Occupational Therapist

Occupational therapy is an exciting and varied career. It offers you the chance to make a difference, a high degree of flexibility and excellent employment prospects. Occupational Therapists work with patients every day to help improve their care and their lives.

Occupational Therapists are playing an increasing role in primary care. They enable people living with a range of health problems and chronic conditions to overcome the barriers so they can participate in everyday life, and improve their health and wellbeing.

Download Occupational Therapist job role, job descriptions and case studies


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A BSc degree in occupational therapy is required to work as an occupational therapist in any setting.

Primary care First Contact Practitioner training developed by Health Education England (HEE) must be completed for an Occupational Therapist to work in primary care. This can begin 3-5 years after the completion of the postgraduate degree


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The payband for an Occupational Therapist is usually AfC Band 7.

From April 2020, this role will be reimbursed at 100% of actual salary plus defined on costs, up to the maximum reimbursable amount of £53,724 over 12 months.

What does an Occupational Therapist do?

Occupational Therapists assess the needs of people to do what they need and want to do (occupations). They develop plans with patients, so they can re-engage in everyday life, despite their health and social difficulties.

Through intervening early and taking a collaborative approach occupational therapists are able to address what matters to people. This can minimise crisis situations, prevent further deterioration and promote independence and social inclusion.

Occupational Therapists help GPs to support patients who:

  • are frail, with complex needs
  • live with chronic physical or mental health conditions 
  • manage anxiety or depression 
  • require advice to return or remain in work 
  • need rehabilitation so they can continue with previous occupations (activities of daily living).

An Occupational Therapists job role is to help people of all ages overcome the effects of disability caused by illness, ageing or accident so that they can carry out everyday tasks or occupations.

An Occupational Therapist will consider all of the patient’s needs – physical, psychological, social and environmental. This support can make a real difference giving people a renewed sense of purpose, opening up new horizons, and changing the way they feel about the future.

An Occupational Therapist’s skills lend themselves to new emerging roles, such as working with asylum seekers or refugees, working alongside police or fire services, or liaising with psychiatric services.

Download the Royal College of Occupational Therapists Career Handbook and Become an occupational therapist brochure.

In the video below published by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists new occupational therapy graduates explain their passion for their profession. It provides a personal account of what makes the occupational therapy profession so special to them and what they hope to achieve now and in the future.

The skills needed to be an Occupational Therapist

The skills needed to be a Occupational Therapist include:

  • excellent interpersonal and communication skills
  • good organisational skills
  • patience and enthusiasm
  • creative ability to find solutions to problems
  • ability to work well within a team

In the video below published by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists new occupational therapy graduates explain their passion for their profession. It provides a personal account of what makes the occupational therapy profession so special to them and what they hope to achieve now and in the future.

How to become an Occupational Therapist

To practise as an occupational therapist, you must be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). To register with the HCPC, you first need to successfully complete approved degree-level training in occupational therapy.

To become an occupational therapist you need to train and study at undergraduate degree level through a full-time course or degree apprenticeship or if you already have a relevant degree, at Masters level through a 2-year accelerated programme.

All pre-registration courses combine both practical placements and academic study. All programmes will leave you eligible to apply for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) and they will get you to that point through a variety of methods and experiences.

Approved pre-registration university programmes

This is usually a BSc (Hons). Courses take three or four years.

There are also part-time/in-service courses if you are working in a relevant senior occupational therapy support role and your employer is willing to support you.

Courses differ but all involve a lot of practical work with patients.

To get onto a full-time occupational therapy degree course you usually need two or three A levels, along with five GCSEs (grades A-C), including English language, maths and science.

You may also be able to get onto a course with alternative qualifications, including:

  • BTEC, HND or HNC which includes biological science
  • relevant vocational qualifications
  • science-based access course
  • equivalent Scottish or Irish qualifications

If you already have a relevant degree and healthcare experience, you can take a postgraduate Masters in occupational therapy. These courses usually take two years.

Each institution sets its own entry requirements – whether you are applying for an undergraduate or postgraduate (accelerated, graduate-entry) programme, so it’s important to check carefully.

Degree apprenticeship in occupational therapy

A degree apprenticeship standard in occupational therapy has been approved for delivery. To get onto a degree apprenticeship, you will need to apply for an apprentice position with a health care provider. You will usually need level 3 qualifications to get onto a degree apprenticeship.

You can search for vacancies on the NHS Jobs website and Find an Apprenticeship website.

Occupational therapy degree course finder

Use the Health Education England course finder to find Occupational therapy in the North West of England.

Undergraduate placements

Practice based learning is central to undergraduate Occupational therapy degree courses. Students often spend a minimum of 1,000 hours in supervised clinical practice during the lifetime of their programme of study. Students gain experience in occupational therapy services or in new settings where the occupational therapist role could be introduced. Placements vary in length and cover a range of different practice areas. Occupational therapy students now have the opportunity to gain experience in GP practices via undergraduate placements.

Occupational therapy career progression

Once qualified, you’re encouraged to join the British Association of Occupational Therapists. Joining the professional body has many benefits including Professional Indemnity Insurance and trade union membership.

The Health and Care Professions Council Standards of Continuing Professional Development demand that all qualified health professionals must maintain a continuous accurate and up-to-date record of their continuing professional development (CPD) activities.

Further information on CPD opportunities and guidelines are available for members of the British Association of Occupational Therapists.

The need for occupational therapists is growing, and this is being recognised nationally. Most NHS trusts advertise their vacancies on NHS Jobs. Some advertise on their own websites. You can find a list of NHS organisations NHS Choices.

Become an Occupational therapy support worker

Occupational therapy support workers (also known as occupational therapy assistants, rehabilitation assistants and technical instructors) assist registered occupational therapists in their day-to-day duties. They support and encourage clients and report back on their progress, liaising with the occupational therapist and possibly with nursing staff and social services. They also make sure clients have all the special aids they need and that the equipment is in good working order.

Occupational therapy support staff benefit from learning on the job and can choose to develop their skills further through formal training programmes. For example, they may study to obtain a QCF level 2 or 3 qualification in Healthcare Support Services or Clinical Healthcare Support. There are also other options available such as a BTEC in Occupational Therapy Support, foundation degrees in Health and Social Care or the Higher National Certificate in Occupational Therapy Support.

The skills and qualities needed to become an Occupational therapy support worker include:

  • A caring and encouraging attitude
  • Tact and sensitivity
  • Patience
  • Good communication skills
  • Initiative
  • The ability to work in a team
  • The ability to relate to people of all ages and backgrounds 

Download the Royal College of Occupational Therapists Career Handbook and Become an occupational therapist brochure.