Occupational therapists are professionals who are skilled in developing treatment plans for patients who needs assistance in learning and relearning basic life skills in order to live independently. They use a more comprehensive approach in addressing issues related to the patient’s physical, mental, social, and emotional health. For instance, an occupational therapist is responsible for formulating a plan so that an elderly woman with Alzheimer’s is able to engage and fully interact with her family as much as possible. They also help patients deal with their environmental concerns at the workplace, school or at home.
In general, occupational therapists work in a wide variety of settings although most work in hospitals, mental health facilities, rehabilitation centers and nursing homes. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are approximately 104,000 occupational therapists in 2008. They are largely employed in ambulatory healthcare services, hospitals, private healthcare practitioners, rehabilitation centers and long term health care facilities. Occupational therapists may also find employment in educational services, home health care agencies, outpatient care centers, nursing homes and government agencies. Occupational therapists also provide consulting services to nursing care facilities, adult day programs and schools.
The employment rate remains to be stable within the next 10 years as there is an expected increase by 26 percent in the demand for occupational therapists. This demand makes occupational therapy one of the fastest growing professions in the United States. An increase in job opportunities has a much faster rate than other professions and prospects are good especially for those who have a specialized training in geriatrics. Hospitals will also continue to hire occupational therapists in large numbers in order to provide therapeutic services to both inpatients and outpatients.
The demand for occupational therapists is affected by the increase in the aging population who require occupational therapy services. Additionally, the boost in the demand will also result from the increasing number of physically and mental disabled individuals who require the extensive services of an occupational therapist. Employment of occupational therapists in schools in order to cater to the needs of the school-age population and the disable students in special education programs will also further increase the demand for occupational therapists.
In order to become an occupational therapist, an individual must first obtain at least a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Appropriate undergraduate majors for those who are planning to pursue a master’s degree in occupational therapy include sociology, social work, psychology, anthropology, biology and other health science degrees. After graduating from a master’s program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE), occupational therapists must pass a licensure examination administered by the National Board of Certifying Occupational Therapy. Those who successfully pass the certification examination will be awarded with the title Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR). Applicants must check with their state governing board for occupational therapists as some states also require therapist to pass their state-administered licensure examination. Once applicants are given their license to practice occupational therapy, they must maintain their licensure by fulfilling continuing education requirements before the renewal date. Continuing education requirements may be met by enrolling in college classes, attending workshops or by participating in seminars.