educational programs on the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT)'s website. Some countries may allow programs that are not WFOT approved, but this may this may restrict you working in certain countries or access to further study. [Source: WFOT] The tertiary admissions process is likely to be slightly different between countries, so we recommend that you make contact with the university directly to check their admissions process. It is often recommended that you visit at least one occupational therapy service for job shadowing, prior to university interviews. Universities need to know you have some insight into what the career involves.




What are the entry requirements to the profession?


Depending on your country and university of study, entry level to occupational therapy can be at diploma, bachelor, masters or doctoral level. [Source: WFOT]

To be accepted into an occupational therapy educational program you will need to meet its specific admission requirements and prerequisites.

Once graduated you will likely need to be registered with a health registration board or professional body and will be subject to background checks and annual registration requirements (e.g. continuing professional development).

As an example, in the UK, you will need:

  • a degree or postgraduate qualification in occupational therapy, approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)
  • professional registration with the HCPC
  • to pass enhanced background checks, as you may be working with children and vulnerable adults

To do a degree in occupational therapy, you’ll usually need:

  • 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) including maths and English
  • 2 to 3 A levels, including at least one science subject (biology may be preferred)

To do a postgraduate course in occupational therapy, you will usually need a degree in a related subject and some relevant paid or voluntary work experience.

UCAS has further information on degree courses and entry requirements.

[Source: National Careers Service]




Working environment, hours and salary?


You will usually work standard office hours, Monday to Friday. Some services, such as within community physical health and inpatient mental health, work on a shift basis. This can include working early, late or weekend shifts.

You could work with clients at a variety of places, including:

  • hospitals
  • health centres
  • residential or nursing homes
  • GP surgeries
  • schools
  • prisons
  • in the community
  • at a client's home or workplace

You will need mental and physical stamina, as this is a very practical job.

[Source: National Careers Service]

SALARY

The average salary of an Occupational Therapist varies significantly internationally. Salary rates can also vary between private and and public health services. If you are seeking to become an Occupational Therapist to make a fortune, you are looking at the wrong career. Occupational Therapists generally earn equivalent salaries to other health professionals, such as Nurses and Social Workers. An Occupational Therapist's salary will generally increase with years of service and level of experience.

As an example we have included the current NHS payscale in the UK:

Occupational Therapy Assistant, (Agenda for Change payscale, UK)

Band 3: £18,813 - £20,795

Band 4: £21,089 - £23,761

Occupational Therapist, (Agenda for Change payscale, UK)

Band 5: £24,214 - £30,112 [entry-level and early career]
Band 6: £30,401 - £37,267 [senior or specialist]
Band 7: £37,570 - £43,772 [advanced or managerial]

Band 8a: £44,606 - £50,819 [consultant or programme management]

Band 8b: £52,306 - £60,983 [clinical service manager]

Band 8c: £61,777 - £72,597 [consultant]

Band 8d: £73,936 - £86,687 [consultant or chief financial manager]

Band 9: £89,537 - £103,860 [director]

[Source: Health Careers (October 2019)]




Can I work as an Occupational Therapist in another country?


Yes, if you are a qualified Occupational Therapist you can work in different countries. Every country has slighly different requirements regarding a working visa, professional indemnity insurance, occupational therapy registration and association membership etc. Some countries, such as the United States of America, also require you to pass a certification exam. If you are wanting more information about working overseas, read this useful publication:
Occupational Therapy International Practice Guide 2020 (WFOT)




Why choose occupational therapy as a career?


There are many reasons to choose to become an occupational therapist. Below are a key few:

  • Making a genuine difference to people's everyday lives - meaning, roles, confidence, ability
  • Working with varied demographics - children, teenagers, adults, the elderly; cultural and socio-economic contrasts
  • Working in varied settings - hospitals, schools, the community, charities, prisons; statutory and private services
  • Having the career flexibility to retrain and specialise within other areas of practice

Below is a video from the UK's Royal College of Occupational Therapists. It provides insights into why others chose this career path: In universities across Canada, occupational therapy students have taken part in the 'gOT Spirit Challenge'. This is an annual competition to promote the profession. Watch this lighthearted, fun and lively entry from Queen's University: Source: Queen's University 2016 ( YouTube - Dustin Thatcher)




What makes a successful Occupational Therapist?


