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What does an occupational therapist do?

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Occupational therapy is an allied health profession, registered by the Health Care Professions Council (HCPC) and as of 2021, the HCPC reports there are over 40,000 occupational therapists working in the UK today. As an occupational therapist, you’ll enable people of all ages and abilities to carry out a number of daily tasks and activities. 

If you’re interested in learning more about occupational therapy, including what the role involves and potential salary, what an occupational therapist does on a daily basis, and how you can become an occupational therapist, keep reading!

What is occupational therapy?

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 extraordinary, as they bring meaning to our lives, shape our identity and make us who we are.

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 and economic circumstances, an occupational therapist can help. 

occupational therapy students learning at the mock house

What is the role of an occupational therapist?

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 or exploring recovery strategies in the community for someone with mental health illness. It may also include 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.

Your 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.

"I would 100% recommend University of Sunderland for anybody thinking of studying Occupational Therapy. I have received support from all the lectures and support staff and have been made to feel confident and comfortable in what I am doing. I would advise coming in on open days to see the facilities which is so good for the learning experience."

Sofie Cooper, BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy

How do I become an occupational therapist?

At the University of Sunderland, we offer two routes to begin a career as an occupational therapist. We have a traditional 3-year route, the BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy degree which will equip you with everything you need to become a fully qualified occupational therapist.

We are also proud to be the only higher education provider within the UK that offers an accelerated 2-year route, the BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy Accelerated degree, which means you can obtain your degree faster. Find out more about the accelerated occupational therapy route.

Upon successful completion of our courses, you'll be eligible to apply for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) as a Graduate Occupational Therapist and can apply for professional membership of the professional body the Royal College of Occupational Therapists. Find out more about the application process for occupational therapy and our other allied health professions courses.

Why study occupational therapy at Sunderland?

Our lecturers are industry professionals with years of experience working in the NHS and both the public and private sectors. All of our lecturers continue to work one day per week in practice, meaning they maintain connection with the clinical workplace which enables them to teach students with contemporary and lived experience.

At Sunderland, you’ll have access to state-of-the-art facilities which replicate real life environments and scenarios, helping you to get a feel for what life is like working in industry. We have facilities including:

  • 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
  • A multi-sensory for placements and research
  • A mock hospital ward for you to practise your skills ahead of embarking on work placements

We are also proud to offer an occupational therapy garden, where our students are passionately involved in growing and maintaining the area. As well as learning in an outside classroom space, the garden allows our students to conduct research and socialise. The garden also contributes to the wider community as our students have previously delivered flowers to residents of a care facility. 

Occupational students listening to their lecturer in the garden

What does an occupational therapist earn?

Upon graduating from a degree in occupational therapy, you’ll have the advantage of having a structured career path with good long-term prospects. According to National Careers, the average starting salary for a registered occupational therapist working in the UK is around £28,000. A more experienced occupational therapist can earn up to £50,000.

More information

To find out more about our occupational therapy degrees, 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. Hear from our current occupational therapy students, or visit our subject hub on the website. 

Published: 25 March 2024