National Occupational Therapy Month shines light on OTs, roles and careers in SNFs

April is designated as National Occupational Therapy Month and highlights the many important roles Occupational Therapists (OTs) play for individuals of all ages. OTs enable people of all ages to live life to its fullest by helping them promote health, prevent, and better cope with injury, illness, or disability.

For this blog, we are focusing on the work OTs perform to ensure patients reach the highest level of independence possible when planning to return home from a skilled nursing facility (SNF) stay.

Occupational Therapy Overview
OT is the only profession to help people across all ages do the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities (occupations).

Some examples of daily activities include cooking, feeding, dressing, folding laundry, and other skills necessary for independence.

Occupational therapy services may include helping children with disabilities participate fully in school and social situations, helping people recovering from injury such as a stroke to regain skills, and for older adults experiencing physical and cognitive changes.

Occupational therapy services include:
• an individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals,
• customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach goals, and
• an outcomes evaluation to ensure the goals are being met and/or make changes to the intervention plan.

OTs have a holistic approach that focuses on adapting the environment and/or task to fit the person.

Choosing Occupational Therapy as a Career
There are many opportunities for OTs in the senior care profession. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are 76.4 million Baby Boomers. By 2029, the last of the Baby Boomers will hit retirement age, and the health care needs of these individuals will jump dramatically.

Baby Boomers will enter the health care market with various medical conditions that previous generations may not have experienced as much. They may face obesity, diabetes, heart conditions, high-blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, cancer and more. When this generation reaches retirement age, there will be an increased need for skilled nursing facilities and greater communication with other health care providers.

Those pursuing a career in occupational therapy begins with earning a bachelor’s degree. Most OT graduate programs can accept any undergraduate field of study, but courses in biology, psychology, anthropology, or sociology are relevant fields of study.

Master’s degree programs train you to observe how patients perform daily activities, identify areas where patients are having difficulties, analyze root causes, and implement plans to improve their abilities to function. Course topics may include task analysis, musculoskeletal anatomy, neuroscience, physical interventions, and mental health therapies.

Supervised fieldwork must be completed either at an appropriate health care or therapeutic center as part of a master’s degree program. This requirement provides an opportunity to put theory into practice, receive patient feedback, and meet professional standards.

After earning a master’s degree, OTs need to register for the Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR) exam, which is required by all states ( Passing the OTR exam will qualify individuals for licensure. Each state maintains its own eligibility requirements, and may have additional licensure requirements, such as additional certifications.

OTs may consider specializing after gaining experience and expertise in treating a specific kind of patient population. This may require a doctorate in occupational therapy with a concentration in areas such as gerontology, pediatrics, or physical rehabilitation.

Author: Brandon S. Totten
Digital Media Coordinator, Kissito Healthcare