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Opinion: Hiring for occupational therapists on uptick

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What company do you think of first as a growth industry contender? Amazon? Google? Netflix?

They’ve each experienced a 20-40 percent growth rate over the last two years. Their work is impressive, and we all pay close attention to what they’re going to do next as they lead in their industries.

Fewer of us pay close attention to growth in the health care industry, but one health profession is projected to grow similar to those titans of business: occupational therapy.
 
The job of occupational therapist ranked as the No. 4 Best Job in 2018 on Glassdoor’s list of 50 most desirable jobs. U.S. News and World Report ranked occupational therapy as No. 9 on its 2018 list of the top 100 jobs to seek. Occupational therapy has been moving up in the health care ranks over the past 10-20 years, so this news is not surprising. What’s surprising is that the U.S. Department of Labor projects the profession will grow by another 24 percent over the next 10 years, significantly higher than average.

Occupational therapy is focused on supporting people as they regain skills or adapt to a new normal after an accident, injury, chronic illness or developmental issue. When an individual is not able to engage in the things that mean the most to them, it affects their physical and mental health.

Occupational therapists support individuals in doing what they want and need to do in everyday life. They also work with those with developmental disabilities and neurological conditions. They are committed to helping people participate in the things that are most important to them. They work in a variety of settings, such as geriatrics, pediatrics, in-patient, out-patient, mental health and schools.
 
Occupational therapists facilitate developmental progress, rehabilitation and recovery, and maintenance of skills as a person ages. They provide options for the elderly population needing accommodations to help them remain in the residence of their choice for as long as they are able.

For communities, occupational therapists are a resource to public health and planning for the resources that need to be in place to support specific populations and their unique needs. For example, the Cox College occupational therapy students have helped to design a sensory-friendly park for the city of Battlefield that utilizes a universal design, providing access to all people, and is especially friendly to those with autism and other mental health issues.

Occupational therapists focus on a strengths-based approach to health care. They work in the community to facilitate health outcomes for individuals where they live, work, heal and play every day. They are a passionate, creative lot, and they are constantly looking for new innovation that will adapt an environment to the way the person learns or works. Occupational therapists often see beyond the traditional expectations and environmental design expected for that setting. They work to create environments that work for the individual instead of against them.

There are nearly 145,000 licensed occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants in the United States and approximately 5,000 in the state of Missouri. Missouri is home to powerhouse occupational therapy programs that serve both Missouri and the nation.

Those who are interested in the field of occupational therapy focus their undergraduate education in health sciences or psychology foundations. Degrees range from assistant occupational therapy (associate or bachelor’s) to occupational therapy (master’s or doctorate). Whether an individual graduates with an assistant’s degree or a full occupational therapy degree, they sit for a national board examination that is required to apply for licensure in the states where they wish to practice.

Occupational therapists help facilitate healthy participation in the community and that is good for all communities. If you know someone who is struggling to recover from a health event or complete daily tasks, they just might need to meet an occupational therapist.
 
Amy Vaughan is the department chairwoman for Cox College’s Master of Science in Occupational Therapy. She can be reached at amy.vaughan@coxcollege.edu.

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