There are approximately 105,000 occupational therapists working in the United States. Job growth statistics indicate that over the next ten years the occupation will grow far faster than average, at a projected 26%. This is in large part due to the advancing age of a large portion of the population. As baby boomers get older, they will suffer heart attacks and strokes, as well as chronic disorders and illnesses. For many who survive cancer, loss of a body part or function will be affected. These individuals will need to learn to cope with the changes in their lives in order to continue to live productive, enjoyable lives.
Occupational therapists must be certified, licensed, or otherwise regulated; requirements depend upon the state in which the occupational therapist works. The profession has been undergoing some change. Recently, occupational therapists have begun stepping into supervisory positions, monitoring assistants or aides who work with clients.
Occupational therapists teach patients with physical, mental, or emotional limitations or impairments to manage tasks more easily. Basic movement functions are improved, and the patient develops new ways to think of a solution. Occupational therapists also help patients who have suffered a permanent functional loss. Despite limitations, occupational therapists know that patients can live richly productive, independent lives to the best of their ability. Enabling them with skills gives them the tools they need to live their best lives.
Among their tasks, exercises may be incorporated to improve strength, agility, and flexibility. Clients with visual problems can learn to discriminate between patterns. Techniques such as list making will help short-term memory loss.
Occupational therapists assist clients to develop skills in the areas of decision-making, reasoning, solving problems, perception, sequencing, memory, and coordination using computer programs.
Clients with spinal cord injuries, muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, or other chronic conditions must master tasks involving adaptive tools such as wheelchairs, eating aids, and dressing aids. Some occupational therapists design special equipment for a particular patient. Clients can learn to improve communication skills and gain greater control over their social or work environment.
If a client’s capacity to work has been affected, some occupational therapists will work closely with them by helping to arrange a job, assess and alter the work area, suggest work activities, and evaluate progress.
Occupational therapists must keep careful records for a number of reasons. Apart from insurance requirements, noting which activities help and which do not can give insight into future activities, suggest modifications, or consider alternative treatments.
Some occupational therapists choose to specialize with specific types of disabilities or age ranges. Occupational therapists who work in a school, for example, must assess capabilities, suggest and supply therapy, modify classroom space and tools, and help the student become involved in classroom activities.
Occupational therapists working with clients who are developmentally challenged, mentally or emotionally disturbed, recovering from drug abuse, eating disorders, alcoholism, or depression teach strategies to help them connect to others and cope with life stressors.
There is a wide range of work environments. Large rehabilitation centers provide good equipment and specialized tools with plenty of area in which to work. Among the work-related hazards occupational therapists experience are fatigue from being on their feet most of the time and muscular or skeletal pain from lifting or moving equipment or from assisting clients as they move. While about 30% of all occupational therapists work part-time, those who are full-time (and not in private practice) work a standard 40 hour week. Some occupational therapists are employed by multiple facilities, which adds travel time as well as scheduling issues
In most states, occupational therapists must have at minimum a master’s degree in occupational therapy from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). They must also pass a national certification exam in order to be considered Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR). In addition to course work, accredited programs require a minimum of 24 weeks of supervised experience.
Occupational therapists must participate in continuing learning opportunities throughout their professional lives; most states require a certain number of hours of continuing education in order to retain a license.
One means by which occupational therapists can grow in their careers is by assuming administrative tasks at hospitals or rehabilitation centers. Another is by specializing in a certain type of patient or disorder.
Median annual wages of occupational therapists is approximately $67,000. The 50% in the middle of the pay continuum earn $56,000–$82,000. Those in the lowest 10% of pay receive less than $43,000, while the highest paid 10% earn close to $100,000.