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How to become an occupational therapist

You'll need a degree in Occupational Therapy to become an occupational therapist in the NHS. In Scotland, 3 universities offer pre-registration degree programmes.

What is an an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists enable people of all ages to be as independent as possible in activities that matter to them.

The ability to engage in everyday tasks and activities can be impacted by physical conditions, injury, mental health and ageing.

Occupational therapists work alongside people to consider new ways of doing activities or changing their environment to make things easier.   

Starting your career as an occupational therapist

Choosing subjects at school

To get on a course that could lead to a career as an occupational therapist, useful subjects include: 

  • Human Biology 
  • Psychology
  • Care
  • Maths 
  • English  

Speak to your guidance teacher about subjects offered at your school.

Work placements and volunteering

You may find it helpful to get some healthcare experience by doing a work placement or volunteering. You’ll get training, increase your knowledge, and learn new skills. This could help you when applying to university, college or a new job with NHSScotland. 

Education and training pathway

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 Healthcare Practice. With an HNC in Occupational Therapy Support, some universities may let you start your degree in year 2.

Widening access

Widening participation supports adult learners who want to go to university. If you’re an adult with few or no qualifications, you could get into higher education through the Scottish Wider Access Programme (SWAP). Many universities also provide access programmes to help you get the degree entry qualifications you need. 

Pre-registration Occupational Therapy undergraduate degree programme

In Scotland, 3 universities offer undergraduate programmes in Occupational Therapy approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC): 

  • Glasgow Caledonian University 
  • Queen Margaret University 
  • Robert Gordon University 

Pre-registration undergraduate programmes take 4 years full-time. 

Pre-registration Occupational Therapy postgraduate degree programme

If you have relevant qualifications and healthcare experience, you can do a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. A pre-registration postgraduate course usually takes 2 years. 

After graduation, you must register with the HCPC. You can then apply as a newly qualified occupational therapist for vacancies in the NHS.

Course search

Search for college or university programmes on My World of Work.

Get to know the role

Occupational therapists must be registered with the HCPC to work in the NHS. 

As an occupational therapist, you'll care for people of all ages with different needs and goals, including: 

  • improve a young person’s cognitive, physical, sensory, and motor skills needed for play, school, and daily activities
  • provide equipment and adaptions, including ramps, stairlifts, and rails, so an older person can continue living at home

Tasks include: 

  • advise people about how to approach a task differently 
  • help patients to adjust to a permanent disability 
  • use equipment or assistive technology, such as bathing equipment, chair and bed raisers, or stairlifts 
  • adapt a person's living or working environment 
  • teach patients how to dress themselves or other everyday tasks 

You'll need these skills:

  • caring 
  • communicating
  • problem-solving  
  • teamwork 
  • building relationships 
  • leadership
  • persuading and motivating people 

Occupational therapists work with other healthcare professionals, including: 

  • physiotherapists 
  • healthcare support workers 
  • nurses 
  • doctors 

You could work in: 

  • hospitals 
  • GP practices 
  • health centres 
  • schools 
  • a person’s home 
  • a person’s workplace

Learning and development

During your career, you'll have to keep your skills and knowledge up to date with continuing professional development. 

The Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) provides courses, conferences, and seminars where you can exchange ideas and update skills. 

Career progression

As an occupational therapist, you could work in: 

  • elderly care 
  • physical and mental health settings 
  • paediatrics 
  • 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. 

Professional bodies

When you become a qualified occupational therapist, you must register with the HCPC to work in the NHS. You can also join the Royal College of Occupational Therapists.

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