From working with individual patients to making public spaces more accessible to all, occupational therapy professionals have a profound opportunity to change lives. Within this field, both occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants play critical roles in helping people recover and cope with illness and injury, as well as regain and maintain functional independence in their day-to-day tasks.
"The occupational therapy field attracts compassionate, caring professionals who will go to the mat to be the advocate for their clients. We're very caring people. That is the core of what we do," says Terrie Nolinske, the Director of the Occupational Therapy Assistant program at South University, Tampa.
The Power of One-on-One Occupational Therapy
Occupational therapy professionals work with patients to assess their strengths and needs before developing diverse treatment plans unique to each individual. From there, they monitor and work with patients to help them achieve their goals, documenting progress as it occurs. Occupational therapy can involve working with patients across the lifespan and include:
- Helping children with disabilities lead a more fulfilling life
- Providing recovery plan and treatment regimens for adults
- Assisting older adults with physical and cognitive changes
- Recommending adaptive equipment and instruct patients on its use
- Performing patient evaluations and ongoing patient care
Occupational therapy professionals may work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, a patient’s home, mental health centers, rehabilitation centers, community centers, schools, and continuum of care communities offering independent living, assisted living, and memory care. Occupational therapy assistants operate under the supervision of licensed occupational therapists, and both therapists and their assistants may collaborate frequently with other care providers, such as psychologists, social workers, physicians, and speech pathologists.
Occupational Therapy Expertise Applied on a Bigger Scale
Those who study occupational therapy and understand the needs of individuals with disabilities, injuries, or illnesses can also apply their knowledge to improve the accessibility of everyday spaces. For example, occupational therapists may collaborate with employers to create work environments that accommodates their employees’ needs. Other occupational therapists may provide support in designing parks, shopping centers, and other public areas to ensure that everyone can equally experience and enjoy these destinations.
Nolinske, for example, has applied her occupational therapy knowledge to support both the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago and the Tampa Museum of Science and Industry.
At the Lincoln Park Zoo, she spearheaded a Universal Access Initiative which included developing new hands-on programs for zoo visitors with special needs, introducing additional tactile elements across exhibits, and writing staff guidelines on how to assist people with disabilities. Through this project, she led the zoo to win a national accessibility award.
In 2004, at the Tampa's Museum of Science & Industry, she led the creation of a 13,700-sq. foot interactive exhibit, The Amazing You, which explored key stages in the journey through life, including developmental milestones as well as common health issues and their treatment.
For Nolinkse, the project tapped into everything she’d done, learned, and experienced throughout her career. Designed to be accessible to all ages and abilities, all visitors left with a better understanding of human development, from birth to death.
"The end of life area of the exhibition prompted visitors to talk about what they would do 'if.' What would they put into a living will or durable power of attorney for healthcare? Would they seek treatment or not if the cure was worse than the disease?" Nolinske explains. "It was an incredibly powerful exhibit."
Prepare for Your Career in Occupational Therapy
If you're interested in preparing for a career in the occupational therapy field, explore our Occupational Therapy programs online or contact us today at 1.800.688.0932.
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