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What is Occupational Therapy and Why Study It?

Those looking for a fulfilling, rewarding career with great prospects for employment, consider studying occupational therapy. This fast growing industry offers a wide array of opportunities for those interested in helping improve the lives of others. There are lots of different ways to work within the field. Read on to learn more about what occupational therapy is, and why you should study it.

Oct 2, 2023
  • Education
What is Occupational Therapy and Why Study It?

Those looking for a fulfilling, rewarding career with great prospects for employment, consider studying occupational therapy. This fast growing industry offers a wide array of opportunities for those interested in helping improve the lives of others. There are lots of different ways to work within the field. Read on to learn more about what occupational therapy is, and why you should study it.

What is occupational therapy?

Occupational therapy is a career field that’s often misunderstood or not well known, but is absolutely critical for many individuals at some point throughout their lives. Student Melanie Barber of Columbia University didn’t know anything about occupational therapy (OT) until her grandfather suffered a stroke. After meeting his OT, Melanie felt inspired to pursue it as a career. She says, “What I found was that occupational therapy addressed the vital importance of people’s psychological and emotional well-being, as well as their physical needs.” When individuals suffer injuries or illness that can debilitate them in some way, OTs are there to help people learn how to recover, heal, and live life again on their terms. They help with coming up with adaptive techniques, work closely with patients to help them regain fine and gross motor skills, or help them prepare for various life tasks.

Patients can range from infants and children, all the way up through the elderly. Occupational therapists can help people recover from strokes, or gain important skills necessary to live independently. They can work with people who were injured in an accident, or were born with differences that require more support.

Job options

Graduating with a degree in occupational therapy opens up a wide array of career options. Some of these great choices include working as a case manager, an ergonomist who helps people work more comfortably in ways that feel right for their bodies, a health improvement practitioner, and of course, an occupational therapist.

However, there are plenty of other areas where a degree in occupational therapy might prove useful if being an OT isn’t in your career plans. People with an OT degree can find work as an art therapist, play therapist, medical sales representative, special education teacher, and life coach, amongst many others. 48% of people who leave school with an OT degree end up working in treatment therapy professions, with the remaining becoming engaged in a variety of occupations. With the job outlook for OT projected to grow “27 percent from 2014 to 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. Occupational therapy will continue to be an important part of treatment for people with various illnesses and disabilities, such as Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral palsy, autism, or the loss of a limb.”

These lines of work within occupational therapy often focus on helping individuals rebuild their lives after problems in relationships, trauma, issues with drugs, and mental health issues. Individuals can be helped by occupational therapists to, for instance, cook, play music, play sports, and sing, which not only builds those immediate skills but creates connections and builds self-esteem.

Salaries

Most occupational therapists are required to have a master’s level education, as well as to be certified. However, with job security and good salaries, many find the extra education worthwhile. The 2020 median salary for OTs was $86,280 per year, with OTs earning $41.48 per hour.

What to study

A Master of Science in Occupational Therapy is a wise choice of degree. Fortunately, there isn’t a specific bachelor’s degree you need in order to get into an MS program. However, there are certain prerequisites that most programs will require, and there are also various bachelor degree programs that can make it easier to gain entrance to an MS program. Some of these programs include Occupational Therapy or Pre-Occupational Therapy, Kinesiology and Exercise Science/Physiology, Biology, and Psychology. If you don’t end up pursuing one of these undergraduate programs, you may want to audit your transcript before applying to MS programs to see if there are any gaps in your education that need to be filled.

Why study it?

Without a doubt, OT is one of the most rewarding professions. Practitioners have a chance to work closely with their patients, and help them in a meaningful, real-life way. As demand for OTs increases, this means there are endless opportunities for employment, as well as job security. You’ll have the chance to work with a wide variety of people, while gaining real-life experience. After completing your program and accreditations, you’ll be ready to enter the workforce, where you’re sure to find a job opportunity waiting for you. The field is always evolving, making it a great choice for those who like to be challenged at work.

Student Kwaku Agyemang of London South Bank University loves his studies in a BSc program for Occupational Therapy. Agyemang says, “I would advise someone considering studying to become an occupational therapist to “GO FOR IT” and it will be the most pleasant of surprises.” He also adds, “As a result of my studies, I have learnt about the impact a range of conditions can have on an individual and how to apply the primary principle of occupation-focused interventions as a means of recovery and self-management.”

Without a doubt, occupational therapy is a rewarding career with many opportunities available to those who study it. While it does take work and dedication to get there, those that study this degree path will find themselves leaving school to a great career helping others and making a lasting, meaningful difference.

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Occupational Therapy
Chelsea Castonguay

Author

Chelsea is a Student Affairs expatriate, who now works as a freelance writer and editor. She homesteads in a small town in rural Maine, USA. She enjoys hiking, fishing, cooking, reading, all things Laura Ingalls Wilder, spending time with her family, and chasing her black lab puppy, Cash.