Occupational therapy (OT) is an important part of the healthcare system. This growing field is focused on helping patients to overcome physical obstacles in order to increase their mobility and better participate in activities of daily living. Activities of daily living are day-to-day tasks and can be simple like combing your hair or more complex like commuting between work and home, or participating in school.
Occupational therapists (OTs) take on a variety of specializations and responsibilities. So, just what do OTs do? And what does a day in the life of an OT look like?
What does an occupational therapist do?
An OT’s role is to help patients engage in meaningful activities by helping them to regain and restore various functions. As Regis College’s Program Director, Michael Roberts, explains “[o]ur job as OTs is to help people be more independent, have better quality of life, and live with as few restrictions as possible.”
OTs support patients by:
- promoting healing
- enabling independence
- increasing confidence
- preventing falls
- motoring home progress
Additionally, OTs can help patients’ caregivers through valuable resources, increasing their confidence and their ability to care for their loved ones.
OTs are responsible for working with all kinds of patients of all ages, including those with developmental interruptions, injuries, or chronic illnesses.
On a typical day, an OT will assess and discuss therapy goals with their clients to determine what daily activities they would like to improve. OT assessments include measuring a patient’s overall strength, hand dexterity, motor coordination, balance, cognition, vision, range of motion, and sensation. Once an OT has a good sense of what their patient needs, they develop a unique plan of care for that patient.
Once a plan is in place, OTs work with patients to address their limitations by teaching patients new ways to complete activities of daily life, demonstrating how to use adaptive equipment, working to ensure patients can complete tasks without feeling pain, providing patients with necessary educational tools, developing a home training program, and, in some cases, creating functional work and home environments so patients can develop a daily routine and live more independently.
In addition to working directly with their patients, OTs are also tasked with documenting a patient’s progress. This streamlines the evaluating, reporting, and billing process for patients and ensures that the OT is meeting the American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA) standards of care.
Where OTs Work
Where an OT works will also influence their day-to-day responsibilities. For example, OTs working in schools will be more focused on aiding a child’s development, while OTs working in a nursing home will be busy alleviating elderly patients’ struggles associated with aging.
OTs can be employed in a variety of healthcare spaces. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, in 2021:
- 30 percent of OTs worked in hospitals.
- 26 percent worked in physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language therapy, or audiology offices
- 7 percent worked in nursing care facilities
- 8 percent worked in home healthcare services
- 12 percent of OTs were employed by schools
What are some occupational therapy services?
The primary specialties or board areas within OT practice are:
- Orthopedic (conditions like upper body weakness, overuse injuries, arthritis, fractures, burns, and nerve palsies)
- Neurological (conditions like stroke, brain or spinal injury, and central nervous system conditions)
- Pediatric (skill development in play, socialization, education, feeding, motor skills, sensory procession, and dexterity)
- Geriatric (challenges such as falls, balance impairment, orthopedic conditions, osteoporosis, dementia, and frailty
OTs can also specialize in hand therapy, vision rehabilitation, driving and community mobility, environmental modification, school systems, oncology, and feeding, eating, and swallowing.
Some OTs work with patients receiving mental health services to help treat developmental and emotional disabilities. They also might work with patients suffering from depression, alcoholism, or drug abuse.
What are the qualifications for occupational therapists?
To work in the field and qualify for state licensure, OTs need a bachelor’s degree and to complete a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. The completed master’s program must be accredited by AOTA.
Once a new OT completes an accredited master’s program, they need to pass the National Board for Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination to earn a state licensure in any state they plan to practice.
In addition to the specialized knowledge gained during the certification and licensure process, successful OTs also need soft skills.
The best OTs are compassionate and empathetic workers with a “people-oriented mindset.” OTs know that their patients often have a long road to recovery. It is integral that they have the compassion, patience, and flexibility necessary to encourage their patients during the ups and downs of their recovery journeys.
OTs also need to exhibit strong communication and problem-solving skills in order to determine and explain treatment plans to patients and their caregivers. Verbal communication is vital for OTs as they try to understand the needs of their patients. Because reporting is also part of their duties, OTs must have strong written communication and analytical skills.
For OTs looking to develop their skills and expand their field knowledge, AOTA offers a variety of advanced certifications for OTs.
Some specialty certifications include:
- Mental health
- Physical rehabilitation
- School settings
Post-Professional Doctor of Occupational Therapy (PPOTD) programs are an option for practicing OTs looking to boost their credentials, continue their education, and expand their career opportunities. OTs with the PPOTD doctoral degree can move into careers as advanced practice therapists, researchers, or educators.
Additionally, some rehabilitation centers offer continuing education opportunities. Brooks Rehabilitation’s Institute of Higher Learning, for example, offers a variety of continuing education courses for OTs. Offerings include courses in vestibular rehabilitation, gait and movement analysis for stroke patients, and management strategies for spinal cord injuries, among many others.
Apply for an Occupational Therapist Position at Brooks Rehabilitation
Brooks Rehabilitation is an excellent place to be an OT. We value our employees and provide them with a wide variety of opportunities for career growth, professional development, and continuing education while working with our team. Apply to be an occupational therapist at Brooks Rehabilitation today!