Occupational therapists empower people to overcome the difficulties they face with living independently. They improve the quality of life for people living with disabilities, illnesses, traumas, ageing, and long-term conditions.
As an occupational therapist, you’ll make people’s lives much more comfortable. You’ll support people with health conditions that prevent them from doing the tasks and activities that mean something to them.
You’ll identify the difficulties they face in everyday life – such as dressing themselves or getting to the shops – and will work out the best solutions using their strengths.
Seeing their progress first-hand is incredibly rewarding. By identifying goals and working together, you’ll help people regain, maintain or improve their independence.
Occupational therapists work as part of an inspiring multi-disciplinary team to help all kinds of people overcome all kinds of challenges. This might include helping people recovering from accidents, living with disabilities, ageing or overcoming and learning to live with illnesses or mental health issues.
You’ll help every one of them live as independently as possible, so they can do the everyday things they need to do, as well as the activities they enjoy. You’ll help them learn new ways to do things and make changes to their environment to make everything easier.
In the role, you will help people:
adapt to life after major surgery
with mental illnesses or learning difficulties to complete everyday activities, such as work or volunteering
who are older, to live independently in their own homes by providing adaptations such as level-access showers or stairlifts
You'll solve everyday problems, such as:
advising on how to approach tasks differently
teaching how to use equipment or assistive technology
adapting living and working environments
developing strategies to meet your patients’ goals
As well as working with individual patients and their families, you might also work with groups.
What are the pay and conditions like?
Your standard working week will be around 37.5 hours, with the need to work flexibly over a seven-day period.
You will be able to claim £2,000 a year towards childcare costs through the NHS Learning Support Fund, and there’s funding available for adult dependants and some placement travel costs too. If you have a disability, there are grants to help with essential costs while studying via the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
If working on the NHS you will have access to one of the best pension schemes in the UK, as well as access to exclusive health service discounts and benefits at some of the most popular brands.
Where could you be working?
Occupational therapists work in a range of settings including:
social services departments
What are your career development opportunities?
A career as an occupational therapist opens up a huge range of opportunities. You could become a highly specialised practitioner, a researcher, or pursue a leadership and management career. If you want it a career in occupational therapy could provide you with a lifelong career that takes you from newly qualified clinician to an executive role at Trust Board level, such is the scope and breadth of the skills you acquire.
You’ll need to be a natural ‘people person’ who is able to make anyone quickly feel at ease. Creativity, and the ability to balance patience with enthusiasm, will also be a great help. You’ll need to enjoy working in a team and be able to think quickly on your feet.
Are you a good communicator?
Occupational therapists must be good listeners and talkers. You’ll need to listen attentively to what patients tell you. Plus, it’s important to be able to explain what you want your patients to do. You’ll talk to many different patients about many different injuries, which means many different things to communicate.
You’ll also need to communicate with other team members, doctors, and clinics. That will include delegating to occupational therapy assistants, so it is necessary to be clear, efficient, and confident during these discussions.
Do you have problem-solving skills?
As an occupational therapist, you must be able to come up with personalised strategies on how to help your patients and solve the problems that matter to them.
Do you have the ability to empower and enable others?
Occupational therapists work with an ethos of empowering others. It is important that you are able to judge when and where to channel your interventions as an occupational therapist so that you effectively support your patients with their recovery and reduce their reliance on health services.
To become an occupational therapist, you’ll need a degree in occupational therapy, which can take four years full-time or up to six years part-time. In postgraduate studies, it’s possible to gain a master’s degree in one to two years.
Once you’ve successfully completed your degree, you’ll need to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before you can start practising.
Two or three A levels.
Five GCSEs (grades A – C), including science.
Or equivalent qualifications include:
a BTEC, HND or HNC, including biological science
a relevant NVQ
a science-based Access course
equivalent Scottish or Irish qualifications
Applying with a degree apprenticeship
A degree apprenticeship with a healthcare provider is another option. Apprenticeships give you the chance to earn a living while gaining your qualification.
You will usually need Level 3 qualifications to get onto a degree apprenticeship.