Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is a fast-growing field of health care that can help people recover from serious injuries or traumas. Continue reading to learn more about occupational therapy, including academic requirements and earnings for occupational therapists, assistants and aides.

Is Occupational Therapy for Me?

Career Overview

According the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA), occupational therapists help patients improve their ability to accomplish everyday activities at home, work and school (www.aota.org). In this position, you could also work with patients who are recovering from an injury or a medical event, such as a broken bone or a stroke. Key responsibilities include developing treatment plans that are designed to improve patients' cognitive and problem solving skills, coordination and memory. You may also implement these treatment plans with the help of an occupational therapy assistant.

As an occupational therapist or assistant, you could also help children overcome their physical, emotional or learning disabilities, so they can perform better in school and interact with others. Occupational therapists and their assistants may work in community or nursing care facilities, doctor's offices, hospitals and other health care centers, mostly on a full-time basis.

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2013, there were approximately 108,410 individuals employed as occupational therapists who earned a median annual salary of $76,940. Between 2012 and 2022, the BLS has predicted a 29%, or much-faster-than-average, growth in jobs for occupational therapists nationwide. As of May 2013, there were roughly 30,450 occupational therapy assistants and 8,710 occupational therapy aides working in the United States who earned median annual wages of $55,270 and $26,350 respectively. Nationwide, the number of job openings for occupational therapy assistants was expected to increase by 43% through 2022; a 36% growth in employment was projected for occupational therapy aides in the same period.

Baby boomers in need of services and an aging population will have a positive impact on job growth. Some employers may show a preference for aides and assistants with prior experience in the field; licensed, specialized therapists may find themselves in demand in acute care and rehabilitation centers (www.bls.gov).

How Can I work in Occupational Therapy?

Information for Occupational Therapy Assistants

You must have at least an associate's degree to become a licensed occupational therapy assistant. Lower-level coursework typically includes the study of human anatomy, therapeutic methods and physical rehabilitation theories; you'll also learn about the physical conditions that may require treatment. Fieldwork and clinical experiences will also be required. Completion of an associate's degree program can help you prepare for the national certifying exam and voluntary certification from the AOTA or National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT).

Information for Occupational Therapists

According to the BLS, you'll need a master's degree in occupational therapy and a passing score on a state exam to work as a licensed therapist. Some schools offer combination bachelor's and master's degree programs; doctoral degree programs are also available. Master's degree programs can also help you acquire a voluntary certification from the AOTA or NBCOT.

Through bachelor's degree programs or combination bachelor's and master's degree programs, you'll study human anatomy and physiology, neurology and research methods. You'll also learn about the responsibilities of occupational therapists and discover how mental disorders can affect someone's life. As an aspiring, therapist, you'll also have the chance to apply your practical skills in real-world situations.

At the master's degree level, you may explore industry trends, conduct research in occupational therapy and develop professional skills. Most doctoral degree programs in occupational therapy include the study of therapeutic practices and provide opportunities for research. You'll also study biostatistics, measurement theory and grant writing, as well as complete an original dissertation in your area of special interest.

Required Skills

According to the BLS, occupational therapists must have strong interpersonal skills and creativity. Patience, listening and teamwork skills are important for occupational therapy assistants. Physical strength is also useful, since you may have to lift or turn patients, which can take a toll on your back, knees and legs (www.bls.gov).

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