Occupational Therapy: The Little-Known Career More Women Should Consider

Trying to choose between career paths or majors? Are you having trouble deciding between many interesting and appealing work settings? Are you looking for a rewarding, respected field where you can be a professional and still desire flexibility for your family? Perhaps you are looking for a profession with great pay and prospects, but still want to help others. If so, I have a great option for you!

When I was an undergraduate, like so many others, I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career. Originally I declared myself an English major, with the intention to teach. However, I was also interested in human behavior and the brain, so I switched to psychology. As I finished up my bachelor’s I realized I wanted to work with people and see physical improvement, which meant that counseling or psychology research probably wouldn’t be the right fit for me. So, I started to look into healthcare professions. I didn’t want to have to choose between my areas of interest: schools, mental health, and healthcare. I was thrilled when I found a career that has it all!

Occupational therapy is a lesser known health discipline. But with wide application and strong female founders, it’s a great choice for women considering a career in healthcare or anyone interested in changing someone’s life for the better.

What Is Occupational Therapy?

Occupational Therapy is a health profession that combines a person’s abilities, skills, and their environment to enable them to live the most active, independent life possible. This means that occupational therapy in practice can vary greatly depending on who the therapist is working with. Such as:

  • Working on strategies to help a seven-year-old with Down Syndrome learn letters or cut out shapes at school.
  • Helping a combat veteran with a traumatic brain injury and PTSD learn to drive a car again or find ways to get more rest at night.
  • Helping a recently paraplegic mother of three modify her house to be wheelchair accessible, including figuring out how she can make meals in her kitchen for her kids

An OT’s job is totally dependent on the client’s skills and goals.

What Kind of Education Do You Need in Order to Practice Occupational Therapy?

People have many different reasons for choosing this practice. My classmates have many different undergraduate majors, including exercise science, psychology, English, art education, mathematics, business, and many more. Here in Utah we have an Occupational Therapy Assistant (OTA) program and a Master’s of Occupational Therapy (MOT) program.

The OTA program, offered through Salt Lake Community College, is a 2 ½ year Associate’s Degree, and is adding a Bachelor’s degree option in the next year or two. OTAs work under a registered Occupational Therapist with a master’s degree, such as the MOT program offered at the University of Utah. Practicing therapists with a master’s degree can also return the school complete a doctorate (OTD) with the University of Utah. Both programs are high caliber and most admitted classes are majority female.

I spoke with a number of people and got a wide range of perspectives on why occupational therapy is a great profession for women in Utah.

Three Reasons You Should Consider Occupational Therapy

1. OT’s are needed and compensated well

Job growth in Utah and across the country is fantastic. According to the Federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in OT is expected to increase approximately 29% in the next ten years. This puts occupational therapy in the “much faster than average” growth category. In Utah, this means that there are currently more open jobs than available practitioners. Median compensation for OTs in Utah is $78,110 per year. Since occupational therapists work with populations from premature babies to geriatrics, the profession is growing on all sides. More and more mental health facilities are seeing the merit of OT and are trying hire therapists for that setting.

2. Leadership opportunities, compensation, and flexibility

Occupational Therapy has a long history of female leadership that continues to this day. Many OTs are drawn to the versatility of the field and the potential to break into new populations that could benefit from therapy.

“OT offers work settings that can be geared to progressive program development.  The profession of OT has a high degree of practitioner satisfaction in part because of the range of professional possibilities.” – Jeanette Koski, OTD and president of the Utah’s Occupational Therapy Association (UOTA)

Many women are also drawn to the field’s flexible work schedules.

“There is so much flexibility. I’m not stuck with certain hours or days at work.” – Andrea Dean, registered COTA in geriatrics and member of the 2015 UOTA Conference Committee

Dean also enjoys being in a female dominated work setting and feels women are well suited for the dynamic problem solving required in occupational therapy.

3. Person centered approach lets you harness creativity

An occupational therapist uses a wide range of skills. On a given day, one may do a little engineering, creating a custom adaptive device for a patient. The next day, the OT is spending time listening to another patient come to terms with their new diagnosis and finding ways to validate their feelings and helping them to see a future that is still filled with meaning. Later, the therapist may need to sit down and figure out a new way for a formerly avid gardener to get back to this pass time after a stroke leaves them paralyzed on one side. Not only is OT versatile and utilizes many types of skills, these skills are applied to improving lives, providing practitioners with even greater job satisfaction.

If you love to learn, love people, and are passionate about helping others, consider occupational therapy. Helping others and making good money, professional and flexible, with occupational therapy, you can have it all!

Whitney Smith Hutchings began the University of Utah’s Master’s of Occupational Therapy Program in 2015. She is a representative of the Health Sciences Multicultural Student Association for her class. Currently she volunteers as a community leader at UWEI. At UVU, she was a founding Vice President in the Pre-Occupational Therapy Club and involved in Query, presented by the Science Association of Women. She enjoys learning something new each day with her husband, Craig, and two daughters.

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