How to become an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists assess and treat people who, due to illness, injury or circumstance, are limited in their ability to undertake everyday activities. They assist people to regain lost functions, develop their abilities and social skills, as well as maintain and promote independence in their everyday lives to enhance health and wellbeing.

Personal requirements for an Occupational Therapist

  • Patience
  • Able to show initiative
  • A flexible attitude
  • Practical, innovative and observant
  • Good problem-solving skills
  • Good interpersonal and communication skills
  • Able to maintain client confidentiality
  • Able to work independently or as part of a team

Education & Training for an Occupational Therapist

To become an occupational therapist you usually have to complete a degree in occupational therapy at university. To get into these courses you usually need to gain your Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. Prerequisite subjects, or assumed knowledge, in one or more of English, biology, chemistry and physics are normally required. Universities have different prerequisites and some have flexible entry requirements. Contact the institutions you are interested in for more information.


Additional information

Before undertaking clinical placements required by courses, students will need to obtain a National Police Certificate, a Provide First Aid Certificate and immunisations, and undergo a Working with Children Check. Contact the institutions you are interested in for more information. It is a legal requirement for graduates to register with the Occupational Therapy Board of Australia before practising as an occupational therapist in any state or territory of Australia. Visit the board's website for more details.

Duties & Tasks of an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists:

  • Conduct tests to assess functional, emotional, psychological, developmental and physical capabilities
  • Plan and direct specific therapeutic programs for individuals using recreational, remedial, social, educational or vocational (job-related) activities
  • Select and design activities that improve an affected movement or function and help individuals to regain personal care skills
  • Assist people to gain or regain skills in social, leisure and work environments through graded individual or group therapy and activity programs
  • Monitor the progress of individuals and assist with the coordination of an appropriate health team
  • Assist children with disabilities to integrate into education programs in schools
  • Assess the ability of injured workers to return to their usual employment or perform alternative duties
  • Design and modify the everyday environment of clients to allow for better access and independence
  • Advise on the use of specialised equipment
  • Assess the need for, develop and run health education programs
  • Act as consultants to industry and government organisations
  • Undertake research
  • Teach in academic institutions, generally at tertiary level
  • Assist with policy development for health and other areas.

Tasks

  • Assessing clients' functional potential in their home, leisure, work and school environments, and recommending environmental adaptations to maximise their performance.
  • Assessing clients' emotional, psychological, developmental and physical capabilities using clinical observations and standardised tests.
  • Providing advice to family members, carers, employers and teachers about adapting clients' home, leisure, work and school environments.
  • Planning and directing programs through the use of vocational, recreational, remedial, social and educational activities on an individual and group basis.
  • Working with other Health Professionals in overall case management of clients.
  • Recording clients' progress and maintaining professional relationships in accordance with relevant legislative requirements and ethical guidelines.
  • Providing adaptive equipment, such as wheel chairs and splints, to assist clients to overcome their functional limitations.
  • Working with other professionals in providing specialist advice to specific client groups such as those requiring driver rehabilitation, third-party compensation and medico-legal representation.

Employment Opportunities for an Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists work in public and private healthcare organisations. These may include general and children's hospitals, aged-care facilities, rehabilitation centres, day care centres, community health centres, municipal councils, primary and secondary schools, prisons, centres for people with disability, independent living centres and other organisations. They may also work in private practice as clinicians, consultants or as injury management advisers. Employment opportunities are influenced mainly by the ageing of the population, levels of government funding and government policy initiatives.


Specializations

Occupational therapists may work in areas such as:

  • Aged care - providing programmes and equipment for people with medical and social problems associated with ageing.
  • Disabilities - working with people who have an intellectual, physical or sensory disability through planned activity programmes over long periods of time.
  • General medicine - working in hospitals or private practice to assess and treat individuals with physically disabling diseases or injuries.
  • Occupational health - assessing the safety of work environments and injured workers, providing rehabilitation and advice about adaptations for their return to the workplace.
  • Health promotion - assisting people who want to achieve a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
  • Paediatrics - working in hospitals, private practices or schools to assess and treat children with disabilities, developmental delays or learning difficulties.
  • Psychiatry - assessing and treating individuals with mental illness and behavioural disorders through programmes involving such methods as stress management.
  • Vocational rehabilitation - assisting injured workers to return to work.

Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapists assess and treat people who, due to illness, injury or circumstance, are limited in their ability to undertake everyday activities. They assist people to regain lost functions, develop their abilities and social skills, as well as maintain and promote independence in their everyday lives to enhance health and wellbeing.

  • Average age
    Average age
    34 years
  • Future Growth
    Future Growth
    Strong
  • Gender Share
    Gender Share
    92% female
  • Average full-time
    Average full-time
    41 hours
  • Weekly Pay
    Weekly Pay
    $1,569
  • Skill level rating
    Skill level rating
    Very high skill
  • Unemployment
    Unemployment
    Lower unemployment
  • Full-Time Share
    Full-Time Share
    58% Full-Time
  • Employment Size
    Employment Size
    17,500 workers
  • Employment Size
    Employment by state
    ACT: 1.6%
    NSW: 29.7%
    NT: 1.0%
    QLD: 20.0%
    SA: 8.1%
    TAS: 1.9%
    VIC: 24.5%
    WA: 13.4%
  • Employment Size
    Age brackets
    15-19: 0%
    20-24: 10.4%
    25-34: 42.2%
    35-44: 25.4%
    45-54: 14.3%
    55-59: 4.4%
    60-64: 2.3%
    65 and Over: 1%
  • Employment Size
    Education level
    Advanced Diploma/Diploma: 1.6%
    Bachelor degree: 75.1%
    Below Year 10: 0%
    Certificate III/IV: 0.3%
    Post Graduate/Graduate Diploma or Graduate Certificate: 22.2%
    Year 10 and below: 0%
    Year 11: 0%
    Year 12: 0.8%
    Years 11 & 10: 0%
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