What Can You Do With An Occupational Therapy Degree?

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Occupational therapy is a form of therapy used to develop or restore an individual’s ability to perform day to day activities or a specific job, often as a series of treatments for the development or recovery of motor, physical, or cognitive skills or for recovery from injuries or illnesses. If you have a passion for helping others with daily tasks, if you take pleasure in watching others recover from physically harmful or draining situations, then perhaps you should consider earning a degree in occupational therapy. What can you do with an occupational therapy degree? This article covers areas you can choose to specialize in and more, including examples of schools that offer exceptional occupational therapy degree programs, to help discover whether occupational therapy is the right future for you.

Occupational Therapy Degree Programs

Your best bet to plan for a future education in occupational therapy is to consult your high school guidance counselor. He or she can advise you as to which courses your high school offers that will help build your basic knowledge and understanding of the subject or which courses would be most beneficial to begin honing the skills necessary to succeed in occupational therapy.

The University of Southern California provides students with a dual degree program: Bachelor of Science to Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy. In addition to the basic general education requirements, the undergraduate portion of this program covers everything from kinesiology and neuroscience to physical rehabilitation and pediatrics. Its completion also requires each student to take up an internship in order to help students gain knowledge best attained through experience. Communication skills are expanded upon, as are critical reasoning and research skills. The graduate portion of the bachelors to masters degree program in occupational therapy includes but is not limited to health promotion and issues relevant to adulthood and the aging process. The completion of another internship is recommended, as well. The university advises those interested in this particular program to enroll as freshmen, as spots may be limited and more complicated to acquire in later years.

Towson University also offers a bachelors to masters degree program for those interested in pursuing degrees and careers in occupational therapy: Bachelor of Science to Master of Science in Occupational Therapy. Students in this degree program learn how occupation and health can be combined to create occupational therapy programs and how occupational therapy can be used not only to treat individuals but to treat small groups, as well. Courses in the program also address health issues in communities and basic health care, clinical kinesiology, how genetic disorders can be treated with the use of occupational therapy, psychosocial aspects of human development, and more. Students also learn how occupational therapy can be applied to all age groups. Internships and independent studies are available to help students get a more personal and customized educational experience.

With four campus locations across the state of New York, graduate students attending the Dobbs Ferry campus of Mercy College can earn a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy. This masters degree program is particularly unique in that it allows students who have hectic schedules during the week to work on earning their degrees over the course of two years by attending classes held every other weekend. Of course, weekend classes don’t appeal to everyone, but they pay off in the long run. Faculty use various teaching methods, including but not limited to lectures, small group problem solving, and hands-on experience in order to best educate students on the health and rehabilitation aspects of occupational therapy for multiple age groups. The occupational therapy masters degree program at Mercy College is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

If you have a particularly tight schedule or lack the proper form of transportation, you can also consider earning your occupational therapy degree online.

Careers in Occupational Therapy

While enrolled in an occupational therapy degree program, you should develop an idea of what career path you may want to follow upon earning your degree. Choosing a career path early in your post-secondary academic experience will help you better shape your education to fit your future. Consulting with an academic adviser will greatly improve your academic experience, as well, because he or she will be able to direct you along the most beneficial path to your future.

Areas of Specialization with an Occupational Therapy Degree

As a student enrolled in an occupational therapy degree program, you may decide that you want to focus your studies on a particular area of occupational therapy. There are a number of areas you can specialize in, and doing so may require additional certification. However, that is not always the case. Some examples of areas occupational therapists often specialize in are listed below.

Pediatrics

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Occupational therapists who specialize in pediatrics choose to work with young children. They help these children recover from various situations, including physical injuries and illnesses. Pediatric occupational therapists also assess conditions of children with disabilities and develop methods of assisting in the children’s learning and communication abilities.

Occupation therapists specializing in pediatrics may work in schools, children’s hospitals, or other health care facilities.

Vision Recovery

Occupational therapists specializing in vision recovery, or vision rehabilitation, may work with people young and old experiencing vision problems as a result of an injury, illness, or just a general disability. They use a combination of occupational therapy and vision therapy treatment methods, including basic eye exercises to improve the vision of patients.

Many occupational therapists who specialize in vision rehabilitation work in optometrist offices or other health care facilities.

Assisted Living

Occupational therapists who specialize in assisted living do just that–they help people in need, both young and old, with daily living activities. These activities may include eating, bathing, dressing, and more. Interpersonal skills are a must-have for those who desire to specialize in assisted living, as is patience.

