Interested in a career where you can actually help people? Then occupational therapy might be for you. We explain what the subject is, where it can take you and why you should study it.
Occupational Therapy is a skilled profession that uses a combination of science, health and social care to help people get better both physically and mentally so they can live the life they want.
Occupational therapists are regulated by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and tend to work in health-care environments.
Helping people overcome their illnesses, injuries or disabilities, occupational therapists work with a variety of people, ages and issues.
Professional problem solvers, their role involves looking at their patient’s physical, psychological and social state, as well as the environment around them and use that knowledge to help them overcome any issues or tasks they’re struggling with.
From getting out of bed, washing their face and making a simple meal, to doing exercises to strengthen their bodies and being happier in the workplace, occupational therapists help people perform a range of everyday tasks.
As well as helping patients complete tasks, occupational therapists also recommend specialist equipment and certain improvements based on their patient’s individual needs. This includes suggesting wheelchairs, equipment to make eating easier, artificial limbs and even just putting up notes around the house.
As well as working with patients, occupational therapists also work with employers, schools and families, taching them how to accommodate particular needs.
Occupational therapists can work in a range of healthcare settings, including hospitals, schools, care homes, in the voluntary sector, and even their own private offices alongside other healthcare professionals. Some will see patients in these surroundings, while others may go to their patient’s home to give advice and treatment.
To become an occupational therapist, you’ll usually need at least a diploma or a masters in occupational therapy, which takes between two-three years to complete if studied full-time. Although make sure any course you do is HCPC-approved!
What you learn while studying an occupational therapy qualification depends on where you choose to study it, but most will be a mix of both theory and practical work, so you’ll get to use the skills that you’re learning in the classroom in a work environment.
During the course, you’ll not only learn how to assess and treat your patients, but also learn about biological and behavioural sciences that will help you in your role. By the final year of study, it’s likely to you’ll be expected to be seeing patients without supervision, so you’ll certainly learn a lot in a few years!
Ideally you need an undergraduate degree in occupational therapy. Make sure that the university where you got this degree is approved by the HCPC, as they’re responsible for registering occupational therapists, and you need their approval to get a license to practice.
Not got this particular degree? Entry requirements can differ depending on where you apply, so check with your chosen university beforehand, as some may accept you based on previous work experience or because you’ve got a similar or relevant undergraduate qualification.
Occupational therapists are primarily problem solvers. They find solutions to their patient’s struggles, whether it’s performing simple tasks or teaching them new skills to enrich their lives. So, if you can think outside the box and aren’t overwhelmed by the idea of teaching someone, this might be for you.
You also need to be a good communicator, as occupational therapists need to be as good at explaining as they are problem solving.
You also need to be a people person with patience to be an occupational therapist. Not all patients will be able to perform the tasks you ask them to, or will get better in a short period of time, and you can’t give up on them, no matter how tough things may seem.
There are several ways to pay for a postgraduate occupational therapy course.
You can apply for a career development loan at either the Co-operative or Barclays Bank. Up to £10,000 can be applied for, and is repayable (with interest) once your course is over.
You may also be eligible to apply for the new postgraduate loans, where you could get up to £10,000 to pay for your course fees and living costs. Just like your undergraduate degree, you start paying this off once you earn a certain amount, and you’ll pay this loan back alongside your undergraduate repayments.
You may also be able to get NHS funding depending on your circumstances. The NHS has an online bursary calculator to help you find out what you’re eligible for from them.
Plus, it’s always worth looking to see if the university you’re interested in offers bursaries or scholarships and if you’re eligible.
The average salary for an occupational therapist ranges between £21,000 - £41,000 depending on your seniority. Your salary as an occupational therapist will depend on where you work, not just geographically but the work environment too.
For example, occupational therapists working in the NHS will work on the band system. Starting at band 5, you can work your way up to senior level (band 6-7), and then onto consultant status (band 8), with salary increasing as you work your way up the band structure.
Occupational therapists make a genuine difference to people’s lives, and that’s an amazing thing to do as a job in itself. You can transform someone’s day and help them perform tasks they never thought possible. If that won’t convince you, nothing will.
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