Looking for variety at work? Try occupational therapy

Occupational therapy is often a misunderstood profession in the health care industry. It is not about getting people in the right jobs, as the word “occupational” suggests, but rather helping patients develop, recover, and improve the skills needed for working and daily living. Occupational therapists work with a variety of patients, from newborns to seniors.

Besides including a range of therapies to address medical conditions, the profession offers different types of work settings. Occupational therapists (OTs) and occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) may work in schools, hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, nursing homes, private practice and home care. The types of specific therapy provided include sports medicine or hand therapy; for example, teaching a patient who has limited control over his or her hands to learn how to type. Another therapy includes social and coping skills training for patients with mental health conditions.

“If someone knew that they wanted a career where they could change their work environment to keep themselves engaged, then working in occupational therapy is a good choice,” says Thomas Laster, program director for the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at South University, West Palm Beach campus. “I have met OTAs who go to work every day in elementary schools helping kids, or OTs who fly around the world working with businesses to improve the safety of the working conditions for their employees who perform repetitive tasks, such as on the assembly line.”

In 2010 there were 137,300 people working as occupational therapists or occupational therapy assistants, and that figure is expected to grow 33 percent and 43 percent by 2020, respectively, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Generally, occupational therapists have a master’s degree, but more are earning professional doctorates, and OTAs have associate, or two-year, degrees.

The primary role of the OT is to evaluate and treat patients. After the evaluation is complete and a treatment plan is created, the OTA assists with implementation of the treatment plan under the supervision of the therapist.

“There are several points of entry,” says Laster. “People interested in the profession can earn a degree to become an OTA and be working in the field within two years. For individuals who have a degree in another field, they can earn a degree becoming an OTA or attain an advanced degree, such as a master’s or a doctorate.”

While occupational therapy encompasses work and life skills, things like holding a phone or preparing a meal are abilities that are easy to take for granted. Occupational therapy plays an important role in helping many people improve the quality of their lives by helping them to develop, recover and improve all of the skills needed for working and daily living.

The occupational therapy assistant program has applied for accreditation and has been granted Developing Program Status by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), located at 4720 Montgomery Lane, P.O. Box 31220, Bethesda, MD 20824-1220. ACOTE’s telephone number c/o AOTA is (301) 652-AOTA. Once accreditation of the program has been obtained, its graduates will be eligible to sit for the national certification examination for the occupational therapy assistant administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT). After successful completion of this exam, the individual will be a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA). In addition, most states require licensure in order to practice; however, state licenses are usually based on the results of the NBCOT Certification Examination. Note that a felony conviction may affect a graduate’s ability to sit for the NBCOT certification examination or attain state licensure.

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