Occupational therapists specializing in assisted living tend to work in elderly homes or at individual residences. They may also have the skills necessary to work with children at schools, as well.

Mental Health

Some occupational therapists specialize in working with people who are struggling mentally. These patients may have learning disabilities, be physically incapable of performing necessary tasks, or be emotionally unstable. Occupational therapists who specialize in working with people with mental deficiencies help them develop better social skills and/or job skills in order to improve their lifestyles.

Occupational therapists who specialize in working with people who have mental disabilities or are emotionally unstable may work in various types of health care centers (i.e., psychiatric wards or private offices), individual residences, or schools.

Companies that Hire People with Occupational Therapy Degrees

Companies across the world look to hire people with occupational therapy degrees. If you’re not looking to pursue the entrepreneurial route, joining a company that will allow you to contribute the knowledge and skills you developed while earning a degree may just be your calling instead of opening your own practice. A few examples of places that hire people with occupational therapy degrees are listed below.

Vision Help – private practices in the eastern US; hires positions for vision specialists, optometrists, occupational therapists, etc.

Lexington Health – ten health care centers and four other assisted living or private care locations in IL; hires positions for occupational therapists, directors of assisted living, registered nurses, activity aides, etc.

Agility Health – Grand Rapids, MI; hires positions for certified occupational therapist assistant, occupational therapists, speech language pathologists, etc.

The Timothy School – located in Berwyn, PA; hires positions for occupational therapists

Occupational therapy will always be a necessity, because the human race faces new accidents and traumas on a daily basis that are best treated by occupational therapists of all sorts. If you have a passion for helping others, then consider earning a degree in occupational therapy.

Author: Rose Boettinger

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  • Brenda H

    I checked out your very interesting website. Thank-you for including occupational therapy! I just have a few comments.

    First, I would recommend putting occupations into the definition of occupational therapy. For example, occupational therapists look at the underlying client factors (motor, physical or cognitive skills), performance skills and patterns (roles, habits, and routines) and occupations – things people want or need to do every day. Occupational therapists use occupations both as a means; for example, tying shoes to increase hand coordination; and as an ends; for example, re-teaching someone to return to a much-loved occupation, such as gardening.

    Also, make sure it is clear that a Master’s degree is required for entry into the profession of occupational therapy. The Bachelor’s degree is typically a Health Sciences or other degree.

    The largest percent of occupational therapists (26.2%) work in inpatient hospital settings, including acute care and inpatient rehabilitation units. This would be worth a mention. I didn’t see hospital-based OT mentioned.

    Hand therapy is one of the the largest OT specialty areas, after school system practice, and would be worth a mention. Mental health is another area where OT works. There are relatively few OTs working in optometrist offices as vision therapists, and in fact optometrists often train people themselves to do vision therapy. You don’t have to have an OT license to do vision therapy (sadly).

    The mention of Assisted Living combined with school system practice is a little odd – it would be rare to spend part of your day in an AL facility and then part of your day in a school. It might be more common to do pediatric home care for preschool students, e.g., First Steps.

    That’s all my comments! The AOTA.org website might be a help in looking at practice areas – http://www.aota.org/Practice.aspx

    • Thank you very much for your feedback, Brenda! I appreciate the thoughts and statistics you’ve provided.

      The idea for the intro is an excellent suggestion.

      I suppose my wording for the latter portion of the assisted living specialization section is a little odd. My apologies. I hadn’t intended it to appear as if one person who specializes in assisted living would work in a specific assisted living facility and a school, just that a person could work in one or the other because specializing in assisted living can provide a person with the skills necessary to work in either environment.

      Thanks again for your input!

  • Tina Fletcher

    Checking the website AOTA.org can be really helpful. There is a special spot for people who are potential students. At times there is a live chat going on where a potential student can talk to an OT student. Also, potential students need to put in some time in an occupational therapy setting and the clinician’s assessment of the potential student’s ability to be a good therapist becomes part of the application process. So they need to take their clinical observation time seriously and manage it as if it were a job.

    Can I just say this about tattoos? Please, if you are thinking about a career in health care, if you must have a tattoo, put it in a place where you can conceal it if you need to. Many people feel tattoos are not professional, and people who are interested in becoming an occupational therapist should recognize that they are entering a professional program that is highly competitive to gain admission into. They should try to give themselves every advantage. Knowing some people have negative attitudes toward tattoos should be something they consider. Our school takes one in every eight person who applies. I am not sure what the statistics are nationwide, but it’s probably not that different.

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