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Occupational therapist: Entry requirements

Occupational therapists must have completed a degree or postgraduate qualification in occupational therapy that is approved by the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC) . All occupational therapy degrees currently available in the UK are also accredited by the College of Occupational Therapists. This means that certain standards have been met and that the courses are also approved by the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) , meaning the qualification will be recognised in over 60 countries.

A BSc in Occupational Therapy, if studied full time, will take three years to complete (or four years in Scotland). A part time route is also possible which requires you to spend two days a week at university. This course will typically take around four years to complete.

Occupational therapy programmes combine practical and theoretical elements. Academic subjects studied include:

  • biological sciences (anatomy and physiology);
  • behavioural sciences (psychology and sociology);
  • occupational therapy knowledge and skills;
  • creative and management skills;
  • therapeutic interventions;
  • environmental adaptations and research methods.

Approximately one third of the course (a minimum of 1,000 hours) is spent on placements under the supervision of qualified senior occupational therapists. Students gain experience in the main areas of occupational therapy and learn how to assess and treat a small caseload of clients.

If you haven’t studied an approved first degree, you can still qualify as an occupational therapist by taking an accredited postgraduate qualification. For entry to a postgraduate course, it is preferable, but not essential, to have a related first degree in a subject such as:

  • biological or medical sciences;
  • other health-related subjects;
  • psychology;
  • sociology.

Candidates can study for either a postgraduate diploma or Masters in occupational therapy on a course which usually takes around two years.

Those without a degree or postgraduate qualification are able to enter the profession as occupational therapy assistants, technicians or support workers. In order to work as an occupational therapist however, they would need to go on to study for the BSc. If they have support from their employer they could this via an in-service BSc degree. This is a four year course which could be studied while still working in the current support role, with two days a week being spent at university. 

You will need to complete a Disclosure and Barring Service check when applying for a course.

The Careers Handbook, available online from the British Association of Occupational Therapists and College of Occupational Therapists (BAOT) , includes comprehensive advice for people considering a career in occupational therapy, and a detailed directory of courses and universities throughout the UK. Contact institutions individually to confirm their entry requirements, as these vary from course to course. It is extremely useful to visit an occupational therapy unit, within a hospital or social services, to gain an understanding of the profession before applying for a course.

Applicants for occupational therapy courses and jobs will need to show they have:

  • enthusiasm, sensitivity and patience;
  • the ability to persuade and motivate others;
  • good creative and practical skills;
  • decision-making and organisational skills;
  • the ability to explain, encourage and build confidence, and develop rapport with a range of people;
  • an inquiring mind in order to successfully solve problems through assessment and treatment.

Relevant work experience can be advantageous in securing posts in more competitive areas of occupational therapy, such as paediatrics, after graduation.

Check NHS Student Bursaries for details of possible grants for study. In Scotland, you should contact the Student Awards Agency for Scotland (SAAS) , in Wales, the NHS Wales Student Award Unit , and in Northern Ireland, the Department for Employment and Learning in Northern Ireland (DELNI) , as well as the institution to which you are applying, to check what funding you could claim.

For more information, see work experience and internships and search courses and research.

Written by AGCAS editors
February 2012

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