May 28, 2016 by
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When Samia Rafeedie was an undergrad at Ohio State University, she sought out the help of an academic advisor. She knew she wanted to work in health care, but she just didn’t know “where” in health care. Her advisor suggested occupational therapy. Rafeedie remembers thinking: “I don’t want to help people find jobs.” But she followed up her advisor’s recommendation with a visit to an open house in the School of Allied Medicine, where health care professionals from different fields described their work. She’ll never forget what an occupational therapist said there: “Physical therapy teaches people how to walk, and occupational therapy teaches them how to dance.”
Rafeedie, now a doctor and assistant professor of occupational therapy at the University of Southern California, was sold on the profession. “We help people do the every day “occupations” of life, regardless of age, ability or disability,” she writes in an email. Occupational therapists work with patients to build or restore their abilities to perform the daily tasks of life. Indeed, occupational therapy can look very different depending on what sorts of issues the patient is dealing with, whether mental or physical, emotional or developmental. After a thorough assessment of a patient, the OT will then create a plan and work towards helping that patient meet certain goals, whether in eating and bathing to operating a computer and maintaining a budget. Their work also includes the keeping of meticulous records on the patient’s progress. Occupational therapists work in a number of diverse environments, such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, schools, small medical offices and clients’ homes. They also work in policy and administration, as well as research and academia.
The field has seen some vast changes in the last couple decades. One of the most exciting, writes Rafeedie, is the inception of occupational science. This is “the development of the science that validates what we do as occupational therapists, as it studies how meaningful activities – occupations – impact health, wellness, and well-being.” There’s also been an increased drive for further research and clinical outcomes, as well as a push for more preventive and proactive paradigms as opposed to just reactionary rehabilitative paradigms.
It’s an exciting time to be an occupational therapist, especially because the job market looks promising. The need for occupational therapists is expected to increase as baby boomers age and strive to maintain their independence and physical health. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects occupational therapist employment growth of 27 percent between 2014 and 2024, adding 30,400 more professionals to the 114,600 existing jobs in this field.
$78,810 Median Salary
1.1% Unemployment Rate
30,400 Number of Jobs