What is an Occupational Therapist?

What is an Occupational Therapist?

An Occupational Therapist is a licensed professional who helps people of all ages improve their abilities to accomplish their everyday tasks. Occupational therapy is a profession that focuses on getting individuals back to completing their everyday occupations. For adults, these occupations can be tasks such as cooking and cleaning. For toddlers and young children, these occupations can include learning to develop skills that will help them succeed in school, at home, and in social settings. This article will explore what occupational therapists do, the types of occupational therapy, and occupational therapist salary information.

What Do Occupational Therapists Do?

Occupational Therapists help individuals of all ages develop or recover their ability to perform meaningful daily activities, called occupations. While we typically think of occupations as careers, occupations can also include the everyday activities that we take for granted, including getting dressed or interacting with our peers. Occupational evaluate the skills and abilities of their clients, develop goals, and implement a plan of intervention to help their clients achieve those goals.

Occupational therapists also understand the influence of the client’s environment that may support or hinder the client’s ability to regain independence. Occupational therapists can also assist in modifying environments and/or providing the necessary tools or adaptive equipment that can make performing life activities much easier.

Occupational Therapist Job Description and Duties

Occupational therapists work specifically with injured, elderly or ill patients with equipment and tailored exercises in order for their patients to regain the ability to perform mobile tasks. They observe and evaluate their patients' conditions and note improvements in order to design activities to further strengthen their motor functions. Occupational therapists also educate their patients and their families about their conditions and care plans and can recommend improvements they can make to their home or work environments to aid in their treatment. Some normal duties of an occupational therapist include:

  • Performing physical and mental evaluations of their patients
  • Recommending adjustments for home/work environments
  • Developing a treatment plan
  • Educating patients/families about the care plan
  • Documenting progress and altering treatment plans

Occupational Therapist vs Physical Therapist: What's the Difference?

The difference between an occupational therapist vs a physical therapist is that occupational therapists focus on developing a patient's daily motor functions, rather than a physical therapist who deals with patients who are recovering from physical injuries and need more help in physical movement in general. An occupational therapist can expect to work with their patients in home or work environments, as well as in hospitals and treatment centers whereas a physical therapist works within a special facility. An occupational therapist is also more equipped to improve more than just a person's physical abilities, but also their emotional and mental well-being. A physical therapist will often focus on the actual impairment and will work with a patient to avoid surgery and maintain or increase their level of fitness.

Types of Occupational Therapy

There are many career options for Occupational Therapists. Finding the right career for you depends on where your interests lie. Below are some options for Occupational Therapy careers:

Geriatric Occupational Therapy

An Occupational Therapist working with older adults may assist them in increasing their safety and independence in activities of daily living to remain in their home or return to their home from a hospital or skilled nursing facility. Occupational Therapists may also work on areas such as driving, fall prevention, home safety, and monitoring chronic conditions, including cognitive impairments like dementia. 

Pediatric Occupational Therapy

Pediatric Occupational Therapy helps children to develop and refine the skills they’ll need to be successful in school, at home, and in social settings. Occupational Therapists may work with children with learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, or other conditions that may impact their abilities to perform developmentally appropriate occupations. School-based therapy, early intervention in the home, and outpatient clinics are common settings that employ Occupational Therapists who with children and youth.

Rehabilitation Occupational Therapy

While doctors or surgeons might reset broken bones, it’s the Occupational Therapist who helps clients re-learn or re-gain the skills needed to complete everyday activities, including toileting, cooking a meal, or managing finances. Hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and outpatient clinics are common settings that employ Occupational Therapists who work with adults.

Mental Health Therapy

Occupational Therapists who work in the field of mental health can help clients to develop the social and practical skills needed to gain employment, return to school, socially participate in their community, or live independently.

Where Do Occupational Therapists Work?

Occupational Therapists can work with people in many settings. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA) Salary and Workforce study, the top five settings that employ Occupational Therapists include:

  • Hospitals (26.6%)
  • School Settings (19.2%)
  • Skilled Nursing Facilities (19.2%)
  • Outpatient Facilities (10.7%)
  • Home Health (6.8%)

Occupational Therapist Education and Career Requirements

After you graduate with a master's degree from an accredited institution, you will be eligible to sit for the national certification exam, administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT®). After successful completion of this exam, you’ll be an Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR®). All states require licensure in order to practice; however, state licenses are usually based on the passing of the NBCOT® certification exam.

Bachelor's Degree in Occupational Therapy

A bachelor's degree is the first step on the path to becoming an occupational therapist. During your undergraduate studies, you will learn the basics of biology and physiology and will gain experience in the field during volunteer work or internships in occupational therapy clinics. A bachelor's degree in occupational therapy will provide you with a solid background in occupational therapy, but will not qualify you to earn an occupational therapy license.

Masters Degree in Occupational Therapy

In order to become a licensed occupational therapist, a master's degree is required to pursue this career. Many institutions offer a combined bachelor's and master's degree program to streamline the education process. During your studies in the master's program, you will be engaged in challenging coursework and clinical placements to gain a well-rounded education in the occupational therapy field.

Occupational Therapist Salary Information

Occupational Therapists earn a median salary of $81,910, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here is some other occupational therapist salary information, according to the BLS:

Setting Media Salary (2016)
Geriatrics (skilled nursing facility) $90,230
Mental Health $85,840
Pediatrics (home health care) $94,160
Rehabilitation (hospital) $83,000

Your GMercyU Path to a Career in Occupational Therapy

Gwynedd Mercy University offers two paths to a career in Occupational Therapy.

GMercyU’s Bachelor of Health Science (BHS) in Occupational Science (OS) offers three years of pre-professional liberal arts courses that include Occupational Science and Health Science. Students in the program can enter into the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) program in their senior year and complete both a BHS in Occupational Science and an MSOT in just 5 ½ years.

Students who already hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution can apply to the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program. The entry-level occupational therapy master’s degree program has applied for accreditation and has been granted Candidacy Status by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). This two-year program gives students the eligibility to sit for the NBCOT® certification exam once the program achieves accreditation.