Occupational therapy is often a misunderstood profession in the health care industry. It is not about getting people in the right jobs, as the word "occupational" suggests, but rather helping patients develop, recover and improve the skills needed for working and daily living. Occupational therapists work with a variety of patients, from newborns to seniors.
Besides including a range of therapies to address medical conditions, the profession offers different types of work settings. Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants may work in schools, hospitals, rehabilitation clinics, nursing homes, private practice and home care. The types of therapy provided include sports medicine or hand therapy; for example, teaching a patient who has limited control over his or her hands to learn how to type.
"If someone knew that they wanted a career where they could change their work environment to keep themselves engaged, then working in occupational therapy is a good choice," says Thomas Laster, program director for the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at South University. "I have met OTAs who go to work every day in elementary schools helping kids, or OTs who fly around the world working with businesses to improve the safety of the working conditions for their employees who perform repetitive tasks." In 2010, there were 137,300 people working as occupational therapists or occupational therapy assistants, and that figure is expected to grow 33 percent and 43 percent by 2020, respectively, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Generally, occupational therapists have a master's degree, but more are earning professional doctorates, and OTAs have associate, or two-year, degrees.