Starting your career
Choosing subjects at school
To get on a course that could lead to a career as an occupational therapist, useful subjects include:
- Human Biology
Work placements and volunteering
You may find it helpful to get some experience of working in healthcare by doing a work placement. There may also be opportunities to volunteer. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland.
Start your journey to becoming an occupational therapist by completing a Foundation Apprenticeship.
Learn more about the Foundation Apprenticeship in Social Services and Healthcare.
College and university
Most universities accept a wide range of qualifications, giving you the option of applying directly from school or going to college first.
At college, you could do an HNC in Care and Administrative Practice. With an HNC in Occupational Therapy Support, some universities may let you start your degree in year 2.
Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you can get into higher education through the Scottish Widening Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need.
3 universities in Scotland offer undergraduate programmes in Occupational Therapy, approved by the HCPC:
- Glasgow Caledonian University
- Queen Margaret University
- Robert Gordon University
Pre-registration undergraduate programmes take 4 years full-time.
If you already have a relevant qualification and healthcare experience, you can do a master’s in Occupational Therapy. A postgraduate pre-registration course usually takes 2 years.
For more information on related further and higher education courses, search My World of Work.
As an occupational therapist, you would care for people of all ages with different needs and goals, including:
- improving a young person’s cognitive, physical, sensory, and motor skills needed for play, school and daily activities
- providing equipment and adaptions, including ramps, stairlifts and rails so an older person can continue living at home
What you’ll do
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 bathing equipment, chair and bed raisers or stairlifts
- adapting the living or working environment
- teaching patients how to dress themselves or other everyday tasks
You’ll need these skills:
- building relationships with people
- persuading and motivating people
Who you’ll work with
Occupational therapists usually work in a team with other healthcare professionals, including:
- healthcare support workers
You could work in:
- GP practices
- health centres
- a person’s home
- a person’s place of work
To work as an occupational therapist in NHSScotland, you’ll need to:
Did you know?
There are around 40,000 registered occupational therapists in the UK and over 2,100 working in the NHS in Scotland.
Learning and development
During your career, you'll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with continuing professional development (CPD).
The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) provides courses, conferences and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update skills.
As an occupational therapist, you could work in:
- elderly care
- physical and mental health settings
- brain injury
- learning disability
With further training and experience, you could progress to more senior or specialist roles.
You may decide to become a specialist in a particular area, such as supporting people with dementia, mental health problems or those receiving palliative care.
Occupational therapists also work as service managers in health and social care partnerships.
As soon as you qualify, you’ll join the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
At this point, you can also become a member of the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT).