Occupational therapist: job description

Last updated: 21 Jun 2023, 15:39

Occupational therapists help children and adults with physical, mental or cognitive conditions take part in daily activities.

consultation to represent therapists

What does an occupational therapist do? Salaries | Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Skills

Occupational therapists (sometimes known as OTs) provide practical advice and solutions to enable people to live full, satisfying and independent lives. They work with patients to help them participate in the daily activities they want to do, from working to moving about their home easily.

Typical duties include:

  • undertaking assessments of patients’ physical, communication, interaction and cognitive skills
  • planning and providing appropriate treatment and activities
  • organising adaptations to patients’ homes or workplaces – for example, arranging for a wheelchair ramp to be installed
  • helping patients select and use new equipment
  • advising on exercises that can improve patients’ mobility or dexterity
  • giving advice and arranging support patients’ family members and carers
  • 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.

Specific duties vary depending on the field of work and whether occupational therapists are based within hospital or community settings.

As an occupational therapist, you’re likely to work standard ‘office’ hours, although little of your work is office based. You may need to travel during this time, and some of the work can be physically and emotionally demanding.

Graduate salaries

The NHS website states that occupational therapists’ starting salaries are around £25,500. Your salary will be set as part of a government agreement so, while it won’t be open to negotiation, it is likely to increase incrementally as you gain experience.

According to Glassdoor, you could earn around £27,000 (outside the NHS) as a starting salary. Again, your earnings will increase as you gain experience, particularly if you choose to specialise.

Typical employers of occupational therapists

  • NHS trusts.
  • Local authority social services departments.
  • Nursing and residential homes.
  • Day care and health centres.
  • Educational institutions.
  • GP practices.
  • Prisons.

You can also work as a self-employed occupational therapist, meaning you can choose your own hours and whether you want to focus on patients with specific needs.

Jobs are advertised by careers services, university departments and the Royal College of Occupational Therapists. You’ll also find them on specialist job sites and individual employers’ sites. NHS trusts and health centres may also advertise locally.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into this field for school leavers and graduates.

Graduates need to have completed an undergraduate or postgraduate occupational therapy degree that is accredited by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). Approved degrees are listed on the HCPC website. Once you’ve completed the course, you’ll need to register with the HCPC before you can practise as an occupational therapist.

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.

Work experience should be an essential part of your career planning, both to help you build insights into patients’ needs and to help your job applications stand out. However, work experience doesn’t have to be in an occupational therapy setting. For example, you could volunteer with adults at a day centre or with a children’s play scheme.

School leavers wanting to work in this field can take a degree apprenticeship in occupational therapy or work as an occupational therapy support worker.

Key skills for occupational therapists

  • Excellent interpersonal and communication skills.
  • The ability to build trusting working relationships with people from all sections of the community.
  • The ability to explain complex information simply and accurately.
  • The ability to find solutions to problems.
  • Teamworking skills.
  • Discretion and patience when working with difficult situations.

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