Occupational therapists can be found in hospitals, community agencies, state facilities, nursing homes, mental health facilities, schools, and non-profit organizations.
Occupational therapists primarily work on what are called self-care tasks, which includes assisting patients in getting strong enough to independently complete dressing, grooming, bathing, toileting, and eating. However, this is not all occupational therapist’s scope of practice is limited to.
Occupational therapists work with people of all ages and, depending on the setting, they can also work on community integration (transportation, safety, driving, navigating stores and neighborhoods), education and job engagement, healthy sleep, relapse prevention, emotional regulation, leisure engagement, and play skills.
As mentioned in the first lecture, the main difference between occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants is that assistants are not able to complete patient evaluations or discharges, as that is a duty delegated only to occupational therapists. Otherwise, each can get specialties, treat patients, and work in all the same settings.
Duties of occupational therapists
The duties of occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants include completing evaluations determining a patient’s strengths (physical and mental), weaknesses, personal needs, and support systems, developing a plan with goals for patients to achieve by the end of their stay in the facility, treatment (usually daily, depending on the setting) addressing weaknesses in the areas of dressing, toileting, bathing, grooming, feeding, community living skills, household chores, medication management, job or school performance, play skills, social participation, and leisure, and providing input on patient’s readiness for discharge and transition to another level of care.
Enrolling in an occupational therapy program
If you are enrolling in an occupational therapy program now, you will be required to get a Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy in order to get a job. However, there are still occupational therapists practicing therapy with only a Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy, as they received their degrees prior to the new requirement becoming effective. As with social workers, occupational therapists do not graduate with specialties, as their programs are generalist.
There are specialty certification exams occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants can take to receive additional specialization, and unofficial specialties can be received by demonstrating expertise after a certain number of years in a certain practice area. This can lead to an increase in salary depending on the setting where the therapist works.
Some specialty areas include:
- Mental Health
- Physical Rehabilitation
- Driving and Community Mobility
- Low Vision
- Environmental Modification
- Feeding, Eating, & Swallowing
- Hand Therapy
- Assistive Technology
Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants also require fieldwork as part of their program structure.
Occupational therapists are required to complete 24 weeks of fieldwork where they perform the duties of a therapist under supervision of a working therapist. This 24-week requirement is completed over two semesters where fieldwork is the only academic requirement and can be completed on a full-time or part-time basis. Occupational therapy assistants must complete one 16-week fieldwork rotation as part of their program, also to be completed on a full-time or part-time basis.
There are fieldwork opportunities throughout other semesters which are observing a working therapist for one day each week; however, these have no minimum requirements set forth with standards varying between universities.
A Bachelor’s degree in any science or health-related field will prepare you for enrolling in a Master’s program in Occupational Therapy. Aside from the Bachelor’s degree in a related field that is required for admission, a Master’s in Occupational Therapy will take approximately 2 years to complete when enrolled full-time. Courses include anatomy and physiology, neuro-rehabilitation, human development, aging concepts, modalities, and group therapy practice. To work as an occupational therapy assistant, you must receive an Associate’s degree in Occupational therapy, which takes about 2 years when enrolled full-time. Courses include anatomy and physiology, pediatrics, geriatrics, and modalities.
With the current mandate being a required Master’s in Occupational Therapy in order to work in the field, there is talk of accreditation boards increasing this mandate to a required Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. No official mandate or legislation has changed at this time.
There are occupational therapists currently working with a Bachelor’s in Occupational Therapy and they have not been required to return to a program to receive a Master’s in Occupational Therapy.
Therefore, if the mandate changes to require all new students to receive a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, this will not affect those therapists already working as therapists with Master’s degrees.
Occupational Therapists Salary
Occupational therapists can expect to make about $86,000 yearly and occupational therapy assistants make an estimated $56,000 yearly, depending on the setting and geographic location.