There are many reasons people decide to get into occupational therapy as a career. Some have seen first hand what a debilitating medical condition does to someone’s quality of life. Some have always wanted to be involved in a medical profession. And others really just want to help people.
At its core, occupational therapy is about making people’s lives better.
That’s a lofty statement, but when one looks at the multitude of situations where occupational therapy directly improves individual lives, it’s easy to see how true it is. Read a few success stories from the American Occupational Therapy Association to get the full picture.
Occupational therapists assist their clients in a wide variety of settings like hospitals, clinics, homes, or schools. OTs will treat everyone from infants to the elderly. They may specialize in traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), post-stroke care, hand and motor therapy, hippotherapy, or autism care.
There are so many options and so many ways for an OT to specialize. Sometimes therapy focuses on recovery, other times it’s about adaption to a new situation. In either case, OTs consistently display creativity with their approach while connecting with their patient.
For someone interested in a career in occupational therapy, there are several factors to consider to ensure it’s a fit.
Occupational therapy is a person-centered career. For someone who doesn’t like working with a lot of people, this wouldn’t be a good career choice. OTs are also often working with people who are stressed, confused, and in pain. No one is at their best under these circumstances, so a degree of understanding is a must. OTs also interact with family members and caregivers who will also be stressed and confused. They need patience and guidance from a care team
It can also be a physically demanding job. Helping patients get in and out of beds or wheelchairs is a common occurrence as well as being on your feet a lot. OTs have to physically manipulate their patients while keeping the patient and themselves safe.
OTs will often need to work some nights, weekends, and holidays. It’s not always a nine-to-five job. For some, the hour variability can be helpful. Not every specialization will require 24-hour availability, but the willingness to occasionally work non-standard hours is important.
How much schooling are you willing to do in order to participate in this career? Occupational therapists require extensive training and schooling which can be expensive. There are two common certifications associated with occupational therapy:
- OTR® – Occupational Therapist Registered – requires a Master’s or doctoral degree plus certification
- COTA® – Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant – requires an Associate’s degree plus certification
Is occupational therapy low stress?
It can be. Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer here. The stress level of your OT career will largely depend on the type of patients you work with and your personal ability to handle stress. It’s probably safe to say that working as an OT is less stressful than being an ER nurse or paramedic, which are both high-intensity medical professions.
Most likely, the level of stress will be determined by the patient’s circumstances. Working with someone who’s coming out of a traumatic brain injury can carry more stressful scenarios than someone who’s recovering from a less intensive injury or needs adjustments for daily living activities.
The job outlook is projected to grow 14% between 2021-2031 by the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. They also report that the median pay in 2021 was $85,570 annually.
While aging populations are only one group of people OTs work with, as that population grows, so too will their need for occupational therapy. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the number of Americans 65 and older will almost double from 2018 to 2060. Elderly populations are one group that regularly need occupational therapy.
If you like working with others and have a passion for helping, occupational therapy can be an incredibly rewarding career choice. If you’re deciding between occupational and physical therapy, read about the differences between the two here.