Occupational therapy is about enabling people to carry out the activities involved in daily living by taking a whole-person approach to mental and physical health.
The word 'occupation' means the things you do to occupy time, whether that's brushing your teeth, having a shower, playing, cooking or gardening. Occupational Therapists (OTs) work with people – both children and adults – who experience a barrier to carrying out an occupation in their everyday lives.
In the case of a stroke patient like Mr Zemlinksy, OTs would work as a key part of the hospital’s multi-disciplinary team to assess the patient for difficulties that may prevent him from carrying out his daily activities. This might involve talking to him about his routines, hobbies and home environment, observing him carrying out everyday tasks and giving advice and support.
Once he has been discharged, an OT working in the community would continue to work with him in his home. This might involve helping to install equipment such as stair lifts, level-access showers and hoists and offering advice on how to access the community support networks available to him.
To work as an OT, you’ll first need to study an undergraduate or postgraduate university degree in Occupational Therapy. The entry requirements vary from one institution to another, so make sure you check the specific entry requirements with each university before applying. You can find a list of courses on the College of Occupational Therapists website.
After that you will need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council in order to practice as an Occupational Therapist in the UK.
As well as qualifications, an OT needs to be compassionate, sensitive and enthusiastic, as well as sensible and inquisitive.
The first job for most newly-qualified OTs is a rotation: a permanent role which involves rotating speciality every six months. For example, in a hospital you might work in cardiology, then stroke, then orthopaedics etc.
You can then go on to specialise in a particular area – perhaps working your way into a management role – or perhaps go to work in a completely different setting, such as working in the community.
There are also opportunities to go into research, academia or teaching, which may require further qualifications such as a PhD.
For more information about career opportunities as an Occupational Therapist, please visit the College of Occupational Therapists website.
Spend a bit of time on the College of Occupational Therapists website, where you’ll find lots of useful information to help you get started.
It would also be good to get some work experience in any health-related area, such as volunteering in a day centre or care home. This will help support your university application, as well as giving you valuable hands on experience of healthcare.
One thing to keep in mind is that you don’t need to go into Occupational Therapy straight from school – many occupational therapists come to this career later in life and more life experience can actually be very helpful for this role.
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