A lesser known career: Occupational Therapist
Occupational Therapist is a health care profession that has huge shortage of practitioners in India and abroad now. According to Dr S. Lakshmanan, Convener, Karnataka State Branch of All India Occupational Therapy Association (AIOTA) who works with NIMHANS, Bangalore, there are 6000 Occupational Therapists (OTs) registered with the professional body AIOTA and an equal number will be working in India without registration at present.
The association estimates a requirement of 12000 more OTs in India now as lot of rehabilitation centres for the challenged and old age homes have come up in India recently in Govt as well as private sectors. Many NGOs running such institutions throughout the country are in search of the therapists. In addition, major hospitals nowadays have department of OT as an integral part.
More than 46 countries listed Occupational Therapy as a shortage profession as many of the inpatient settings, mental health settings and rehabilitation centres have many positions unfulfilled. Many. A fresh OT graduate gets a minimum of INR 30,000 as monthly salary now in India and the demand abroad is also very high.
Right dose of empathy and patience coupled with a bent for innovation are the required basic human traits required to become a successful OT. If you want to do something for the people who are permanently or temporarily disabled or want to help the older persons who are living in an old age home or you wish to give your finger to hook up a kid for the first-time step this job is for you.
What is Occupational therapy
Here the term occupation refers not just to the job or employment. Rather it encompasses all the tasks or activities that a person:
a) has to do (eat, toilet, dress etc- which is called Activities of Daily living (ADL) in health care parlance)
b) wants to do (interests, hobbies, play)
c) is expected to do (reading, writing, academics, job)
Occupational therapy aims to help persons achieve success in their life occupations, make their life easier with all available physical and psychological disabilities/limitations and integrate them with the community.
It focuses on the main occupations of:
- School (e.g. writing, reading, fine motor skills, learning, attention)
- Home tasks (e.g. fitting in with family life, jobs, homework, getting self ready)
- Play (imaginative play, social interaction, gross motor skills)
- Self-care (bathing, dressing, eating, cutlery use, organising self)
- Work (preparing a person to be able to effectively engage in the workplace)
- Sensory Integration
- Fine Motor Skills
- Gross Motor Skills
- Visual Perception
- Memory Issues
- Handwriting Difficulties
- School Readiness
- Eating issues
- Developmental Delays
- Self-care issues
- Toileting – encopresis (soiling)/ enuresis (inability to control urination) or delays in passing
- Behaviour management
- Most other functional difficulties
In short, the OT provides practical support to empower people with disabilities. It facilitates recovery and helps to overcome the barriers that prevent them from doing the activities (or occupations) that matter to them.
This support increases people’s independence and satisfaction in all aspects of life. The career path of an OT comes with immense scope for job satisfaction as being able to make a difference in the lives of the clients. The effect, more often, will be life-changing.
However, discipline, good control over oneself and the perseverence to work under pressure are among the few requirements of the practioners in this field as some adamant clients may not easily respond favourably and one must be able to cope with the resulting frustration.
How Occupational Therapy will help
The therapist carefully analyses the sensory, physical, cognitive and behavioral aspects causing the client to have difficulties in their life occupations.
Intervention is then targeted at the weak areas to improve the underlying skills. Intervention looks at a combination of:
Education of client and caregivers as to the reasons for the difficulties.
Environmental modification where appropriate help will ensure that the client has "just the right level" of challenge to enable success.
A Paediatric Occupational Therapist will deal with children who have learning, mental or physical disabilities, and assist them in functioning normally with ease in the day to day routine.
works with senior citizens of society and help them cope with old age and the physical restrictions that come with it.
Some of the major specialties in the field are : Developmental Disabilities, Hand and Musculoskeletal Conditions, Neuro-rehabilitation, Mental Health and Psychosocial Rehabilitation.
Where will an OT find job?
In Rehabilitation Centres, OTs work with a multidisciplinary team comprised of a Physiatrist, physiotherapist, Orthotist & Prosthetist, speech language pathologist and psychologist. They find jobs In multi specialty hospitals in the dept of OT, in clinics, NGOs, industries rehabilitation centres, home care programmes, special schools, geriatric centres, old age homes etc. Some practice privately establishing themselves as consultants while some work as educators and teachers.
Where to study?
As of now only a handful of institutions in India offer courses in Bachelor of Occupation Therapy(BOT) its Masters (MOT) and PhD. The UG is 4 years plus 6 months internship while masters is two years in India except in AIIPMR, Mumbai where the duration of MOT is three years.
The government-run SVNIRTAR in Cuttack is a premier institute in India for the study of OT. This institute along with NILD, Kolkatta, and NIEPMD, Chennai are under the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment and they conduct Common Entrance Test(CET) for admission to the course.
PDUNIPPD, Delhi, is another central government run prominent institution offering the courses in OT. This institute conducts its own admission test separately.
MCHP, Manipal, CMC, Vellur, Jamia Hamdard, Delhi, Sriramchandra Institution of higher Education & Research, SRM University both at Chennai, KMCH, Coimbatore are some established institutes offering undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Occupational Therapy in South India.
Yenepoya Deemed University, Mangalore, NISH, Thiruvananthapuram, NIPMR, Irinjalakuda (Kerala) started UG courses last year. A couple of other colleges also have announced starting of BOT course and some more are coming up.
The list of accredited institutions running the course in India is available on the website of AIOTA and it is advised to check it before taking admission in any College/University.
Some of the best colleges abroad to pursue this course are:
University Of Southern California,
Boston University Sargent College,
University of Illinois, Chicago,
University of Kansas Medical Centre.
London South Bank University ,
University of Derby
University of Sydney
University of Canberra
In India, a Bachelor in OT can straight away be a practicing therapist.
To practice independently in the US, Canada, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand one needs a PG degree. All countries have their respective national certification exams for licencing too.
Plenty of openings at least for the next 8 -10 years is guaranteed as it is a budding field and this is one profession which will not be affected much by the onslaught of Artificial Intelligence invasion.
(The author is Retired Asst Director of Panchayats, Govt of Kerala. Presently a career counsellor and Skill Development Executive of Additional Skill Acquisition Programme (ASAP), English language coach and Core Resource Person of CIGI, a career guidance NGO. He canbe contacted at @nizarperuvad@gmail. com)