The role of doctoral-prepared occupational therapists in academia


Occupational therapy is a crucial part of medical rehabilitation. As an occupational therapist, your role is to help people adapt to everyday living when ordinary tasks are challenging due to an accident, genetic disability or other physical issue.

Whether your patient needs help with adapting to showering with an amputated leg or is an autistic child who struggles with daily tasks, the assistance you provide is invaluable.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the outlook and opportunities for occupational therapists will grow dramatically in the next decade.

The role of doctoral-prepared occupational therapists

As a working occupational therapist, you might be considering expanding your reach and expertise with a doctoral degree in occupational therapy. Institutions such as American International College offer online occupational therapy doctorate programs that provide the flexibility you need as a working professional who wants to further your education.

You can graduate in less than two years when you choose full-time study, but the program is designed to work with your schedule and can be extended. Once you have completed the program, you will be prepared to implement evidence-based therapies in multiple areas, including academic, community and clinical settings.

Occupational therapists in teaching roles

If you have a passion for teaching others who want to become occupational therapists, your doctorate will prepare you for classroom instruction at the community college and university levels. This is a rewarding path for those who are ready to move out of direct patient care into a non-clinical role.

Many occupational therapists prefer to have a hybrid schedule where they continue to work with patients part-time and teach classes the rest of the time. This can allow you to keep your skills fresh while helping students become occupational therapists.

Occupational therapists in research roles

Many medical procedures and approaches rely on evidence-based care, and occupational therapy is no different. Therapists are encouraged to integrate research with the patient’s preferences, background and beliefs when developing an occupational therapy care plan.

Many assessments, interventions and long-term outcomes are influenced by what is learned from this research. While most occupational therapists choose personal patient care and interaction, ongoing research can be a valuable contribution to the field.

Occupational therapy is dynamic and ever-changing so current research can play a big role in finding new ways to help patients with their therapeutic needs. Clinical researchers often work at large universities where they perform studies and assess the results to advance treatment methods.

You can also work at a government research center conducting trials on new drugs and new treatment methods that seem to have positive outcomes.

Other roles for occupational therapists

An occupational therapist can work in multiple settings, from helping an elderly person learn to get around with a walker to helping a disabled child learn to get around in school. Since each patient is unique, a therapist must often be inventive and think outside the box to determine the best solutions.

Occupational therapists in a hospital

Within a hospital setting, there are many units where you can work as an occupational therapist. In acute care, you can help patients who are going home with a chronic disease learn how to manage daily tasks, such as taking a bath, getting in and out of bed and preparing a meal.

In a post-surgery unit, you could work with a patient to change their wound dressing, go to the bathroom and navigate the stairs in their home. Another crucial way an occupational therapist helps people is to educate them on resources that can help make the transition smoother. You will also provide referrals for them to see other medical providers as needed.

Occupational therapists in rehabilitation centers

From heart surgeries to knee replacements, occupational therapists work in rehabilitation centers to assist patients who have had surgery and need help restoring their energy and ability to a healthier state. People who come to rehab centers frequently need to learn how to handle ordinary life tasks in a new way, which is the expertise of an occupational therapist.

Your role as an occupational therapist is to teach patients ways to participate in their favorite activities and encourage them to remain as active and independent as possible.

Occupational therapists in schools

Working in a school setting can be a rewarding role for an occupational therapist as you help children who have physical, mental or emotional challenges learn to participate in daily school activities. You might focus on certain academic skills, such as fine motor skills like holding a pencil to write notes or modifying an activity so a wheelchair-bound student can participate in a game.

Occupational therapists work closely with teachers to help them modify various components of the school day, so all students are successful. This includes being part of the individualized education program for students who need extra support.

Occupational therapists in home healthcare

Home healthcare strategies are growing as more of the population ages. Occupational therapists are a key part of helping seniors live their lives in a healthier, more independent way. As people age, they can struggle with chronic diseases and illnesses that require ongoing care.

You might help a diabetic person learn to take their blood sugar readings on a regular basis and teach them how to protect themselves from open wounds. Many older people can benefit from weightlifting and walking to boost their health, and you can help them learn how to do this in a safe manner.

Another aspect of home healthcare is to help patients set daily routines for taking their medications at the same time each day and planning meals to ensure they are eating enough food. Working with their caregivers to educate them on the disease or illness is also important.

Occupational therapists are part of a dynamic medical team that helps patients deal with a variety of health challenges. Whether you want to be part of academia or prefer to work one-on-one with patients, earning a doctorate in occupational therapy will prepare you for this rewarding career.

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