CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Occupational therapists improve quality of life

By Aprille Janes
Special to The Toronto Sun

If a career helping people improve their quality of life appeals to you, then check out occupational therapy. And don't be fooled by the word 'occupation'. This profession covers the whole range of daily living.

Today, there are approximately 3,500 occupational therapists working in Ontario. According to Christie Brenchley, executive director of the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists (OSOT), the career prospects are good.

"There is a strong and viable employment market because of a national shortage of occupational therapists. There is also a growing focus on rehabilitation, especially with our aging population. The government has a strong interest in keeping people healthy and able to work."

So, just what do occupational therapists do? First, 'occupation' is defined as the tasks we perform each day including our personal care, leisure activities and work.

According to the OSOT, "The ultimate goal is to improve clients' quality of life by helping them overcome limitations or barriers that they may face." Therapists accomplish this through functional assessments, rehabilitation, encouragement and support. You can find them doing everything from adapting a home environment to accommodating a wheelchair to inspecting the ergonomics of offices and production lines to prevent injury.

Brenchley says that the occupational therapist can be found in a wide variety of environments: Rehabilitation centres, hospital clinics, the mental health sector, the auto insurance industry, chronic care facilities, sports clinics, community-based home care, research and private consulting, just to name a few.

In Ontario, McMaster University, Queen's University, the University of Ottawa, the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario offer different programs; check with them about admission requirements and curriculum.

But common to all of them is an emphasis on the physical, biological and behavioural sciences, and also a fieldwork requirement. This takes place under the supervision of a licensed therapist, and consists of at least 1,000 hours before graduation.

In addition, you also have the option of qualifying as an occupational therapist assistant through programs offered at various community colleges. An assistant still provides rehabilitative service, but works under the direction of occupational therapists.

Jennifer Clayton is employed at the Grandview Children's Centre in Oshawa, helping children with disabilities between the ages of 13 and 21. She does program development and direct therapy with a team that includes a physiotherapist and a social worker.

Before applying to a university program, she recommends "a lot of volunteer work. Most programs weigh your admission based on your academics, your volunteer work and your related life experiences."

She chose occupational therapy for some very personal reasons.

"When I was 16 I was in a car accident and I have a spinal cord injury myself. I knew even before my accident that I wanted to get into a career helping people. After my accident, I became even more interested," she says. "I found out about O.T. when I went through my own rehab and I saw the broad scope of roles that an O.T. plays. I can use my experience to help others and make a difference."

Clayton recommends you should develop "good people skills and not be shy. You should be somewhat analytical because you have to assess a situation and find solutions in a systematic way. Good time management skills are important, too. Be a team player and don't be afraid to voice your opinion.

Finally, you need to love people and you need patience. Watching people struggle through something is hard."

After graduation, all O.T.s are required to pass the national certification exam administered by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.

However, once certified, you'll be welcome to practice almost anywhere. Ontario's professional standards are recognized as being among the highest in the world.

"It's so fulfilling to see someone recognize a goal and then accomplish getting there," Clayton says. "It's just an incredible feeling."

If you'd like more information about this rewarding career, contact the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists at 416-322-3011 or visit their website at

(Aprille Janes is a freelance writer based in Port Perry. She can be reached at

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