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Occupational Therapist Careers

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Physical therapist with senior woman climbing stairs
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Occupational Therapist Overview:

An occupational therapist works with patients who need to learn or re-learn basic life skills or work skills. Occupational therapists teach patients who have permanent or temporary disabilities caused by brain injury, mental disorder, or other physical or developmental issues.

An occupational therapist helps to teach and train patients how to shop at a store, dine at a restaurant, take public transportation, converse with others, tell time, and other basic skills and tasks which are necessary for the patient to have some degree of independence in life, or in work settings.

Work Environment for Occupational Therapists:

Occupational therapists may work in a variety of settings including offices, hospitals, or on a home care basis. Some occupational therapists may also work in schools, to help children with mental handicaps or developmental delays. Onsite occupational therapy may entail working in a large rehabilitation room containing equipment and machines.

Skill Set for Occupational Therapists:

Occupational therapists, like most healthcare professionals, should work well with people, and also be able to learn, retain and apply a variety of medical information and healthcare knowledge about anatomy and physiology, biology, and other health sciences.

Occupational therapists should be able to work well as part of a team, as they will be providing care to their patients in conjunction with the physicians, nurses, physical therapists, and other caregivers.

Additionally, occupational therapists should be able to assess and analyze a patient’s status, create and execute an appropriate plan of action, and help motivate the patient and provide constructive feedback along the way.

Occupational therapists should be in good physical shape as well, as they are moving around much of the day with their patients. Also some lifting of patients or equipment may be involved as well for patients who are more significantly physically disabled.

According to the BLS, patience is another key attribute that benefits Occupational Therapists, due to the length of time and duration of ongoing care that is required over time, sometimes with little improvement detectable in the patient.

Compensation for Occupational Therapists:

According the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual earning for an occupational therapist is $60,470. Salaries range from a low in the $40,000s to highs in the $80,000s for the top 10% of all earners.

Education, Training, and Certification:

Like all other healthcare professionals who work directly with patients in a clinical role, occupational therapists must be licensed to practice as such. To become licensed as an occupational therapist, one must complete a Master’s degree in an accredited program. According to the BLS, there are about 124 programs in the US offering this program, and about half of those schools offer a combined Bachelor’s and Master’s program.

To practice legally, graduates must then pass the national certification test for occupational therapists, at which time they receive the title of Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR).

Data in this article is according to:Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Occupational Therapists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos078.htm (visited October 28, 2008).

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