If you are searching for a career that can make a demonstrable difference in an individual's life, investigate becoming an occupational therapist.
The "occupational" refers to a person's job, but much more than that, includes anything that occupies a person's time, such as daily self-care and grooming, leisure activities, hobbies and community involvement. An occupational therapist works one on one with an individual who through disease or injury has experienced a change or loss of their regular occupational routine, both personal and professional.
Among the many kinds of individuals who can be helped by working with an occupational therapist are people who have suffered an on-the-job injury; those suffering chronic pain due to an accident or an ongoing physical condition such as backache or arthritis; those challenged by a debilitating disease such as Multiple Sclerosis, cancer or dementia; individuals prone to mental illness or substance abuse; children who have demonstrated learning disability; those recovering from surgery due to traumatic injury such as stroke, heart attack, broken bones and hip replacements; and people whose family situation and/or living conditions is causing them extreme stress.
To become a professional occupational therapist, an individual must undertake four years of undergraduate study leading to a bachelor's degree in occupational therapy or rehabilitation, and often continue onto graduate studies in these areas. Before being able to practice in a healthcare setting, occupational therapists must also complete extensive fieldwork and successfully pass a certification exam.
Practicing in the field, the occupational therapist works with each client individually with the overall goal to help the patient adjust to the frustration of their physical and mental limitations, to work to overcome them gradually and patiently, with the ultimate goal of assisting individuals in getting back to their jobs, and their ability to conduct day to day activities in their real lives as smoothly and painlessly as possible.
Occupational therapists work with clients in such areas as managing and eliminating stress, testing physical and vocational aptitude in order to transfer that to other jobs as necessary, promoting healthful dietary and daily habits, assisting in job searches and helping a client secure training and education for a change in jobs if their current physical and emotional situation does not allow them to return to their previous employment.
Working in occupational therapy requires an individual who is an excellent communicator, empathetic without being overly sympathetic, knows how to motivate, and who exercises a great deal of patience when faced with dismal, bleak and challenging situations.
The average annual salary for an occupational therapist is around $60,000, working in a hospital, clinic or other healthcare setting.