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Occupational therapists help people overcome physical and mental problems that are the result of disability, injury, ageing or illness.

Occupational therapists provide practical advice and solutions to enable people to live full, satisfying and independent lives.

What does an occupational therapist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Occupational therapists work with adults and children with many different needs, from patients who need support adapting to life after major surgery to elderly people who need adaptations such as stairlifts in order to be able to stay in their own homes. They provide practical advice and solutions to enable people to live full, satisfying and independent lives. Specific duties vary depending on the field of work and whether occupational therapists (sometimes referred to as OTs) are based within hospital or community settings.

However, common responsibilities of the job include:

  • undertaking patient assessments of physical, communication, interaction and cognitive skills
  • planning and providing appropriate treatment and activities
  • giving advice and arranging support for family members, carers and clients
  • undertaking general administrative tasks, for example writing reports, making telephone calls, maintaining records and case notes
  • liaising with doctors, family members, carers and other professionals and keeping them updated
  • planning further treatment and reviewing progress
  • assessing treatment success at multi-professional case conferences/meetings
  • advising people on how they can approach everyday tasks differently
  • adapting people's environments, whether at home or at work

Typical employers of occupational therapists

  • NHS trusts
  • Local authority social services departments
  • Nursing and residential homes
  • Day care and health centres
  • GP practices
  • Prisons
  • Industrial organisations

Vacancies are advertised online, by recruitment agencies and careers services, in newspapers and on websites such as Occupational Therapy Jobs and the Royal College of Occupational Therapists website. You will also find vacancies on the NHS jobs website and on the websites of NHS trusts.

Qualifications and training required

You need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) to practise as an occupational therapist and, in order to register, you need to complete an undergraduate or postgraduate occupational therapy degree approved by the HCPC. Approved degrees are listed on the HCPC website.

Undergraduate occupational therapy degrees take three or four years full time. You usually need two or three A levels or equivalent, along with five GSCEs at grades A to C including English language, maths or science. Postgraduate diploma or masters courses in occupational therapy usually take two years, and institutions typically require a relevant first degree and healthcare experience.

There are also some part-time courses you can take if you are working in a senior occupational therapy support role and your employer is willing to support you. Occupational therapy support workers work with occupational therapists and are also sometimes known as occupational therapy assistants. There are no set entry requirements for occupational therapy support worker roles.

Key skills for occupational therapists

  • Patience
  • Determination
  • Enthusiasm
  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • An interest in working closely with people
  • Good teamworking skills
  • Ability to find solutions to problems

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In Partnership

This content has been written or sourced by AGCAS, the Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, and edited by TARGETjobs as part of a content partnership. AGCAS provides impartial information and guidance resources for higher education student career development and graduate employment professionals.

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