Whether they're injured, disabled or ill, plenty of people need help learning, or relearning, how to complete everyday activities. That's where an occupational therapist comes in. An occupational therapist helps people in these situations develop, recover or improve upon these essential life skills. Earning an online occupational therapy degree provides necessary training for landing this kind of job.
Occupational therapists achieve rehabilitation through several tasks that they perform on a regular basis. Here are just some of their job duties:
- Interview patients, review medical histories and evaluate patient conditions and needs
- Develop a treatment plan of goals and activities
- Help people with various disabilities achieve different tasks
- Demonstrate exercises for patients
- Educate patients' families and employers about how best to accommodate them
To become an occupational therapist, a master's degree in occupational therapy is required, though some have doctoral degrees in occupational therapy. There are significantly more accredited master's degrees than doctoral degrees. Licensure is also required in all states, which entails completing an accredited occupational degree program, conducting fieldwork and passing an exam. Taking continuing education courses is how occupational therapists maintain certification.
Coursework in Occupational Therapy Degree Programs
Occupational therapy programs vary from institution to institution. Post-professional programs are targeted to current professionals in the field and typically focus more on research. Entry-level graduate programs generally include fieldwork in a medical center or agency. Post-professional programs typically target students looking for advanced knowledge to become leaders or teachers.
Here are some of the types of course offerings you may find in occupational therapy degree programs.
Neuroscience for occupational therapy
This common course teaches students about the principles of the human nervous system, such as development and functions that affect motor activity and cognitive behavior. It shows future occupational therapists how the brain can affect various functions and what may be going on internally with those with different conditions and injuries.
Occupations across the lifespan
This foundational course tends to focus on how work and health affect each other throughout a lifespan. Students learn about different environmental factors affecting work, as well as the practice of occupational therapy in changing health care environments. Disability and dysfunction are also typically key points of conversation in this course.
Critical analysis of occupational therapy practice
This common course explores various criticisms of the profession of occupational therapy. Students look at evidence-based methods of assessing and treating patients and the most important perspectives of critical theory in the field.
Health care policy
In this course, students study health care and disability policies and how they affect the field of occupational therapy. They look at various factors that influence the development and practice of health care policy, ranging from government and regulatory systems to political and professional forces.
Historical perspectives of occupation
Students look at the evolution of the profession's view of its purpose in this common course. Students also critically evaluate past views within the profession, and they trace how these views inform current practice and may affect future practice.
Interview With an Occupational Therapy Professor
To learn more about the occupational therapy profession and degree programs, we caught up with Winnie Dunn, professor and department chair of the occupational therapy program at The University of Kansas Medical Center. She serves children, families and teachers and focuses on researching the way people respond to sensory experiences in their everyday lives.
Here's what she shared with us.
What are the skills, interests and personality traits necessary for a student to be successful in occupational therapy programs?
"Good candidates for occupational therapy programs are those who are curious about other people, who enjoy interacting and getting to know others, who like to analyze situations and problem solve and who have an interest in serving others."
What is the most rewarding part of a career in occupational therapy? Why should students pursue a career in this field?
"For me, the most rewarding parts of being an occupational therapist are the relationships we get to develop with the people, families, teachers and team members. Because our focus is on making a match between the person and their life activities, our work is very personal. We get to know people and their circumstances at a deep level -- they affect our lives as much as we affect theirs."
What advice would you give to students considering an occupational therapy program?
"Occupational therapy requires a lot of you. Schooling is problem-based and focuses on getting to know people deeply. Because of our broad education, including biological and psychological sciences, we also have broad options for employment, including working with babies, children, families, adults, older adults, and in many settings, including schools, people's homes, industries, hospitals and in the community. If you like to solve complex problems, like interacting with others and want lots of options that will sustain your entire career, occupational therapy might be for you."
Career Outlook for Professionals With Occupational Therapy Degrees
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of occupational therapists is expected to grow by 29 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations by nearly triple. There are many reasons the BLS gives for this projected growth, including advances in medical sciences that allow more people to survive accidents, insurance policy changes that give more people access to health care and an aging population who may need occupational therapy services.
As of May 2014, 110,520 occupational therapists were employed in the United States. According to the BLS, the median annual wage of occupational therapists was $78,810, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage around $52,670 and the highest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage around $112,950.
Post-Professional Occupational Therapy Program - Course Descriptions, Creighton University, https://spahp.creighton.edu/sites/spahp.creighton.edu/files/basic-page/file/Occupational%20Therapy%20Program%20-%20Post-Professional%20Course%20Descriptions%207-2-13.pdf
Course Descriptions, Entry Level Master's Program in Occupational Therapy, University of Puget Sound, http://www.pugetsound.edu/academics/departments-and-programs/graduate/school-of-occupational-therapy/for-prospective-students/entry-level-masters-program/entry-level-course-description/
Find a School, The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc., http://www.aota.org/Education-Careers/Find-School.aspx
Occupational Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/occupational-therapists.htm#tab-2
Occupational Therapists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291122.htm