Accidents, injuries, congenital conditions, developmental or cognitive disabilities, mental or emotional issues, illness, age, and other such factors prevent people from living normal functioning lives without the need for daily assistance. Occupational therapists help individuals who are thus challenged, navigate the struggles of daily life. Not just this, they also help them achieve independence and enjoy their life to the fullest.
Helping people recover or learn to manage their disabilities can be an extremely rewarding way to spend one’s time, and can make a significant difference to a patients’ quality of life. If you’ve been looking for a career that is different and enables you to help people, work on your feet, and stay abreast of current medical trends, occupational therapy could be a great fit.
What exactly is occupational therapy?
Occupational therapy, or ‘OT’ as it is often referred to, is a health care profession that uses occupational, or ‘purposeful’, activity to help those individuals (newborns to the elderly) whose tasks of daily living are impaired by developmental delay, physical injury, medical or psychiatric illness, or a psychological disability. It employs various exercises and physical and mental activities meant to challenge and thereby further improve and develop motor and sensory perception, judgment and problem-solving skills, cognition, hand functions, and hand-eye coordination. Patients with physical limitations that cannot be healed or cured are taught how to circumvent those limitations in order to manage everyday activities and work-specific tasks independently, sometimes through physical or mental exercises, and sometimes by using specially designed devices.
“Occupational therapy is set apart from other professions in health care because of its holistic nature where the focus is on the individual and adapting the environment as per the individual’s need. Apart from the individual’s physical and cognitive needs, psychological and emotional well-being is also of prime importance. OT enables people of all ages and abilities to engage in activities that are meaningful to their lives,” says occupational therapist, Priyanka Raikar.
Requirements to be an occupational therapist
OT is a 4-year degree (plus a compulsory six-month internship). To apply, one needs to pass standard XII in physics, chemistry, biology, and English with at least 45 to 50 per cent marks.
Subjects in the curriculum include anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, pathology, microbiology, orthopaedics and surgery, medicine psychiatry, psychology, along with the fundamental of occupational therapy. The course includes classroom training as well as practical sessions.
Besides the academic eligibility, certain personal traits and qualities are also required. “Occupational therapy is a career where one needs to use his/her creativity and ingenuity when adapting and prescribing certain activities to the patient’s individual needs. Cultural awareness is an important factor here, since we deal with patients from different backgrounds,” says occupational therapist, Vivek Vajaratkar. “Since we work intensely with people, good interpersonal skills such as communication skills and being a team member are desirable traits. Patience, compassion, empathy, and motivation are key,” he adds.
Where do occupational therapists work?
There are many kinds of practices available to specialise in, in this field. For example at a pediatric hospital, therapists work with premature babies or children with cerebral palsy or Down Syndrome. Many practitioners choose to help children thrive in the ‘occupations’ of childhood, which include learning, playing, and growing. Therapists also work in schools with students who have learning disabilities or behavioral problems. Others work with older people in their homes or nursing homes, helping them to recover from strokes or deal with Alzheimer’s disease. Some practitioners choose to help accident victims to regain needed skills or offer assistance to people with mental illness. Occupational therapists also work with individuals who are dealing with alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, eating disorders, or stress-related disorders.
It is important to note, however, that one must have at least a Master’s in Occupational Therapy (MOT) in order to teach the subject at a college or university. Also, while India does not require a MOT for practicing occupational therapy, other countries especially in the west, like the United States do. “So if you are considering pursuing occupational therapy abroad, it is may be advisable to study the extra two to three years at an accredited school offering a master’s programme,” says pediatric occupational therapist, Mahera Kantawalla. Depending on their area of interest; students can choose specialities such as musculoskeletal sciences, cardiovascular and respiratory sciences, developmental disabilities, neurosciences, mental health sciences or community medical sciences.
Job prospectus for occupational therapists
Employment of occupational therapists is projected to grow 21 per cent over the next ten years, much faster than the average for other occupations. Apart from the increasing need for occupational therapists in India, the Gulf, Australia, America, and Europe all have great prospects for future occupational therapists. Glass Door, one of the world’s largest job and recruiting sites, ranked an occupational therapist as the 4th best job in the US for 2018. Occupational therapists with specialised knowledge in a treatment area also will have better job prospects. “In Goa, the demand at present is for pediatric occupational therapists. Special schools, regular schools with resource rooms are now employing therapists to help children in need. However in the metros, the demand is for all types of occupational therapists,” adds Mahera.
Occupational therapy in Goa
The Bachelor of Occupational Therapy course in Goa is being offered at the Goa Medical College, Bambolim under the Allied Science Course. The course is affiliated to the All India Occupational Therapists’ Association and the World Federation of Occupational Therapists.
Other colleges that offer the course are:
Seth GS and KEM Hospital, Mumbai
TNM Medical College and BYL Nair Hospital, Mumbai
Manipal College of Allied Health Sciences, Karnataka
National Institute for the Orthopedically Handicapped, Kolkata
India Institute of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mumbai
Pt Deen Dayal Upadhyay Institute for Physically Handicapped, Delhi
Christian Medical College, Vellore
Govt. Medical College, Nagpur
Encouraging students to take up this stream, Jared D’Lima, a final year student of occupational therapy says: “This is a field that needs commitment and people who are willing to think out of the box; people who are brimming with creativity, and imagination. It is hardwork but in the end it pays. Those who want to take up healthcare should consider OT as an option.”