Barb Fleeger (Biology), Advisor
Occupational therapy provides preventive and rehabilitative services for people whose lives have been disrupted by physical injury; illness; developmental problems such as birth defects, social, or psychological difficulties; or the aging process. The goal of occupational therapy is to help clients of all ages prevent, lessen, or overcome disabilities by regaining health, maximizing independence, and performing at an optimal level of functionality. Rather than denoting “professions and careers,” the term “occupation” here refers to the undertaking of daily activities, including self-maintenance, vocation, leisure, and social relationships, all of which occupy a balanced and satisfying life.
Roles of Occupational Therapists. Occupational therapists work in partnership with clients and members of the health team (e.g., physicians, physical therapists, vocational counselors, nurses, social workers, speech pathologists, teachers, and other specialists). Motor, sensory, and cognitive skills are evaluated, and clients are encouraged to make the maximum effort to build upon the strengths they possess. Occupational therapists develop individualized treatment programs to help clients accomplish their highest possible level of function.
Personal Qualifications. Occupational therapists must be better-than-average students who have an excellent understanding of the biological and behavioral sciences. They must respect and enjoy working with people and have a strong desire to help their clients. They need perseverance, patience, resourcefulness, and adaptability, as each client and situation is unique. They should also be able to cooperate and communicate with other members of the professional health team.
Employment Opportunities. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, occupational therapy is one of the fastest growing health care professions. The demand for services created by the growing elderly population, the number of people surviving illness and injury, and the millions of individuals who need assistance coping with disabilities exceeds the supply of skilled occupational therapy practitioners.
Education. Occupational therapists must graduate from a professional program that leads to a baccalaureate or master’s degree in occupational therapy. Some professional programs accept students for entrance in the junior year, provided they have completed the appropriate credits. Pacific University School of Occupational Therapy is the only school in Oregon to offer a professional occupational therapy program. It is a twenty-nine–month, entry-level program leading to a master’s degree. Pacific University requires a bachelor’s degree prior to enrollment in the School of Occupational Therapy. SOU’s program fulfills prerequisites for most professional programs. However, requirements vary from school to school and change frequently. It is imperative that students obtain the latest information from each college or university they plan to attend after SOU and make the necessary adjustments to their preprofessional curricula. Students should consult Barb Fleeger as soon as they decide on this career track.