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 via the Disabled Students’ Allowance.
You'll also 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?
You’ll receive an annual personal development review to ensure you’re making the most of every opportunity offered. And with continuous professional development, you can add to your skills and progress to specialist roles with a higher pay grade.
You’ll be encouraged to join the British Association of Occupational Therapists, where you’ll gain professional indemnity coverage and a trade union membership.
You’ll also be able to work in a range of settings, from elderly care to paediatrics. Your role could move into research or education, and there are many opportunities overseas.
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.
Are you physically strong?
If you choose to become an occupational therapist, you will need to be physically fit and strong – and work to maintain that strength – so you can stand by a patient’s side and support them.
The physiotherapy techniques used by occupational therapists can be difficult for patients. You will need to offer support and provide strength as your patients master new techniques.
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.
Are you nurturing?
An occupational therapist should be nurturing, investing a lot of care and attention into their patients and ensuring the care you are providing helps them to feel confident and well supported.
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.