Occupational Therapist Career Profile

These Healthcare Professionals Help Patients Get Back on Track

Occupational therapist works with a pediatric patient
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An occupational therapist is a health professional who is responsible for helping patients regain their ability to perform daily living and work activities. His or her patients have generally lost these abilities because of mental, physical, or developmentally or emotionally disabling conditions.

This is one member of a rehabilitation team that may also include a physical therapist, speech pathologist, psychologist, and social worker.

 Occupational therapists may work with specific populations such as children or the elderly, or they may work in specialized settings including mental health.

Occupational Therapist's Job Duties

These health professionals confer with physicians, patients and their families, nurses, therapists, social workers and other members of a patient's care team to develop treatment and care plans. Their ultimate goal may vary from patient to patient; in some instances, if they're handling terminally ill patients, comfort may be the most important outcome.

For others, including those who are living with chronic illnesses such as muscular dystrophy or cystic fibrosis, the occupational therapist may work with a patient on an ongoing basis, to ensure they're able to maintain their daily activities while adapting to the changing symptoms of their condition. 

They frequently travel between healthcare facilities and will spend a lot of time standing.

The job also entails lifting patients and heavy equipment. 

Education and Licensing Requirements for Occupational Therapists

To be an occupational therapist, you'll need a master's or doctoral degree in occupational therapy from a program that the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE) has accredited.

ACOTE is part of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). 

Biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, liberal arts, and anatomy are all appropriate college majors for those who ultimately want to get a graduate degree in occupational therapy. 

You will need a professional license to practice as an occupational therapist anywhere in the United States. The requirements will vary from state to state, and a training program will be able to help you ascertain what steps you need to take in your state.

In addition to your degree from an accredited program, you will have to pass a national certification examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

What Soft Skills Do Occupational Therapists Need?

Certain personal qualities, also known as soft skills, contribute to one's success in this field. For instance, to relay instructions to patients, you must have superior verbal communication skills, as well as listening skills to understand what patients are telling you. 

Empathy is critical for providers in this role; many patients have never dealt with a disability before and may be frustrated and resentful about their situation. Others may have unrealistic expectations about the outcome of their therapy, and it's important for an occupational therapist to help patients set realistic and achievable goals, without discouraging them.

 

Occupational therapists have a variety of treatment methods from which to choose. You will have to select ones that could help your patient's condition, and then pick the one you decide will be most successful.