Occupational Therapy (OT) is one of those hidden gems of healthcare. You don’t always hear about it when healthcare is talked about. When you need it though, it can be the key to your ability to adapt to a life-altering health status or to other conditions that make it difficult to thrive.
What is Occupational Therapy?
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. “…occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations). ” The perspective of this type of therapy is holistic; so that adapting the environment to the needs of the person and including the person as a part of the team, is critical to its success as a therapy.
For example, if a person has had a stroke and is now unable to use their right hand/arm like they used to, the OT will assess what function is present, what is likely to return or not, and determine a set of goals with the person to assist them to reach their highest level of function. This may include the use of adaptive tools so that the person may learn how to do certain activities of daily living, or other activities. OT’s will even do a home visit to make recommendations on how the environment can be adapted to suit the person’s needs and level of functioning.
What education is required?
Surprisingly, the entry-level education of OT’s is at the Master’s level. A person interested in becoming an Occupational Therapist might wish to obtain a Bachelor’s degree in fields supportive of their end goal such as kinesiology, sociology, and other fields that include coursework on biology and physiology. Once the Bachelor’s degree is attained, the Master’s in Occupational Therapy can be accomplished; and there are some programs that offer a dual program as well. You want to ensure whatever program you elect to take is accredited; otherwise you may not qualify to take the certification exam, which is required in order to obtain your license.
Where do they practice?
Occupational Therapists can work in several different settings. The majority tends to work in hospitals, but you can also find them in private offices, in the school systems, skilled nursing facilities and as part of the home health care team.
How much can they make, and what is the career outlook like?
It really depends on what setting an OT works in that determines their overall salary. However, they can earn between $66,000 to $83,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The need for Occupational Therapists is also projected to increase by 29% over the next decade according to the same source, which gives it a strong outlook.
What is the most pressing problem facing OT today in the healthcare arena?
Reimbursements for services are often billed through health insurance or Medicare. Currently, there is concern that a cap will be placed by Congress on the amount of outpatient therapy that will be permitted to be reimbursed. This could potentially affect the outcomes patients experience by reducing or limiting their access to this vital therapy.