Dear Joyce: I am thinking of returning to school to become an occupational therapist but I am fairly sure I do not want to work in a hospital all my life. A friend says you briefly mentioned this topic last year. What are chances of being self-employed in this career? P.B.
One in four and getting better. A new survey of members of the American Occupational Therapy Association shows that more than 26 percent of occupational therapists nationwide are now self-employed. The number of therapists who work for themselves has been steadily growing since 1982.
Job flexibility is one reason for the flow toward entrepreneurship -- most therapists are women and they want more control over their lives than staff work allows. Money is the other. Practitioners who own their own service annually average $44,300. Other self-employed occupational therapists average $42,000, compared with staff therapists at $34,000. New graduates are paid an average of $28,000.
Education is four years of college plus a six months' internship. Or, if you already hold a bachelor's degree you may be able to qualify in about two years through a master's degree or certificate program.
Many people think an occupational therapist deals only with work-related matters. Not so. Therapists and their assistants help patients with disabilities get back on life's track with activities in work, leisure and play.
Sometimes the work is simple: A child with impaired visual-spatial perceptions might work with the therapist to match wooden shapes to corresponding ones on a card. Sometimes it's complex: An amputee might be taught to use an artificial hand.
Occupational therapists increasingly are treating backs, hands and fractures suffered as a result of work-related and repetitive motion injuries. Some are doing work-site analysis, particularly offices with computers.
The majority of therapists continue to work at hospitals, but others are found in community mental health centers, nursing homes, clinics, day-care centers, private and public school systems and home health agencies.
Other areas of specialty include orthotics and prosthetics, physical therapists, speech pathologists and audiologists, rehabilitation counselors, recreational therapists, art therapists, music therapists and dance therapists.
Occupational therapy is a solution for would-be mothers who would like to work less than a 40-hour week during a portion of their career, then return to full-time work when the children are grown. Despite a few spot surpluses, the overall job market is terrific. And people appreciate you.
Here's your action step. Call this free career hot-line, (800) 366-9799, and you'll receive free career information from the American Occupational Therapy Association.