Key skills, abilities and knowledge:

  • a warm bedside manner
  • excellent rapport-building
  • excellent communication skills​​​​​​
  • knowledge of psychology
  • sensitivity and understanding
  • the ability to use your initiative
  • to be flexible and open to change
  • knowledge of teaching and the ability to design courses
  • patience and the ability to remain calm in stressful situations
  • ability to design and develop individual treatment programmes
  • ability to form good working relationships with a wide variety of people
  • ability to motivate patients/clients who may be disappointed or frustrated
  • counselling skills, including active listening and a non-judgemental approach
  • to be able to use a computer and the main software packages competently

[Source: National Careers Service] Source: RCOT ( YouTube) Useful articles: Source: icould Career Stories ( YouTube) 13 Essential Characteristics of Occupational Therapists

  1. Exceptional Communication Skills

    While working with the patients, occupational therapists need to listen and explain them the situations and tasks. If they are working with a child patient, they must be capable of converting the complex terms into simpler ones so that the child can understand it. Besides this, they also need to communicate with other team members and doctors. So, it is necessary for them to be clear, efficient, and confident while listening and speaking at the time of such discussions.

  2. Outstanding Personal Skills

    These professionals work with the patients of all age groups undergoing any physical, mental or emotional disability. Also, the basic nature of the patients varies a lot. Some may be very calm while others may be rude, frustrated or impatient. Thus, they must know the way to deal with all of them and help them get the desired results faster.

  3. Problem Solving Abilities

    Problem solving skills play a vital role in the jobs related to occupational therapy. Different clients may have different problems. For the success of the cases, you must make a strategy on how to solve all these distinctive issues effectively, without any major failure.

  4. Physical Strength

    Physical strength is quite a major requisite for the occupational therapists and related job titles. They have to serve the clients throughout the day, travel from one area to another and stand by the side of the patients irrespective of the time and duration. Thus, if you want to be an OT, you must have a great physical strength to manage such a busy and hectic schedule.

  5. Possess a Helpful Nature

    An occupational therapist should be very helpful as this is all that they have to show in their profile. It is one of the most important qualities they must possess otherwise they can’t give their best to the patients. All day long, they should be ready to assist the clients for every type of help they want. From helping them in moving around to guiding them through some money related problems, an occupational therapist has to be the guardian angel to their client.

  6. Organization Skills

    For being a proficient occupational therapist, one must be a good organizer. Along with their own schedule, they also need to manage the client’s timetable. Also, they have to properly maintain all the documented records, appointments, meetings with other team members and professionals, etc. Only an organized occupational therapist can provide a well-planned treatment and high-quality care to the patients, so its a must that s/he must have management skills.

  7. Boast Patience

    It is easier to write “Keep Patience” to a patient’s ward, but it is not so easy to implement the same. Patience is believed to be the most important attribute that one must have to be in this profession. Sometimes, occupational therapists might have to face rude, impatient, frustrated, depressed or stubborn patients. So, they must keep their patience to tread through these everyday situations. Some clients may achieve success in their condition in a few months or weeks while some may take years. So, you just need to keep hold of the case to be an efficient occupational therapist.

  8. Compassion and Empathy

    One should opt occupational therapy as a career only if s/he is empathetic and compassionate. Most of the clients of occupational therapy are not only physically disabled but also, mentally and emotionally sensitive. In that phase of life, they need a genuinely warm-hearted and sympathetic occupational therapist who understands them and treats them accordingly.

  9. Acquire Creativity

    No one can learn to be creative as it is an inherent characteristic of human beings. Being an occupational therapist, many times you have to modify the tasks and schedule of the patients. For example, you can take a desolate kid to have fun at an amusement park, instead of taking him to a general rehabilitation center. Your creative methods can help the clients come out of the dilemma, and it may result into their active participation in the healthcare programs organized by you.

  10. Good Writing Skills

    Akin to communication skills, writing qualities are also quite important to became a highly efficient occupational therapist. It is because you need to keep the detailed files and records of all the clients in order to assist them, their family, and your team. You should state the exact condition of the patients on the papers so that it is easier for you and the medical staff to understand what you are doing and exactly how you are doing it. Keeping the details documented will not only help you and the healthcare staff but also the caretakers when you are not around.

  11. 'Cheerleading' Skills

    Being an occupational therapist, your words must have the power to motivate your patients and ignite the passion in them to make their life normal once again. Motivation is very important for such depressed, frustrated and troubled people. An enthusiastic OT with great cheerleading skills can make the patients do the things that seem impossible.

  12. A Good Observer

    Besides being a good listener, a successful occupational therapist must also be a good observer and analytical. S/he should have the ability to analyze the situation and needs of the patients along with handling their complaints. An OT must observe and evaluate the things and procedures that are suitable for their clients and must act accordingly. For example, if a patient moves abnormally, a good OT would recognize the reason for it and would plan the course of the patient accordingly.

  13. Flexibility

    You never know what kind of client you are going to deal with, as disorders can happen to anyone and they may need your assistance. Thus, being an occupational therapist, you should be flexible enough to work with a wide variety of people. You must have the ability to establish a good inter-relationship bond with them, irrespective of their religion, race or nationality.

[Source: Top Occupational Therapy Schools]