Occupational therapist

As an occupational therapist, you’ll help people who have difficulties carrying out day-to-day activities because of a disability, illness, trauma, ageing, and a range of long-term conditions.

"Occupational therapy allows you to make a difference to people’s lives across the community which is something that really appeals to me about the career." Rachel Rule, occupational therapy student.

Read Rachel's story in full

Working life

Accidents, illness, disability, mental health issues and ageing affect millions of people, making it harder for them to do everyday things, along with activities they enjoy. As an occupational therapist, you’ll help all kinds of people overcome all kinds of challenges, so they can live as fully and independently as possible. This might involve learning new ways to do things, or making changes to their environment to make things easier.

In the role, you could help:

  • someone adapt to life after major surgery.
  • people with mental illnesses or learning disabilities with everyday activities such as work or volunteering.
  • elderly people stay in their own homes by providing adaptations such as level access showers or stair lifts.

You'll find solutions to everyday problems, such as:

  • advising on how to approach a task differently.
  • using equipment or assistive technology.
  • adapting the living or working environment.
  • finding strategies to meet your patient’s goals.

As well as working with individual patients and their families, you could also work with groups, or as part of a multidisciplinary team in hospitals, clinics, charities, prisons and social services departments.

Entry requirements

To become an occupational therapist, you’ll need a degree in occupational therapy, which usually takes three years full time or up to six years part time. In postgraduate studies, it’s possible to gain a Masters degree in one to two years.  Once you’ve successfully completed your degree, you’ll need to register with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) before you can start practising. The other option is to apply for an apprenticeship degree.

Entry requirements for an undergraduate course are typically:

  • two or three A levels
  • five GCSEs (grades 9-4/A-C), including science.

 Or equivalent qualifications:

  •  a BTEC, HND or HNC, including biological science
  • a relevant NVQ
  • a science-based access course
  • equivalent Scottish or Irish qualifications.

When applying for a occupational therapy degree, you'll be asked to show how you think the NHS values apply in your everyday work.

New annual payments

 You’ll receive at least £5,000 a year to help fund your studies, through the NHS Learning Support Fund. The best part? You won’t have to pay a penny back.

 Degree apprenticeship

There are a growing number of degree apprenticeships. Apprenticeships give you the chance to earn a living while gaining your qualification. Your employer and the government will pay the tuition fees, so apprenticeships aren’t eligible for student grants.

Must-have skills

 Don’t forget – academic qualifications aren't everything.  You’ll need to be a natural ‘people person’ who is able to make anyone feel quickly at ease. Creativity and the ability to balance patience with enthusiasm is also needed.  You’ll need to enjoy teamwork and be able to think quickly on your feet too.

Training and career development

Once you’ve qualified, you’ll have annual Continuing Professional Development (CPD) check-ins, where we’ll discuss your career aspirations and plan how we can help you to achieve them, so you’re always moving forward. You’ll be encouraged to join the British Association of Occupational Therapists where you’ll gain professional indemnity coverage and a trade union membership.

You’ll also be able to specialise in areas such as elderly care or paediatrics. You could move into research or education, and there are opportunities overseas. Or with experience, further qualifications and training, you could apply for more specialist and senior posts. 

Pay and benefits

Your standard working week will be around 37.5 hours with the need to work flexibly over a seven day period. As an occupational therapist, you’ll be paid on the Agenda for Change (AFC) pay system, typically starting on band 5.

You’ll also have access to our generous pension scheme and health service discounts, as well as 27 days of annual leave plus bank holidays.

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