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Why a career in occupational therapy will open doors

Occupational therapy is often misunderstood. This allied health profession’s name leads many to assume it’s about helping people in the workplace – yet it goes far beyond the boundaries of employment.

The term ‘occupational’ actually relates to every task and activity a person may engage in each day, explains occupational therapist Associate Professor Lynne Adamson from Deakin University’s School of Health and Social Development. This includes everything from getting dressed in the morning, cooking a meal or driving a car, to participating in leisure and social occupations such as going to the movies with friends.

‘Occupational therapists work with their clients to first identify which occupations are meaningful to them, and then work on ways to regain independence that has been impacted by illness, injury or other conditions,’ Assoc. Prof. Adamson says.

So, as you can imagine, this opens doors to many different surprising career opportunities for OTs.

Broadening horizons

With the skills and knowledge of OTs being increasingly sought after in many fields, the career options are multiplying every year.

Assoc. Prof. Adamson explains that while traditional health services, including mental and physical health related clinics, continue to be a large employer of OTs, this is no longer the most dominant area of employment. ‘OT graduates are finding meaningful work in private practices and community settings, in specialisation areas and generic roles. The skillset and problem-solving ability required to be able to assess and assist a client holistically is in high demand,’ she says.

The varied careers of Deakin University staff in the School of Health and Social Development demonstrate the wide scope of practice that OTs can engage in, with staff working across and having expertise in:

  • recovery from eating disorders
  • implementation of policy to improve accessibility and inclusion within communities
  • the use of play and occupation in improving childhood development
  • the use of SMART technology within homes of people with complex disability
  • improving environments within dementia-specific aged care facilities
  • neurological rehabilitation
  • hand therapy, and many more.

Each of these career paths have emerged from the study of one health profession – occupational therapy.

Surprising career opportunities

Assoc. Prof. Adamson says OTs work in a broad range of settings including private practice, public and private hospitals, rehabilitation centres, community services, specialist services, government departments, schools, universities, not-for-profit groups and businesses.

As a result of this broad scope, OTs work with clients from all walks of life. This includes individuals – from newborns to the elderly – as well as community groups, and teams in organisations. As Assoc. Prof. Adamson explains, ‘OTs will work with any clients who have an injury, illness or health condition (mental and/or physical health).

‘Due to the vast employment opportunities for OTs, they may find themselves working as a sole OT practitioner, to working in a multidisciplinary team of health professionals, through to working with government or business leaders,’ she adds.

'Occupational therapists work with their clients to first identify which occupations are meaningful to them, and then work on ways to regain independence that has been impacted by illness, injury or other conditions.'

Associate Professor Lynne Adamson,
School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University

In health service program development, for example, an OT might be employed to integrate programs for groups or individuals. They often work with professionals such as nurses, teachers, psychologists, osteopaths and nutritionists to develop plans and strategies which aim to improve the overall wellbeing of their clients.

Assoc. Prof. Adamson explains that the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has reformed the disability sector, placing a significant increase in demand for OTs working for service providers in private practice and also within the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA). ‘With the Ageing and Mental Health reviews currently being completed, a similar increase in OT demand may be seen in this area, due to the holistic and client centred approach the profession holds,’ she says.

OTs are also gaining opportunities to work within schools, to help identify students with development needs and implement interventions and programs. OTs are often able to travel around Australia and the world to follow their passions and discover the career path and clients that best suit them.

‘Alexa, open the curtains’

Assistive technology is a rapidly growing area within the field, with OTs being essential when it comes to implementing these innovations. Assoc. Prof. Adamson says, ‘OTs are able to both understand the technologies available and use their client-centred approach to make the technology relevant to the individual.’

For example, a client with a physical impairment that prevents them from easily executing daily household tasks now has the opportunity to have voice-activated technology installed, allowing them to open blinds, turn off kitchen appliances and turn on lights – just by asking.

Assistive technology can range from the now familiar and affordable robot assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, through to more custom, complex technologies that can be installed throughout a client’s home or workplace.

Assisted technology is only going to improve and become even more prevalent in the health field, meaning OTs will be in demand for their expertise and to prevent misuse of technologies.

Think occupational therapy sounds like it’s for you?

As part of the health sector, OT is a profession in demand and likely to experience employment growth. Health care and social assistance is projected to have the strongest employment growth of any industry over the five years to May 2022.

Assoc. Prof. Adamson points out that OTs possess a wide variety of skills, the most essential of which is the ability to hear and understand each individual’s story in order to know how best to work with them to achieve their goals.

‘OTs put the client at the centre of practice, and therefore need to be able to communicate, build rapport and develop strong relationships with people,’ she says.

OTs are commonly known for their strong problem solving skills and innovative approaches to complex situations. These transferable skills are what make OTs so employable across the allied health field.

Pursue a career you’re passionate about. Find out more about studying occupational therapy at Deakin.

this. featured expert
Assoc. Prof. Lynne Adamson
Assoc. Prof. Lynne Adamson

Associate Head of School (Teaching and Learning), School of Health and Social Development, Deakin University

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