What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapist

Have you ever wondered what an occupational therapist does?  Find out about our occupational therapists and the work they do here at UHDB.  Whether you're a patient or you're interested in becoming an OT, here's what you need to know. 

What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists support and empower people to do the day-to-day activities that matter to them and increase independence and satisfaction in all aspects of life. ‘Occupation’ refers to any activity that enables someone to live an independent life and can include self-care, work or leisure activities. For example, getting out of bed in the morning, getting dressed or making a meal.

Occupational therapists work with adults and children of all ages with a wide range of conditions, including mental health illness, physical or learning disabilities. They can work in a variety of settings such as hospitals and health organisations, social services, housing, education or voluntary organisations.

To help a person overcome the effects of a disability or illness, the occupational therapist will consider all aspects of the person’s needs, including their physical, psychological, social and environmental needs. Interventions may include providing adaptive equipment, exploring coping strategies, modifying activities or developing new skills.

What’s a typical day for an occupational therapist on neurology rotation?

"I have been part of neurology rotation for the last three years and have been able to practice and develop my neuro assessment and treatment skills every day.

"Currently, I am working on the Neurorology Rehabilitation Ward and using the core of Occupational Therapy (OT) and focusing on function is wonderful. We use the activity room, kitchen, hospital shops and hospital grounds to assess and develop our patients physical and cognitive skills.

"Mornings are often for new patients, breakfast and washing and dressing assessments. The late morning groups are a fun way to combine mood, upper limb, and brain injury education to our patients. Assessing higher level cognition often involves time off the ward either accessing local community or home environment, this is a perfect way to grade towards discharge. We have regular team and patient meetings to allow the supportive multi-disciplinary team to work together and focus on the patient's goals. As a band 6, I have a lot of opportunities to provide training, support students, and link with the other rotation staff. This role has provided the opportunity to expand my understanding of neuro OT and the role we can all play within a hospital setting to improve patient care".

Band 6 Occupational Therapist, Neurology Rotation

Career paths for an occupational therapist

To become an occupational therapist you will need to study an approved pre-registration programme. Most UK courses are BSc degrees, although postgraduate diplomas, master’s degrees and degree level apprenticeships are also available. There are over 35 universities in the UK that deliver pre-registration occupational therapy programmes accredited by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.

All pre-registration courses combine both practical placements and academic study.

You will need five GCSE’s at A-C, including English, Maths and often Science, and relevant A-levels or equivalent to the level as required by the university. Entry requirements obtained at A-level can vary depending on the university, so visit their individual websites for further details.

Find out more about how to become an occupational therapist (opens in new window) >

A career in occupational therapy can take you into a wide range of roles from clinical to management to education and beyond.

Why I became an occupational therapist

“I always knew I wanted to work in a ‘therapy’ career but was aware of the many roles available and was unsure which would be right for me, so I arranged some work experience at a local hospital.

During this I was immediately drawn to occupational therapy because of the way in which the OTs focused on patient centred goals. In particular, we saw a young mother with severe back pain and whereas other professionals were fantastic at treating her condition and symptoms, the occupational therapist was the one who focused on what mattered most to the patient - being able to pick up her children and play with them. The occupational therapist developed a treatment plan centred around that goal, which clearly meant everything to the patient. That was when I knew that occupational therapy was the career for me.”

Jayne Seagrave, Senior Occupational Therapist, Trauma and Orthopaedic Inpatient Therapy at UHDB.