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Career Profile: Occupational Therapist

Why Is Occupational Therapy a Job of Tomorrow?
Occupational therapists play an integral role in the health care profession as medical technology allows more people to overcome otherwise debilitating conditions. These patients will then need the help of an occupational therapist to help them regain their independence in performing routine, daily functions. Employment opportunities for occupational therapists are predicted to rise 23 percent, a much faster growth rate than the average for all U.S. occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The average annual salary for occupational therapists is $60,470.

What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?
Occupational therapists work with patients who are suffering from a mentally, physically or developmentally disabling condition, such as injury trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder. Their goal is to help patients become independently functional and productive again, helping them regain their ability to perform job duties like typing, as well as routine behaviors such as getting dressed and cooking. In the case of patients with permanent disabilities, such as paralysis of the legs, occupational therapists teach them how to use wheelchairs and prosthetics. Occupational therapists also create and manage therapy plans for their patients, keeping records of their progress as well as making any changes necessary to aid in their recovery. Therapists often work exclusively with a certain type of patient, such as the elderly or those with spinal cord injuries.

What Kind of Training Do I Need to Become an Occupational Therapist?
A master's degree or higher in occupational therapy is required to get licensed. A master's program typically takes about two years to complete, therefore a prospective occupational therapist should expect to spend at least six years in school before practicing, as a bachelor's degree is required for any occupational therapy master's program. The degree program courses cover such subjects as anatomy, behavioral science and basic biology. After earning a graduate degree with an accredited program, students must pass a national certification examination that allows them to become registered occupational therapists. Continuing education is recommended for occupational therapists, although relicensing is not required, according to the Columbia University Medical Center.