|Career Profile - Occupational Therapist|
|Written by Careers Advice|
What is the work like?
Occupational therapists help people to overcome difficulties, which may be the result of physical or mental illness, an accident or the ageing process. They work with clients to help them lead full and independent lives and, where possible, prevent disability.
As an occupational therapist, you would often work with clients on a one-to-one basis and adapt treatment programmes to suit each individual's needs and lifestyle. Your work could include:
* teaching an older patient recovering from a stroke how to dress themselves
* encouraging someone suffering with depression to take up a hobby
* putting forward suggestions on ways to adapt an office so that an employee injured in a car accident can return to work.
Your day-to-day duties would include:
* keeping details of clients' progress
* considering ways to adapt treatments to make them more effective
* counselling clients, their families and carers
* helping clients adjust to permanent disabilities.
Some patients have conditions such as motor neurone disease or multiple sclerosis, which means they gradually become less mobile and more disabled. You would work with these clients to encourage a positive attitude, which can help them to retain activity levels for as long as possible.
With experience, you could specialise in an area such as:
* burns or plastic surgery
* cardiac or stroke rehabilitation
* orthopaedics (spinal injury)
* community disability services
* mental health.
You could work with patients for months, or for just a few sessions. You would often work as part of a team of professionals including physiotherapists, nurses and social workers.
What qualifications and experience will employers look for?
To become a state registered occupational therapist you need a degree or postgraduate course in occupational therapy, approved by the Health Professions Council (HPC). You will find a list of course providers on the HPC website.
Before you apply for a place on a course it is a good idea to gain some relevant experience or insight into the profession. You can try contacting the occupational therapy unit in your local hospital, nursing home or other health centre where therapists practise, to check if they can help.
To get onto a degree in occupational therapy you will usually need:
* five GCSEs (A-C)
* two or three A levels in at least one science subject (biology may be preferred).
If you do not have the qualifications listed, please check with universities because alternatives such as an Access to Higher Education course may also be accepted. Most degree courses take three years, full-time or the part-time equivalent.
To get onto a postgraduate course you will usually need an honours degree in a related area (course providers can give you details on acceptable degree subjects) and previous healthcare experience. Many postgraduate courses in this field take two years, full-time.
You can join the British Association of Occupational Therapists (BAOT) and the World Federation of Occupational Therapists as a student or graduate. The BAOT website includes details of approved course providers.
If you work as an occupational therapy support worker, for example, you may be able to qualify as an occupational therapist by completing a four-year in-service course leading to state registration. To follow this route, you will need the support of your employer.
You will need to agree to a CRB check when you apply for course and before you can register with the HPC.
What further training and development can I do?
As a student/trainee occupational therapist on a HPC approved course, you will study a range of areas including:
* biological and behavioural sciences
* creative programme development
* care management
* therapeutic interventions
* practical and environmental adaptations.
You will spend time on practical placements, working with clients under the supervision of a qualified therapist. You will learn how to assess and treat patients and by the end of the course you will be managing a small caseload. You will usually have the opportunity to experience the main branches of occupational therapy, which are:
* physical rehabilitation
* learning disabilities
* mental health
* social care.
As a qualified occupational therapist, you will be encouraged to keep your skills and knowledge up to date. The BAOT and the College of Occupational Therapists run workshops and offer other resources that can help you with Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Check the BAOT website for details.
What salary and other benefits can I expect?
* Starting salaries can be between £19,700 and £25,500 a year.
* Team managers and advanced therapists can earn around £37,500.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
What are the hours and working conditions?
You would usually work around 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Part-time work is often available.
You could work with clients in a variety of settings including hospitals, health centres, residential/nursing homes, GP surgeries, schools, in the client's own home or workplace.
You may need to travel between clients, so the ability to drive is an advantage.
What skills and knowledge will I need?
* a creative and adaptable approach to work
* the ability to design and develop individual treatment programmes
* a sense of humour with good written and spoken communication skills
* the ability to form effective working relationships with a wide variety of people
* patience, determination and a positive attitude
* the ability to motivate clients who are disappointed or frustrated
* the ability to understand and accept other people's priorities and lifestyles
* a practical approach to problem solving
* a high level of mental and physical stamina
* a strong desire to help people.
What opportunities are there?
You will find job opportunities within the NHS and social services.
With experience, you could progress to senior clinician or head of occupational therapy services in the NHS. There may also be opportunities to move into general health or social services management.
You could move into private practice and self-employment, education, or research. With qualifications from the UK, you are recognised by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) as meeting the required standard to practise overseas.
Where can I go for more information?
Health Learning and Skills Advice Line
Tel: 08000 150850
Health Professions Council
184 Kennington Park Road
Tel: 020 7582 0866
PO Box 376
Tel: 0845 606 0655
British Association of Occupational Therapists/College of Occupational Therapists
106-114 Borough High Street
Tel: 020 7450 2332 (Careers Info)
If you would like to discuss your career options with a learning adviser, call 0800 100 900 or visit: www.direct.gov.uk/careersadvice