Pediatric occupational therapists, commonly referred to simply as “OTs,” are highly-trained professionals who specialize in identifying delays in fine and gross motor development in children by providing therapy to help catch them up with their peers. These motor development skills may range from throwing a ball, walking up stairs, jumping, and climbing to handwriting, using scissors, and gripping small objects like crayons. Pediatric occupational therapists specifically work with children who possess any needs that prevent them from fully participating in their life’s activities, or occupations. Because of the wide range of areas that an OT may treat, you can find them in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, clinics, and schools.
Like any specialized professional, higher education and training is required to work as an occupational therapist. Below is an outline of the process to becoming an occupational therapist:
The minimal degree for becoming an occupational therapist is a master’s degree. This degree is denoted with the certification MOT, MS, or MA, depending on the program. Programs are typically about 2-2.5 years in length, and require a bachelor’s degree for entry, though this can be in any field. Each program may have different undergraduate prerequisite courses, including anatomy & physiology, sociology, psychology, and statistics, and require minimum undergraduate grade point averages. Most programs also require the GRE (the national graduate school admission exam) for admission, though score requirements vary by school.
Before graduation, occupational therapy students must complete Level I and Level II fieldwork to gain the necessary experience to practice. Level I fieldwork is designed to make newer students comfortable with the process of providing occupational therapy. This may include placements in a variety of settings to get wide exposure to the field. Level II fieldwork is more advanced, and allows students to join their coursework and field experience together to plan and deliver treatment at a more independent level. Fieldwork placement and opportunities will vary by your school’s program.
Occupational therapy graduates must pass the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) credentialing exam before they are eligible to work as a certified practitioner. Every three years, certification must be renewed, which includes the accrual of 36 units/hours of professional development activity, through conferences, seminars, or classes. This continued education is critical in the practice of occupational therapy in order to remain knowledgeable of current research and best practices.
Occupational therapists have an extremely high job satisfaction because of their ability to positively impact the lives of people of all ages. To learn more, visit The American Occupational Therapy Association (www.aota.org) for a comprehensive look into the field.