A Day in the Life of an Occupational Therapist

Occupational Therapist job description

Occupational therapy helps people to live their best life at home, at work – and everywhere else. It’s about being able to do the things they need, want and have to do. That could mean helping people to overcome challenges in playing sport, learning at school, going to work or doing the things they love! 
As an occupational therapist, you’ll use your creativity and problem-solving skills to support people who find some areas of life difficult. That means talking to them to understand their needs, seeing challenges through their eyes, and helping them find ways to overcome those challenges. It makes occupational therapy an incredibly rewarding profession. It doesn’t get much better than knowing you’ve helped someone to live their life to its fullest.

What would a typical day look like for an Occupational Therapist?

Occupational therapists can work in many different fields such as social care, mental health, work rehabilitation, neurology, paediatrics and many more. Your day will differ depending on the setting and population you work with. You could be based in an acute hospital setting or see clients at their homes or schools out in the community. Occupational therapists don’t normally work shifts, however if you are based in an acute setting like A&E, you may be required to. The career options are endless, and the choice is yours. 

Where could I work?

A career in Occupational Therapy will allow you to choose if you want to work in a hospital setting, in the community, a school, with a charity and many other settings. You’ll help people of all ages to do the things they need or want to do. You could be working with offenders who have mental health conditions, liaising with architects to develop spaces for people with learning disabilities, supporting children to reach their goals and plenty more. 

What would my starting salary be?

Most jobs in the NHS are covered by the Agenda for Change pay scales and, as a recently graduated occupational therapist, you will start at Band 5, rising for more experienced and consultant occupational therapists. Pay and conditions will vary depending upon your employer and competitive rates are offered throughout the private and voluntary sectors so can vary significantly. You should always check with the employer to confirm the pay rate for any post for which you are applying.

What hours would I be working?

The average hours of work are 35-37.5 hours per week. The majority of occupational therapy jobs are Monday-Friday, but your role may also cover evenings and weekends especially in mental health community services, acute hospitals, accident and emergency services and private practice. If you work for a school, you may work term time only. 

What is the career progression like for an Occupational Therapist?

As an occupational therapist, your career progression can be diverse and very rewarding. You could progress to supervisory/managerial roles, consultancy, leadership and administration or you could continue with further education and skills development. Your professional qualification allows you to transfer to different specialities. You may start your career working in a Mental Health setting, but later in life decide that you rather want to work in a school. You will not need to retrain as your qualification covers all the subspecialities of Occupational Therapy. The career progression of an OT can be shaped by individual interests, goals, and willingness to learn and adapt.

Are there more specialised roles in Occupational Therapy?

Yes! Occupational therapists work with people off all ages and all abilities; therefore you can tailor your career to suit your interests. 

Working with Children

Working with children is a rewarding career choice. OTs help children to overcome barriers to their development so that they can grow and learn and reach their potential. You may work with children born with physical disabilities, supporting the child and family with specialised treatment approaches and equipment to become as independent as possible. OTs can help children who struggle with handwriting and motor coordination to overcome this and help them to thrive at home and school. Perhaps your interest lies in working with children with learning difficulties or autism and you can help them to develop and learn and live their best life. 

Geriatric Care

As an OT you can support older people to live independently in their own homes for as long as possible by using specialist treatment approaches and adaptive equipment. Working with community teams you can prevent older people from going into hospital after a fall and support them to recover at home. You will be able to support people with diagnoses such as Parkinson’s Disease, Dementia, and many other conditions to live with the dignity of independence. 

Working with Employees

When an employee of an organisation becomes injured or disabled, your skills as an OT can help the organisation to adapt their job role and environment so that they can continue to make a valuable contribution in their workplace. You can also support the setting to become more inclusive to people with disabilities by becoming an advocate and providing training. Your ability to analyse tasks and devise creative solutions to barriers will help your clients to maintain their independence and dignity while making a meaningful contribution to their workplace. 

Working in Mental Health services

OTs are often based in secure mental health settings where they support people to engage in day-to-day activities which have been disrupted by mental ill-health. By using specialised treatment approaches, OTs can support clients to gain confidence in their abilities and support transitions back into the community. As part of the community teams, OTs work with clients to find creative solutions for managing barriers to everyday life. OTs come alongside people struggling with their mental health in all walks of live including young people, mothers with postpartum depression, offenders in prison, victims of accidents and trauma and many more. 

Working in Physical Health services

An injury or disability can alter a person’s life dramatically. OTs work with people who have had neurological trauma like strokes or brain injuries, life changing surgery, spinal cord injuries and many other conditions to help them to find new ways of doing day to day tasks like getting dressed or cooking. OTs work with people who have had orthopaedic surgery including amputations and joint replacements. Our hands are important in every activity we do; therefore, OTs often work as hand therapists to support people to regain function in their hands after injuries by making splints and using specialised treatment techniques. 

Working the private and voluntary sector

The OT’s goal is to support people to overcome barriers to everyday life by being creative and finding novel solutions to problems. Therefore, there is a role for OTs in all areas. OTs often work with charities, in prisons, on care farms and many other settings. OTs also work in the private setting offering services like mental and physical health intervention, care coordination, paediatric treatment services, consultation with schools and employers and much more. 

Do I need a degree for Occupational Therapy?

Yes. You can obtain a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy which is a 3-year full time course. If you already have a bachelor's degree in another area, you can obtain a Maters of Occupational therapy degree which is a 2-year full time course.  These are professional, vocational qualifications which means that you will be a qualified Occupational Therapist who can register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and the Royal college of Occupational Therapy (RCOT) once you have obtained your degree.

To explore this career in more depth visit NHS Health Careers

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