Occupational Therapist

What does an occupational therapist do?

An occupational therapist (OT) is a health professional who is responsible for helping patients develop, recover and improve the skills needed for daily living and working. Their patients have generally lost these abilities because of mental, physical or developmentally or emotionally disabling conditions.

Occupational therapists typically do the following:

    • review a patient’s medical history, ask the patient questions and observe them doing tasks
    • evaluate a patient’s condition and needs
    • develop a treatment plan
    • help people with various disabilities with different tasks
    • use physical exercises to help patients increase strength and dexterity
    • use activities to help patients improve visual acuity and the ability to discern patterns
    • use computer programmes to help clients improve decision-making, abstract-reasoning, problem-solving, memory, sequencing, coordination and perceptual skills
    • educate a patient’s family and employer about how to accommodate and care for the patient
    • recommend special equipment, such as wheelchairs and eating aids, and instruct patients on how to use that equipment
    • assess and record patients’ activities and progress for patient evaluations, for billing, and for reporting to physicians and other health care providers.

Interview with an occupational therapist

Lesego Mashishi-Matlala | OCCUPATIONAL THERAPIST | Limitless Occupational Therapy Services Pty Ltd

Why did you choose occupational therapy?
As a teenager, I didn’t know what it was about. I was awarded a bursary by the Department of Defense to study it and seized the opportunity. In essence, occupational therapy chose me. When I discovered that it was about empowering people to function at their full potential with whatever physical, mental or development deficit they may have, I knew that this was the right profession for me.

What training have you done?
I completed my four-year Honours Degree in Occupational Therapy at the University of Pretoria. I then did a postgraduate course in Functional Capacity Evaluation, offered by Dr Campbell from Occupational Rehabilitation Services Ltd Scotland. I also received training in the Australian-based job fit system and obtained certification in Practical Labour Law from the University of South Africa.

What don’t you like?
The strain placed on our families as occupational therapists. The work we do has a big impact on the client or patient we are servicing. One often has to sacrifice personal time in order to ensure that deadlines that may affect your client or patient are met, in order to ensure their well-being. This is, at times, overwhelming and not always properly understood by some families.

What’s been the highlight of your career to date?
Establishing my own company, Limitless Occupational Therapy Services, as it gave me the opportunity to explore the profession even more and allowed my creativity to flow, while applying core principles of occupational therapy.

What are your future goals?
I would like to see occupational therapy playing a more active and involved role in organisations, assisting with the formulation of employee assistance programmes and employee wellness programmes. Occupational therapists are experts when it comes to productivity management and disability management in the workplace and we are yet to own the space in the corporate environment.

In your line of work, is experience as important as formal training?
Yes, definitely. Our approach to patient handling is client centred. Therefore, the more patients and conditions you are exposed to, the more developed your skills will be to handle different cases efficiently.

Is there a type of personality best suited to this work, or certain traits one should have (or not have)?
Vital character traits to possess in the profession of occupational therapy include empathy, care, patience, good social skills, discipline, diligence, and the innate ability to extract the best out of anyone who interacts with you.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in your career?
Make sure that you gain exposure and experience in all the different facets of occupational therapy. These include physical and mental rehabilitation, paediatric work, medico-legal work and vocational rehabilitation. This will aid you in making informed decisions as to which field you are best suited for.

Your job in three words
Rewarding, challenging and fun.

WHAT QUALIFICATIONS DO I NEED?

A master’s degree or a more advanced degree in occupational therapy is required in order to work as an occupational therapist. Biology, psychology, sociology, anthropology, liberal arts and anatomy are all appropriate majors for those who ultimately want to earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy. Prospective students as well as qualified occupational therapists must register with the Interim Medical and Dental Council of South Africa.

WHAT SUBJECTS DO I NEED?

Contact each institution for their specific requirements, but these subjects are recommended: 
• Mathematics
• Physical Sciences
• Life Sciences
• Visual Arts
• Music

WHERE CAN I STUDY?

University of Cape Town
Bachelor of Occupational Therapy
www.uct.ac.za

University of KwaZulu-Natal
Bachelor of Occupational Therapy
www.ukzn.ac.za

University of Limpopo
Bachelor of Occupational Therapy
www.ul.ac.za

University of Stellenbosch
Bachelor of Occupational Therapy
www.sun.ac.za

University of the Free State
Bachelor of Occupational Therapy
www.ufs.ac.za

University of the Western Cape
Bachelor of Occupational Therapy
www.uwc.ac.za

University of the Witwatersrand
Bachelor of Occupational Therapy
www.wits.ac.za

WHERE CAN I GET MORE INFO?

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) – www.hpcsa.co.za
Occupational Therapy Association of South Africa – www.otasa.org.za
South African Journal of Occupational Therapy – www.sajot.co.za

Sources:
www.collegegrad.com
www.thebalance.com