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Occupational Therapist

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Career Overview

It's easy to overlook the little things in life such as the ability to stand, walk, and eat. For many, it's a struggle just to get out of bed or walk to the bathroom. Thankfully, there are occupational therapists to rehabilitate them, as well as other people who are injured, ill, or disabled. If you have great compassion, and an interest in helping people to better their lives, this could be the profession for you.Working as a an occupational therapist, you will work with people of various ages with a range of disabilities. For example, patients with permanent disabilities, such as cerebral palsy, often need assistance performing daily tasks such as walking to the kitchen. As a therapist, you will show them how to use adaptive equipment such as leg braces, wheelchairs, and eating aids. Important tools like these make daily functions manageable for your patients, but they might not be too thrilled about them. If you work with a patient who needs a wheelchair, they could feel embarrassed about it at first. But once you encourage them with positive feedback, they'll feel more confident about how the wheelchair makes their independence possible.You can choose to specialize in a specific type of occupational therapy such as pediatrics, mental health, or low vision. If you decide to specialize in pediatrics, one of your tasks will be aiding children in education settings by evaluating their disabilities and developing a plan to make learning easier for them. You will work with teachers and administrators at schools to modify classroom equipment as needed. For instance, if a child is unable to reach the ground while sitting in a child-size chair, you can make sure that the school provides them with a stool so that they can rest their feet and balance their body. This stability will allow them to use their fine motor skills more easily. When you talk to a child about their disability, you should be very positive about your plan for their success in the classroom. The way you and their parents act towards their disability will greatly affect them, so be sure to coach their parents on constructive communication as well.

Salaries and Job Outlook*

2013 Median Annual Pay
Number of Jobs in 2013
Projected Growth Rate
National
$83,200
126,050
21.2 %
Virginia
$90,280
3,000
 

Education and Training

Degrees Required:
Bachelor's Degree in Biology or a related field Master's Degree in Occupational Therapy

If you want to become an occupational therapist, you will need to complete your master's degree in occupational therapy. To gain admittance into a graduate program, you will need your bachelor's degree and specific coursework, including biology and physiology. In addition, many programs require applicants to have volunteered or worked in an occupational therapy setting. It will take you about 2 to 3 years to complete your master's degree. If you need to go to school while you continue working, there are also part-time programs that offer courses on nights and weekends. As a part of your program, you will be required to complete at least 24 weeks of supervised fieldwork where you will gain clinical work experience.Once you have completed your master's degree, you should prepare to take the NBCOT certification exam. All states require occupational therapists to pass the national examination administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapists (NBCOT). You must pass the NBCOT exam to use the title "Occupational Therapist Registered" (OTR) and take continuing education classes to maintain certification. If you want to demonstrate your advanced knowledge in a specialty area, such as mental health, the American Occupational Therapy Association also offers a number of specific certifications.

 
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Valued Traits & Abilities

Communication Skills
Detail Oriented

Work Environment

As a occupational therapist, you will work full time at a hospital, rehabilitation center, school, small medical office, or clients' homes. Many occupational therapists work at multiple locations. Your hours will vary, depending on where you decide to work. To accommodate patients' schedules, you may need to work nights or weekends, as needed.This job will require you to spend many hours on your feet while working with patients. Many therapists choose to wear running shoes to keep their feet comfortable during long shifts. During your time with a patient, you may also need to lift and move them. Make sure you're extra careful when you pick up a patient, so that you do not injure yourself or them.

* Source: BLS Data - 2013