What is Occupational Therapy?

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Occupational therapy can be a rewarding and fascinating job that provides you an opportunity to make a meaningful change in someone’s life. Therapists work with people of all ages to improve their level of functioning. The overall goal of occupational therapy is to improve someone’s quality of life.

What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapy is different than physical therapy. Physical therapists help patients improve their mobility, balance, and strength. Occupational therapists help patients increase their independence and enhance their ability to do tasks involved in work, school, and everyday life.

Therapists may work with people who have various injuries and illnesses. For example, therapists may treat patients who had a stroke and help them overcome physical issues that interfere with daily living skills. They may also help an elderly adult deal with limitations due to arthritis or the natural aging process.

But occupational therapists don’t only work with the elderly. Therapists also often work with children who have a variety of conditions including autism, learning delays, and physical disabilities. They may help children overcome obstacles that interfere with academic, emotional and social development.

Typical day to day responsibilities of an occupational therapist include evaluating and developing individual goals based on the patient’s needs. Treatment plans may include a variety of things, such as teaching patients to use adaptive equipment and developing new ways to do routine activities.

How to become an occupational therapist

If occupational therapy sounds like something you’re interested in pursuing, you’ll need to complete a master’s degree program in occupational therapy. In the United States, occupational therapists are required to be licensed to practice, and a minimum of a master’s degree is needed.

Although the first step is to obtain a bachelor’s degree, there is not a specific major that is required. Different bachelor degree programs, such as biology, psychology, and kinesiology, may be good choices since they help prepare you for a master’s degree program in occupational therapy.

Most master’s degree programs in occupational therapy take two or three years of full-time study to complete. In addition to classroom study, students gain clinical experience working in hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Although it’s not required to work in the field, some students continue their education and earn a doctorate in occupational therapy. Another option for further education is to earn a specialty certification. The American Occupational Therapy Association offers certifications in gerontology, pediatrics and community mobility. The last step in becoming an occupational therapist is passing an exam administrated by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.  After that, you’re on your way to a career as an OT!


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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.

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