Among the many specialisms within NHS care, occupational therapy roles have often assumed a lower profile than others. However, this has never taken away from the essential and hugely beneficial impact these professionals can have on the lives of patients.
Focusing on helping people of all ages and backgrounds to overcome difficulties they may be having in accomplishing everyday tasks and activities, occupational therapists play a crucial role in helping the elderly, infirm or physically impaired to adapt to their conditions or regain their mobility and independence.
There is growing evidence that occupational therapy could be set to become more important than ever in the coming years, meaning more and more professionals will be taking an interest in learning the ins and outs of these roles.
The basics of the role
Occupational therapists' most basic responsibility is to work with people facing physical, mental and social disabilities and help them to attain or regain a functional lifestyle, using a range of strategies and specialist equipment to enable people to reach their personal goals.
This could include assisting people who have been incapacitated by accidents, physical and mental illnesses, disability or ageing, offering help and training in daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, eating, gardening, working and learning.
Staff will be tasked with adapting homes to the needs of residents, assessing and recommending the use of equipment such as mobility aids, wheelchairs and artificial limbs, and generally helping to bolster the confidence and independence of patients.
Those who choose this field of medicine will work in many different roles and settings, but three core personal qualities are essential - a desire to help people and solve their problems, a passion for improving quality of life, and the ability to be patient, practical and creative in interpersonal communications.
The career path
Those looking to embark upon this rewarding career path will usually need at least five GCSE passes and at least two (usually three) A-levels to be accepted onto an occupational therapy degree programme - often, science qualifications are specifically required. However, Access to Higher Education courses, BTEC National Diploma/Certificates, NVQs and GNVQs are also accepted on occasion.
They would then need to study a three-year full time BSc (Hons), four-year part-time/in service BSc (Hons) or two-year accelerated entry course at one of the higher education institutions in the UK in order to gain the necessary qualifications.
A wide range of roles, settings, specialisms and fields are available within occupational therapy. The average working hours are 35 to 37.5 hours per week. Demand for staff in this field is high, meaning applications can be competitive, but also that numerous significant job opportunities and career development opportunities are available.
The growing need for occupational therapy
Reforms to NHS operational models means occupational therapy is set to become an increasingly vital component of care. Increasingly, the health service is looking to pay more attention to long-term conditions - especially among vulnerable groups such as the elderly and mentally ill - meaning occupational therapists will be prized for their ability to manage health issues before they become seriously debilitating.
Moreover, the extension of personal health budgets to people with chronic conditions will make it easier for these patients to choose the care pathway that suits them best, which could also see more people exploring the benefits of occupational therapy.
With this in mind, there has rarely been a better time to explore the possibilities of this exciting field of medical practice.
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