Occupational therapist

Occupational therapists help people of all ages to carry out everyday activities, which are essential for health and wellbeing.

My name’s Fiona and I work as an Occupational therapist assistant practitioner in community mental health teams for old age psychiatry.

The people that we see are usually referred to our service by their GP, through their family recognising that there’s memory difficulties. They’re forgetting to eat, they’re forgetting to call them.

One of the good things to do is by reminiscence. Someone who has a dementia, their long term memory is often better that their short term memory and it can evoke lots of happy times that they remember.

“Hi, I’d like to order a YE06 shower stool please”.

We can have, maybe, sometimes two home visits in the morning, so we’re going to be going in to people’s homes. If the person has a problem getting in and out their bed, a bed lever would be delivered. We can provide equipment for the bath, [such as] a bath lift, which makes it safer for people to get in and out.

You need to be a people person, I think. You need to have a really good communication skill. Not just talking, but you have to listen as well. Sometimes when it’s older people, they’ve maybe not had someone to listen to them for such a long time.

I really, really enjoy meeting people. That’s the thing in my job that I really enjoy. We’re privileged to meet lots and lots of different people from lots of different walks of life. It’s a very, very worthwhile job, very rewarding.

Occupational therapists (OTs) help and support people to overcome problems caused by physical injury, mental illness or conditions caused by the ageing process.

As an OT, you would help people find ways to continue with activities that are important to them. This might involve learning new ways to do things or making changes to their environment to make things easier.

Some of the typical tasks of an occupational therapist include:

  • advising on how to approach a task differently
  • helping patients to adjust to a permanent disability
  • using equipment or assistive technology, such as walking aids or stairlifts
  • adapting the living or working environment
  • teaching patients how to dress themselves or other everyday tasks.

In NHSScotland, you'll work in hospitals, clinics and GP practices. You may visit patients at home or at work. Occupational therapists may also work within social services. Find out more about careers in social services on the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) website.

As well as working with individual patients of all ages and their families, occupational therapists work with groups and in teams with other health professionals. They may also supervise the work of occupational therapy support workers.

To work as an Occupational therapist, useful skills will include:

  • patience, determination and a positive attitude
  • strong communication skills
  • teamworking skills
  • confidence working with individuals or groups
  • committed to the wellbeing of clients
  • professional with an excellent work ethic 

Useful abilities include:

  • the ability to work with people with different lifestyles and backgrounds
  • the ability to manage sensitive or challenging situations
  • creativity, resourcefulness and imagination
  • the ability to design and develop treatment programmes

To practice as an occupational therapist in NHSScotland, you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). You will need to study an approved pre-registration programme, which can take three or four years full-time. 

In Scotland the following universities offer undergraduate programmes in occupational therapy:

The minimum academic entry requirements for these degree courses vary, but most universities in Scotland require SQA Higher BBBC grades, including English and a science subject. A pass in National 5 English and Maths grade A - C is also required if these subjects are not achieved at SQA Higher grade.

Students with an HNC in Occupational Therapy Support may allow advanced entry to year 2.

Entry requirements vary depending on the university, college or provider. You are advised to contact each individual provider to find out its specific entry requirements. Specific entry requirements, including other accepted qualifications, are provided on each university website. To apply for an occupational therapy programme you must use the UCAS application process.

You can visit the HCPC website for a full list of approved educational institutions and occupational therapy programmes across the UK.

Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) – Access to Health & Life Sciences (SCQF Level 6)

This programme is for adults returning to education, perhaps changing career or seeking to gain the equivalent university entry qualifications needed for an occupational therapy undergraduate programme. There are no formal entry qualifications, but applicants should have a good standard of general education and have been away from formal education for a minimum of 2 – 3 years.

Successful completion of the course could lead to:

  • A degree in occupational therapy by applying to universities that participate in the SWAP partnership programme
  • HNC Applied Sciences

Please visit the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP) website for more information or you can view the following videos:

Postgraduate study

If you already have a relevant degree and healthcare experience, you can take a postgraduate diploma or masters in occupational therapy. These courses usually take two years. The HCPC website provides details of approved postgraduate programmes in the UK.

Once qualified, you can join the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT). During your career, you’d be expected to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with annual Continuing Professional Development (CPD). BAOT offers and provides information about courses, conferences and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update your skills. Members can access their Interactive Learning Opportunities Database (ILOD).

As a qualified occupational therapist, you could work in: 

  • elderly care
  • physical and mental health settings
  • paediatrics
  • brain injury
  • learning disability

Occupational therapists also work within multidisciplinary teams or as service managers in health or social care. You could specialise to work with a particular type of client. Some occupational therapists choose to specialise in a particular area such as dementia, mental health or palliative care.

In NHSScotland, occupational therapists start on band 5 of the NHS Agenda for Change pay system. With further training and experience, you could progress to more senior or specialist posts at bands 6 and 7. Occupational therapists working as consultants are usually on band 8A or 8B.

Find out more information from these professional bodies.

Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC)

The HCPC is an independent, UK-wide regulatory body responsible for setting and maintaining standards for health, psychological, and in England; social work professionals. It maintains a public register of qualified professionals and works to improve industry standards and education. Visit the HCPC website to find out more.


The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT)

RCOT is the professional body representing occupational therapists across the UK. It works to promote the benefits of occupational therapy to the public, service commissioners and political representatives. Find out more on the RCOT website.