An OT is an occupational therapist who is a member of the rehabilitative team (think physician, physical therapist, speech therapist, etc.) whose main role is to help people return to/improve upon doing the things they love and need to do, whether that is getting dressed, doing their job, or just participating in life with as much independence as possible with a serious disability. OTs address a person’s ability to function independently while prioritizing what is most important to each individual. OT is an incredibly broad field in healthcare; OTs can work in a variety of places, such as mental health facilities, hospitals, outpatient clinics, schools, and skilled nursing facilities. To become an occupational therapist, one must go to school for a long time (seven years!) to earn both an undergraduate and graduate degree. Currently many graduating practitioners receive their Doctorate in Occupational Therapy. There are several postgraduate professional subspecialties requiring advanced certification such as in hand therapy, assistive technology, orthopedics, and brain injury, to name a few.
In pediatrics, OTs are experts in child development. They work on achieving developmental milestones (sitting, eating, dressing, etc.) through therapeutic activities. OTs are not physicians: we cannot prescribe medications, we cannot diagnose a disorder, and we cannot tell you whether or not you need surgery. We can answer questions about development, activities to promote development, functional baby gear, proper positioning, and safe handling. For even more information about OT, read this.
At this point you’re likely wondering what is my specialty/experience? I spent my last several years working at The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Kennedy Krieger Institute working with children who have cerebral palsy, spina bifida, genetic disorders, upper extremity dysfunction, and traumatic injuries (such as burns, traumatic brain injuries, and spinal cord injuries). During this time I earned my Assistive Technology Professional certification, which means I specialize in adaptive equipment. I spent my time in the Seating Clinic prescribing complex rehabilitation wheelchairs for people who are unable to walk on their own. If you ever see a person in a fancy wheelchair with all sorts of cool stuff on it (think a sip-and-puff for controlling a power wheelchair for someone who has quadriplegia) then that is likely the work of an OT! Now I work in inpatient pediatrics, instruct future OTs as a part-time professor, and coach a Paralympic swim team.
To learn why I chose occupational therapy as my career, read this!