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How to become an occupational therapist

How to become an occupational therapist
Photo: How to become an occupational therapist
An Occupational Therapist's Role Is Extremely Rewarding

If you enjoy working with people, have a sympathetic and caring attitude, heaps of determination and enthusiasm, and a desire to improve the lives of those around you, then you might want to consider a career in occupational therapy.

What does an occupational therapist do?

OT's work with people of all ages helping them to overcome disabilities caused by physical and psychological illnesses, accidents or ageing. Primarily the job is concerned with promoting well being and health through occupation, by enabling people to participate in everyday activities which many of us take for granted.

What might an average day entail?

The role of an occupation therapist is very varied and on any one day he/she may carry out any of the following tasks:
  • Working with children and their families – helping children to reach their developmental milestones such as hand eye co-ordination and fine motor skills; advising parents and carers on ways of facilitating normal development and learning of children.
  • Rehabilitation and aged care – helping clients recover their mobility after such things as a stroke or a hip replacement; assessing a client's home and community environment to improve their safety and make them more independent; suggesting and educating clients and carers on adaptive products to assist them in their everyday lives.
  • Injury management – assessing the functional requirements of a job and the client's ability to return to that job; designing and implementing a staged return to work program; educating clients in safe work practices; modifying the work environment to suit needs of individuals so as to prevent or minimise injuries.
  • Acute Care – Imparting specialist knowledge in various health conditions such as surgery, HIV, burns and acute mental health; assessing the function, cognition and psychosocial needs of a client; assessing a client's function and progress and prescribing adaptive equipment to ensure a safe discharge from hospital.
  • Mental health – designing individual and group activities and programs to improve a client's independence in everyday life activities; improving their confidence and self esteem when it comes to socialising; developing strategies for coping with an overcoming their mental health issue.
Where do occupational therapists work?

OT's work both in the public and private sectors often as part of an integral healthcare team. They work in a wide number of settings including:
  • Medical rehabilitation units
  • Public and Private Hospitals
  • Aged care facilities
  • Vocational rehabilitation centres
  • Community health centres
  • Schools and educational facilities
  • Home care services
  • Independent living and respite centres
  • Psychiatric clinics, hospitals and hostels
  • Private practice
How to become an occupational therapist

Education and training

Generally speaking an OT will have studied occupational therapy at University. Entry level for this course is likely to include prerequisite subjects in one or more of the following: English, mathematics, chemistry, biology, physics, physical education, and health education. Many universities in Australia offer degrees in occupational therapy but each will have different prerequisite requirements and some may have flexible entry requirements. The course lasts a duration of four years after which you will major with a Bachelor of Occupational Science.

If you're after a career change and have an undergraduate degree in another field, then it is possible to take a two year graduate entry MOT (Master of Occupational Therapy) program and gain the skills you need to become an occupational therapist.

Students will also need to obtain a Senior First Aid Certificate and a National Police Certificate as well as evidence of their immunisation status before beginning any clinical placements. They may even be needed to complete a Working with Children check. It is now also a legal requirement for all OT's to be registered with the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia prior to practising in any territory or state in Australia.

What sort of salary should I expect to receive as an Occupational Therapist?

On average an occupational therapist can expect to earn between $40,734 and $70,268 depending on where they are working and how many years of experience they have.

Conclusion

There is a growing demand for occupational therapy in Australia particularly in rural and remote areas. If you're looking to work overseas, then there is also plenty of demand in countries such as Canada, United States of America, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United Arab Emirates.

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