Occupational therapy (OT) is one of the quickest-growing careers in the field of medicine. Many new therapists are entering the field every year, and there’s no shortage of jobs for them. Those who work in the field report that the career is rewarding and fulfilling.
Here’s what you need to know about this fascinating field and what, exactly, it involves.
What is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapists focus on helping their patients adapt to physical limitations. These therapists help people of all ages participate in everyday activities that may have become physically difficult for them.
Some occupational therapists focus on helping children with disabilities learn to walk again. Others help people who are recovering from surgery or an injury to get their body strong again. Occupational therapists can work in homes, hospitals, or schools to help assist people as they relearn necessary life skills.
Occupational therapists also provide support for older adults who experience physical and cognitive difficulties. OT is helpful if a person is dealing with pain that they cannot manage, an injury, illness, or any disability that makes everyday tasks challenging. With the right occupational therapist, many people can manage their pain, relearn necessary life skills after surgery or an injury, and function at normal levels.
Occupational therapists will offer individualized evaluations of each patient to help determine a person’s goals. They’ll also customize a plan to help improve a patient’s ability to do daily activities. Then the therapist will evaluate the patient’s progress along the way to make sure the goals are being met.
Unlike many other medical professions, OT services have a holistic view that focuses on adapting an environment to fit a person, not the other way around. This means that the patient is a valued and integral part of the therapy team.
How much does occupational therapy cost?
Occupational therapy is often covered by health insurance. Most health insurance companies consider short-term OT to be a medical necessity after a surgery or an injury. It’s essential to the healing process, so it will often be covered for at least a short amount of time.
Some policies will limit the number of sessions that a patient can attend. After that number of sessions is met, insurance companies will often no longer support OT, and patients will be forced to pay out-of-pocket. For patients that are covered by health insurance, typical costs consist of coinsurance of 10%-50%.
For patients who are not covered by health insurance, costs can range anywhere from $150-200 for an initial evaluation to $50-200 per hour depending on the specialization. Costs tend to be more expensive if a patient goes through a hospital. You may find that a therapist who works at a hospital will charge $100 per hour, while one who works in another facility may only charge $50 an hour.
However, these prices are not set in stone. The costs vary depending on health insurance, lack of coverage, specialization of therapy, and geographic location. While OT can be expensive, it can also be reasonably priced.
Careers in occupational therapy
Getting a career in occupational therapy isn’t for the faint of heart. Anyone searching for careers in this field must have a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and must successfully pass the NBCOT Examination.
The first step to obtaining a career in OT is to earn a relevant bachelor’s degree. After receiving a bachelor’s degree, students will need to apply for a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Most OT programs will accept undergraduate degrees that have a focus on medicine or education, such as biology, psychology, or sometimes even liberal arts.
It usually takes students around two and a half years to earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy. The next step is studying for and passing the NBCOT Examination for Licensure.
The process of getting a license to become an occupational therapist can look a little different based on which state you live in. Regardless of location, however, you’ll probably face paying an application fee (most application fees are between $500 and $540), submitting official transcripts, undergoing a background check, and scoring high enough on the NBCOT test to pass.
After taking and passing the exam, you’ll be a licensed occupational therapist in your state. If you fail the test, you can wait 45 days and retake it. Occupational therapists are also required to complete continuing education credits and licensing tests. This ensures that therapists stay up to date on the newest and most important information in occupational therapy. You can look online at Mint.com to get an idea of the average occupational therapist’s salary.
There are many specialties within the broader field of occupational therapy.
Gerontology occupational therapists work with the elderly in their homes, workplaces, communities, or other facilities.
Therapists who specialize in mental health need to completely understand the interaction between body and brain, including how mental health conditions can impact occupational performance. This can be one of the most challenging but rewarding specializations within the field.
A mental health specialization focuses on providing mental health intervention that incorporates wellness for patients. Typically, these occupational therapists offer their clients the ability to work in a hospital or a home setting.
Pediatrics is a popular specialization that focuses on supporting children while they learn or relearn daily activities such as playing, learning, and socializing. Occupational therapists who specialize in pediatrics are very important to not only the children they help. These therapists have the opportunity to truly change a family’s life.
This is one of the broadest specializations within occupational therapy. Physical rehabilitation is a formal certification you can get while working in a number of other specialties. This certification includes the ability to create and institute client-centered therapy that will help people across all age groups and conditions master necessary life skills.
Becoming a traveling OT
Occupational therapists have endless opportunities, including the ability to become a traveling OT. This can be a dream-come-true for anybody with wanderlust in their soul who are looking for a career that allows them to travel the world.
There are a few ways to transition from being a regular occupational therapist to a traveling OT. Start your search with a good resource site like this, or link up with a specialty staffing agency like Fusion Medical Staffing who can do the legwork for you. Either way, you’ll probably need at least one year of experience before transitioning to fieldwork.