by Dr. Kelly Layne and Dr. Kaitlyn Cremer, faculty members at University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences
You’ve probably heard about the field of Occupational Therapy (OT), but many people may not be aware of what OTs actually do.
What is Occupational Therapy?
Occupational therapy is a rehabilitative discipline that requires hands-on work. It is used to help regain a patient’s ability to perform daily tasks on their own. Occupational therapists also assist patients who have cognitive or developmental disabilities that affect their motor skills, behavior or emotions.
What do Occupational Therapists Do?
Occupational therapists are healthcare professionals who help individuals maximize functional performance. We work with people who have injuries, illnesses, disabilities, or other conditions that affect their ability to perform everyday tasks. The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) says “Occupational therapy is the only profession that helps people across the lifespan to do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations). Occupational therapy practitioners enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, and prevent—or live better with—injury, illness, or disability.”
As OT’s our treatment focus is on independence for our clients, whether they be a child born with developmental delays, a construction worker with a hand injury, or an older adult who survived a stroke, our primary focus is to enable functional independence.
We achieve this goal by incorporating activities of daily living. We take activities that are meaningful to a person and use them therapeutically to restore function. Functional restoration may consist of strengthening, performing the task a different way, or changing the environment to get the job done.
Who do Occupational Therapists Treat?
Occupational therapists work with individuals throughout their lives in a variety of settings to address the whole person. They not only address the physical impairments associated with an individual’s condition, but also the psychological, and cognitive. For example, a stroke does not just affect an arm or a leg, it affects how someone thinks and feels. It can affect the way the person gets dressed, eats, or even the ability to recognize family members. A stroke can change someone’s ability to live alone, drive a car, return to work, or care for loved ones. Because conditions affect everyone differently, occupational therapists design treatment differently for each client. This makes occupational therapy a broad field with many specialties. Here are some other examples of the type of people that OT might help:
- A baby who has trouble eating.
- A child doing poorly in school due to handwriting difficulties.
- An adolescent who has trouble paying attention but wants to drive.
- A waitress having tingling and numbness while carrying a tray.
- A woman having pain, swelling, and body image issues after a mastectomy.
- Someone recently diagnosed with diabetes having difficulty changing lifestyle habits.
- An individual with schizophrenia who needs life skill training to find a job.
- Someone who is in the hospital after a traumatic accident and is unable to care for themselves.
- An individual recovering from shoulder surgery.
- A company that wants to keep workers safe and prevent injuries.
- Someone transitioning from the workforce to retirement.
- An older adult who has recently fallen and wants to stay in his home.
- A family caring for someone with memory problems and is concerned about safety.
- A person transitioning to hospice and who needs help setting up his home.
There are countless ways that OTs can help people. Some specializations include; low vision, assistive technology, breastfeeding, caregiver training, driving and community mobility, feeding, pediatrics, hand therapy, physical rehabilitation, mental health, environmental modifications, school systems, and many more.
How to Become an Occupational Therapist
In order to become an occupational therapist, you must complete the three steps below.
1. Complete a Bachelor’s Degree
The first step t is to earn a bachelor’s degree in a related field from an accredited institution. Some graduate schools will only accept a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy. However, most will accept an undergraduate degree in psychology, kinesiology, biology, health science, sociology, or even liberal arts.
2. Earn a Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy
In order to become a licensed occupational therapist, you must earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Master’s programs typically take around two years to complete.
3. Pass the NBCOT
You will need to pass the National Board of Certification of Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) examination to practice in your state. If you want to further your career opportunities, you can opt to earn your Doctor of Occupational Therapy.
Occupational therapists’ experiences are as unique as the people they serve. Being an occupational therapist gives you the opportunity to work one on one with clients to help them reach their goal. OTs use their backgrounds in science, rehabilitation, and psychology to empower the entire person.
If you are interested in learning more about the rewarding career of occupational therapy, we invite you to check out the programs available at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, which has grown to become the largest graduate-level OT and PT university in the country.
Are you curious about the difference between occupational therapy and physical therapy? Read about it here.
About the Authors
Kelly Layne, OTD, MOT, OTR/L, BCCS
Dr. Layne has over 16 years of clinical experience in a variety of treatment settings including Acute (ranging from small rural hospitals to Trauma I hospitals), Acute Rehab, Acute Psych, Outpatient, SNF, and LTAC, among others. She has worked with individuals with a wide range of diagnosis across the life span. Dr. Layne has served as lead orthopedic therapist in both Acute and Acute Rehab settings. She joined the faculty at University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in 2014.
Kaitlyn Cremer, OTD, MOT, OTR/L
Dr. Kaitlyn Cremer earned her Master of Occupational Therapy and Doctor of Occupational Therapy from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences. During her doctorate work, she became a certified caregiver trainer for families caring for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, and she partnered with St. John’s county to provide services to families in need. Dr. Cremer holds a specialization in low-vision occupational therapy and she was clinical director for a low-vision occupational therapy company. Dr. Cremer also has experience treating in a variety of settings including acute-rehab, sub-acute, acute, outpatient adult, and outpatient pediatric. She joined USAHS as contributing faculty in 2016 and full-time faculty in 2017.