Occupational Therapy

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Major in Occupational Therapy

Article by Rachelle Wiggins

“Whatever work God has allotted to you for this day, year, or decade, do it for His glory with the zeal and diligence that is granted to us through the Holy Spirit.”  ~Christos Makridis

Occupational therapy (OT) is a health and wellness profession that focuses on helping individuals with permanent or temporary illnesses, injuries or disabilities achieve satisfying and independent lives. OT patients range in age from early childhood to senior citizen and could be stroke victims, special needs individuals, injured athletes, or those suffering with chronic conditions and even acute illness. While half of OTs work in hospitals or rehab/therapy offices, others can be found working in residential centers, nursing homes and in private home settings. Occupational therapists assist in a huge span of everyday tasks including everything from eating to dressing to cooking to budgeting to using a computer. They may also offer support with challenges in executive functioning, time management and organizational skills. Often working as teammates with physical therapists, OTs are concerned with all types of impairment and loss of skill: cognitive, physical, motor, sensory and emotional. As the population continues to age, and the role of OTs expand, the projected growth rate for this life-enhancing profession is on the rise. On average, other fields increase by roughly 7% per year, but occupational therapy is projected to grow by 27% over the next decade, showing the true need that exists in this field!

So, beyond a compassionate heart that desires to help people, what are some of the other essential skills and traits for excelling as an occupational therapy major at Christian colleges? For starters, it is important to have a strong sense of determination. Not only is the degree program fairly demanding, but the job itself can be challenging and requires some level of ongoing education. Mental and physical stamina is certainly helpful. Also, when working with diverse populations, strong interpersonal and communication skills are a must! In OT it is imperative to listen well so as to properly assess the needs of patients and respond with optimum care. There is a lot of explaining, coaching, motivating and evaluation that goes on and a client’s progress must constantly be reassessed. Because of this, it is important to be flexible to the needs of a given situation and to be a creative problem solver. When one solution doesn’t work, try another! Managing the ever-changing work load and treatment goals of multiple patients requires diligent organizational skills as well.

As of 2007, nearly every state requires a master’s degree before becoming a licensed occupational therapist. Some Christian colleges with occupational therapy programs offer accelerated or dual degree programs to help students meet this goal within five years. Other students earn an associate’s degree in order to gain work experience as an OT assistant (a career that is seeing a 40% increase!) and later build on their education to become a full-fledged occupational therapist. There are many options! For a bachelor’s degree in OT, the classes you might expect to take include:

  • Medical Terminology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Sociology or Anthropology
  • Statistics
  • Physics or Kinesiology
  • And plenty of psychology (general, abnormal, developmental, etc.)

Obviously the most natural fit for a degree as specialized as occupational therapy is in the immediate field of OT. However, OT majors find themselves in other related careers as well. Some examples are:

  • Athletic trainer
  • Art therapist
  • Dance movement psychotherapist
  • Life coach
  • Ergonomist
  • Sports therapist

If you empathize with the hurting and thrive in a caregiving role, then maybe God’s next step for you is a major in occupational therapy!  “Commit your work to the Lord, and your plans will be established.” Proverbs 16:3           

A future in Occupational Therapy

By Amber Gragert

If you know you would like to be in the healthcare industry but are not quite sure where you would fit, then you are a great candidate for an occupational therapy major. It is said that, "physical therapy teaches people how to walk, but occupational therapy teaches them to dance." They work with patients that are in some way disabled or impaired. This is a vocational degree with a great deal of firsthand work experience required in order to graduate.

There are a few different approaches you could take while working towards your future career. One of those is a pre-professional program in which you participate in an internship, or fieldwork education, along with your regular studies. This is essentially a pre-requisite program to take all the necessary classes needed in order to apply for an occupational therapy School. The coursework includes classes such as: anatomy and physiology, foundations of occupational therapy, and medical ethics. Taking part in a pre-professional program does not guarantee you that you will be accepted into a graduate program and completing the program also does not qualify you for certification of licensure. That is what graduate school is for.

The next option would be your typical master's-level educational program. During this program you will hone your skills and learn subjects such as anatomy and neuroscience, basic and advanced patient care skills, childhood development and disabilities, rehabilitation medicine and procedures, and prosthetic uses and limitations. All of these subjects prepare you for anything that comes your way as an occupational therapist.

Then there is doctoral-level coursework you could advance to. Those classes include ones such as: Changes in learning and behavior, leadership concepts and practices, OT program development, OT group practices, and technological advances in OT. These are all classes to catapult you to the next level and turn you into a leading player in this field - creating and teaching new techniques to the next class of occupational therapists.

Practicing therapists, and even their assistants, are all required to have licensing specific to each state; however, all therapists are required to take and pass a standard certification exam as well. This is administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy. Through your internships, labs, and lectures you will discover the tried and true tools, as well as the newest and constantly advancing technologies and treatments to assist people with disabilities and disorders. Not only that, but you will be helping them lead healthier and happier lives through your internships and fieldwork in clinics and hospitals - not to mention your future employment. You could be helping people live more full and independent lives just by helping them master or often completely relearn everyday activities like dressing themselves or driving. Talk about a rewarding career!

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics anticipates a 27% growth in working occupational therapist’s positions between now and 2024. Job samples include: An art therapist, care manager, dance and movement psychotherapists, ergonomist, social worker, special education needs teacher, and sports therapist.