The career path of an Occupational Therapist
By Dan Allard
Occupational therapists can expect a fulfilling and varied career working closely with patients to help them live independently, whether you choose to work within the NHS or for social services.
Occupational therapy support worker duties
Before qualification, you may wish to work as an occupational therapy support worker.
OT support workers may report progress to patients, liaise with other agencies (such as nursing or social care staff) or check that equipment is in good condition. There are plenty of opportunities to learn on the job, and some employers may fund training to allow support workers to gain their occupational therapy qualification.
Occupational therapist duties
NHS occupational therapists work across a wide range of wards (such as orthopaedics, surgery, or stroke) to gain clinical practice. Typical tasks may include carrying out assessments and managing caseloads, and planning and developing treatment programmes. You may carry out home visits and liaise with external agencies, such as social services or care homes, as part of multidisciplinary working, as well as contributing to case reviews and sharing feedback with clients.
Social services OTs are employed directly by local authorities and your job will include sourcing home adaptations for clients, to help them remain living at home independently. You will play an important role in taking pressure off NHS services and are an integral part of adult care teams.
Senior/specialist occupational therapist duties
Despite whether you work for the NHS or within a local authority, you may be expected to develop and monitor services, as well as supervise unqualified staff.
You may decide that you wish to specialise in a specific area of occupational therapy rather than working in rotational posts. There are many opportunities to do this; within the NHS you may choose to focus upon neurorehabilitation, or you could work in areas such as Trauma, Acute Specialist Medicine, or Haem-Oncology. Those working for social services play an important role in prevention and early intervention. You may choose to specialise in reablement teams, sensory services or adult early help teams. Senior social services OTs will increasingly be the link between health and social care settings.
Advanced occupational therapist duties
For those working in advanced OT job roles, you will be expected to take a role in planning, coordinating, delivering, and evaluating services as well as managing individual caseloads.
Some may choose to expand their career prospects through advanced clinical practice qualifications. This postgraduate qualification has been designed specifically for allied health and nursing professionals in a bid to enhance the delivery of clinical practice within different specialities and practice areas. Although this is a level of practice and not a specific job role, those with ACP qualifications (available as a master’s degree, or level 7 apprenticeship) may find themselves more employable.
Consultant occupational therapist duties
As well as managing your own caseload, those working at this level should hold operational responsibility and clinical governance for services. You will also be expected to use strategic knowledge to develop new services and work as a visible leader, getting involved in wider research and commissioning developments.