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What does an occupational therapist do?

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As human beings we all carry out hundreds of ‘occupations’ every day.  Occupations are the usual or unusual everyday activities that we want, need, or choose to do.  For example, getting out of bed, brushing your teeth, making a hot drink, and getting dressed are just a few of the occupations that most of us take part in each morning.  Occupations might be ordinary or extra-ordinary: they bring meaning to our lives, shape our identity and make us who we are.

Two students using equipment in mock house

When people experience a barrier to carrying out their chosen occupations, maybe because of a physical injury or disability, a mental illness, a cognitive impairment, or their social & economic circumstances, an occupational therapist can help.

Occupational therapy is an allied health profession, registered by the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC) and there are approximately 40,000 occupational therapists working in the UK today.

As an occupational therapist you’ll enable people of all ages and abilities to achieve their goals and facilitate them to participate in activities which they enjoy. Clients could include babies and children, people with physical impairments, people who are adjusting to life after a serious injury or illness, people with learning disabilities, people with mental health conditions, older people or those with life limiting illnesses.  Occupational therapists also work with families, carers, and people around the individual to provide holistic support.

The role of an occupational therapist can be really varied. You could find yourself: adapting someone’s home or workplace with physical aids so that they can be more independent; exploring recovery strategies in the community for someone with mental health illness;  teaching an older person how to use a range of specialist equipment; running groups for prisoners to facilitate rehabilitation; or working in A&E to prevent hospital admission, to name just a few.

How can I become an occupational therapist?

At the University of Sunderland, we offer a BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy degree which will equip you with everything you need to become a fully qualified occupational therapist. You’ll study in our Science Complex at City Campus and venture out on to our practice placements which form a significant part of the course.

You must be passionate about helping others and have a keen interest in the role as you’ll need to complete a minimum of 1,000 hours on placement either within the NHS, local authorities or within a range of non-traditional and emerging providers.

You can find out more about the BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy course along with the entry requirements here.

Why should I study occupational therapy at Sunderland?

At the University, you’ll have access to state-of-the-art facilities and simulation technology which replicates real life environments and scenarios, helping you to get a feel for what life is like working in industry. We have an occupational therapy room with space to observe and engage in activities, a mock house with all the amenities you would find in a standard home, an immersive suite which allows for a range of simulated scenarios, rehabilitation laboratories, and a mock hospital ward for you to practice your skills ahead of embarking on work placements.

Our lecturers are industry professionals with years of experience working in the NHS and both the public and private sectors. As one of our students you’ll be learning from academics who continue to be immersed in relevant and contemporary practice. Collectively our lecturers have had some very interesting roles throughout their careers such as working in prison mental health, stroke care, paediatrics, orthopaedics, rehabilitation, learning disability care, and much more. All of our lecturers continue to work one day per week in practice, meaning they maintain connection with the clinical workplace and learning for students reflects this. 

Upon graduating from a degree in occupational therapy, you’ll have the advantage of having a structured career path with good long-term prospects in a key worker profession. The average UK starting salary is £25,000 for a registered occupational therapist, growing to around £45,000+ for experienced therapist.

More information

To find out more about our occupational therapy degree come along to our next open day where you’ll be able to chat to lecturers about the course in more detail and ask any questions you may have.

Published: 3 February 2022