Occupational Therapy: Put Your Hands on a Rewarding Career

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As an educated and certified occupational therapist, how will you put your knowledge and skills to work? Those who enter this field find it to be very rewarding because this is a career in which the therapist interacts in creative and positive ways with his or her patients. Occupational therapy is a subspecialty of rehabilitative medicine. It is unique because the therapist connects with the patient challenged by illness or injury so that he learns a successful way, literally, to occupy his life—hence the term ''occupational therapy.'' This can mean either a wage-producing occupation, or it can mean the patient's successful mastery of techniques in order to occupy his life with meaningful activities.

Previously, a bachelor's degree was sufficient, but the current standard requires the successful occupational therapist to achieve a Master's degree in Occupational Therapy (MOT). There are two ways to do that: Some universities offer a traditional Master's program for students who have achieved an undergraduate degree, most often with a health science major. Other universities combine a bachelor's/Master's course of study. The student enters the program without a bachelor's degree but the five-year program culminates with the achievement of both degrees. The student also completes six months of clinical work; this ''internship'' is usually part and parcel of the program. Once he sits for and passes the national certification examination he can then become a licensed practitioner in his home state. Many therapists go on to earn a doctoral degree. Salaries will range from $50,000 to $80,000 per year for the candidate at the Master's level who does not subspecialize.

Those who are interested in entering this field as an occupational therapy assistant can begin by attaining an associate's degree in occupational therapy.

An occupational therapist's patients range in age from the very young to the very old. Approximately equal numbers of therapists work either in a school system or in a skilled nursing facility. Others find careers in acute care hospitals or at rehabilitation facilities that focus on subspecialties such as physical therapy, speech therapy, athletic training, and other areas. Yet others find careers with companies that seek to help employees who need adapt to individual situations; or they travel to patients' homes to help them reach their goals. They work in disability rehabilitation jobs, productive aging activities, children's issues, or mental health areas.

About one-fourth of all patients requiring occupational therapy assistance have suffered a cerebral vascular accident. Other neurological conditions include traumatic brain or spinal cord injury. Additional patient diagnoses include spina bifida, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Parkinson's, cerebral palsy, or other conditions. Injuries might involve fractures or joint replacements.

Many professionals delve into deeply varied specializations of the field. One example is the therapist who focuses on intervention from complex pain syndrome, which can mean interruption in normal motor function or even speech impairment. Another example is hand therapy, in which the occupational therapist helps the patient with disability of the hand and arm, usually the result of trauma. The hand therapist must demonstrate an additional five years of clinical experience in order to achieve certification.

Working in behavioral health includes traditional mental health units, either in mental health institutions or within the acute care hospital setting. These can include visiting the homes of children affected by autism, helping adults in prison, management of eating disorders, or early intervention of psychosis.

Vocational rehabilitation
is what most people think of as ''traditional'' occupational therapy. In order to help a person return to his job, the therapist must evaluate the patient's ability to learn and put events into sequence. Can the patient look at a pattern and tell you what the next shape will be? If not, he needs help before he can resume responsibility for decision-making in the course of his trade. Can the patient demonstrate abduction and flexion of his arm and hand? If not, he needs help before he can resume responsible operation of the equipment at his workplace.

The most appealing challenges of this career are the unique personal interactions with people. The therapist empowers the patient by helping him to define the limits of his environment. The patient participates in deciding what structure he wants to achieve. He can then learn to focus on the satisfying areas of his life and not dwell on the accidents or illnesses that disabled him.

To reach a career at this level, you have probably already focused on getting the training you need. Your next best move is to find the one expert resource that will connect you with openings from all geographic areas, both urban and rural, to identify the best professional choices for you. You can view openings working with your preferred patient population or your ideal type of work setting. OccupationalTherapyCrossing.com, a division of EmploymentCrossing, provides you with everything you need to take the next step. Positions in this field have been culled from thousands of websites and put into one easily searchable database.

Besides this flexible, easily searched database, you will find videos and articles written by experts on job search techniques to help you realize your potential in this vast, rewarding profession. Visit OccupationalTherapyCrossing.com today to discover your next step.
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