Occupational therapists help people recover from physical injuries and teach people motor and mobility skills. This can be a rewarding career for dedicated individuals who enjoy working with people, but becoming one can take hard work and time. Learning about what an occupational therapist does and the benefits of becoming one may help you determine if this is a good career path for you. In this article, we list the pros and cons of being an occupational therapist and share some tips for becoming one if this career interests you.
What does an occupational therapist do?
An occupational therapist uses physical therapy and activities to treat patients with injuries or disabilities. They work with children and adults of all ages to develop motor skills and regain mobility or improve functionality while the patient recovers from an injury. The goal of occupational therapy is to help patients live normal lives and perform routine activities by recovering or learning alternative ways to perform tasks. Common job duties for an occupational therapist include:
Evaluating patients and creating a treatment plan
Changing the patient’s home to make accommodations
Informing family and friends on how to help care for the patient during recovery
Training the patient to use assistive equipment
Designing physical activities to help the patient learn or regain skills
Documenting patient progress and developing goals for them to meet
Pros and cons of being an occupational therapist
Here are some pros and cons to consider if you want to become an occupational therapist:
Occupational therapy is a rewarding career that offers significant benefits for those who enjoy helping others. If you’re considering pursuing being an occupational therapist, here are the benefits:
Occupational therapy should continue to help the lives of those recovering from injuries and people living with long-term disabilities, such as muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 17% growth rate for occupational therapists, which is a higher-than-average rate of growth. Professionals can pursue this career with confidence that they may find employment upon completing their degree and earning licensure to practice.
Income and benefits
The national average salary for occupational therapists is $82,547 per year. Depending on factors such as experience, employer and geographical area, you may earn more. If you choose to specialize, you may increase your earnings based on the specialty you choose. Occupational therapists also enjoy benefits such as reimbursement for their license, health insurance, a 401(k) account and paid time off.
You can specialize in occupational therapy by completing extra training, which can make you a more appealing job candidate. There are many specializations in occupational therapy, including:
Driving and mobility specialist
Feeding, swallowing, and eating specialist
By being able to specialize, you can choose who to work with and the types of treatments you want to administer.
Occupational therapists can work in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, clinics and home health organizations. Having the ability to work in different environments with a variety of people can expand your employment opportunities. It can also help you find jobs in your specialization.
Occupational therapists may form many meaningful relationships with patients and colleagues that can enrich their lives and increase job satisfaction. These relationships can make your work very rewarding because patients rely on you and appreciate how you help them regain independence. You can often form long-term connections with patients, helping them learn and grow.
There are some consequences to consider if you’re planning on having a career as an occupational therapist, such as:
Being an occupational therapist requires a bachelor’s degree in biology, kinesiology, health sciences, physiology or a related field. Earning this degree typically takes four years. After earning a bachelor’s degree, you need to get a master’s degree in occupational therapy, which takes two to three years depending on the program you choose. Practicing as an occupational therapist also requires that you earn a license. To become certified, you take and pass a four-hour exam. If you choose to specialize, you need to complete additional education.
Emotional and physical demands
As an occupational therapist, you may lift patients and provide physical support while exercising. Most of your shifts may also require you to be on your feet. Since many occupational therapy patients experience some hardship, working as an occupational therapist can be emotionally demanding. Learning stress management can help handle these physical and emotional requirements of the job.
An occupational therapist works a minimum of 40 hours a week and often has overtime hours based on their patient’s schedules. Depending on your specialty, you may get more flexible hours. Some occupational therapists only receive part-time hours because of the demand for their services in their geographical location. When deciding if a career as an occupational therapist is right for you, research the demand in your area and what schedules are usually like.
Tips for becoming an occupational therapist
Here are tips for becoming an occupational therapist:
Shadow an occupational therapist
Job shadowing is when you accompany a professional to work and observe their job duties and typical work routine. This is useful for those considering a career in occupational therapy to see if they want to commit the time, effort and money to pursue the career. Shadowing an occupational therapist can help learn more about the role and confirm if it’s a career you want to pursue.
Find an internship in your specialization
Most occupational therapy programs require you to complete an internship to get practical experience with patients under the supervision of a licensed therapist. If you think you want to specialize, try to find an internship in that area. This can help you get experience in the area and increase your chances of finding a job once you’re licensed.
Save money for education
Becoming an occupational therapist requires a minimum of six years of school. Try to save money for school early so you can afford to pursue this degree. Setting up a savings account for your education can help track your financial goals and organize your budget. You can also apply for scholarships and grants to pay for your education. Some employers may also provide tuition assistance or reimbursement.
Develop detailed goals
Creating detailed goals can help you make informed decisions throughout your education. Consider your overall objective, then separate it into smaller milestones that are easier to reach. For example, if your goal is to work with children in a school setting, one milestone could be finding an internship at a school.
Network with occupational therapists
It’s beneficial to make connections with other therapists who can help you throughout your journey. For example, if you know an occupational therapist, you can ask them specific questions you have about your completing school, interning or finding employment. You can build your network by attending events, such as conferences for occupational therapy. Create a pitch to introduce yourself to other professionals and tell them about your goals.
I hope you find this article helpful.