How to become an occupational therapist

Working as an occupational therapist (OT) can make a significant impact on people's lives.

Occupational therapists help people of all ages overcome physical, emotional, and social challenges to lead more fulfilling lives.

If you're considering this career path, we offer undergraduate and postgraduate occupational therapy degrees to help you achieve your goals. Here's a detailed guide on how to become an occupational therapist.

In this article, we’ll cover:

Key facts

  • The average starting salary for an occupational therapist in 2024 is £28,407 according to Prospects
  • You need to study a degree at university to become an occupational therapist
  • You are eligible for a training grant of up to £5,000 per year from the NHS Learning Support Fund (LSF). You do not have to pay this back.
  • You may be expected to work some evenings, weekends and bank holidays

What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational therapists work with clients to improve their ability to perform daily activities, whether at home, work, school, or in the community. They design personalised plans to help individuals recover from injuries, manage chronic illnesses, or cope with disabilities. 

What do occupational therapists do?

As an occupational therapist, you’ll work with people who have difficulties carrying activities because of illness, trauma, ageing, a disability or long-term conditions. You’ll be helping people overcome challenges, so that they can live as independently as possible. This could involve helping people to learning of new ways to do things, or you could be making changes to their environment to make things easier.

Your role as an occupational therapist could involve:

  • Teaching and assisting people to live independently 
  • Helping people adapt after undergoing surgery
  • Helping people with learning disabilities or mental health issues with activities such as work and volunteering 
  • Supporting people to manage permanent physical disabilities
  • Suggesting ways to adapt an office or home, for example, so elderly people can continue living in their own homes

How much does an occupational therapist earn? 

  • A starting salary for an occupational therapist working within the NHS is between £28,407 and £34,581
  • If you are working as a specialist occupational therapists, salaries range from £35,392 to £42,618. Advanced or highly specialist occupational therapists can expect to earn between £43,742 and £50,056
  • For senior roles, such as a Clinical Manager, Clinical Lead Specialist, or Consultant, salaries typically range between £50,952 and £68,525 

Salary information sourced from Prospects.

Routes to becoming an occupational therapist

To practice as an occupational therapist in the UK, you must complete a degree approved by the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).  

 There are two main routes: 

You can study an occupational therapy degree at university to become an Occupational Therapist. The majority of people qualify as an Occupational Therapist by studying an undergraduate degree. 

You can study the following undergraduate occupational therapy course at the University of Central Lancashire:

This undergraduate course is accredited by the Royal College of Occupational Therapists and the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). This means graduates are eligible to register and practice as professional OTs in the UK.

A full-time degree usually takes 3 years to complete.

Entry requirements for an undergraduate degree in occupational therapy

Depending on the institution, you’ll typically need:

  • Two to three A Levels, or equivalent

You might be required to have studied specific subjects at A Level to meet the entry requirements. These could include biology, physical education, psychology, human biology, sociology. Always check the entry requirements for the course and institution you’re applying to. 

During your degree, you will study subjects such as:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Psychology and sociology
  • Occupational science
  • Clinical reasoning
  • Research methods

You will also undertake practical placements in various healthcare settings, which are integral to your training.

Finding employment as an occupational therapist

Once registered, you can seek employment in various settings, such as:

  • The NHS
  • Social services
  • Private practices
  • Charities
  • Schools
  • Rehabilitation centres

Networking through placements, job fairs, and joining professional bodies like the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) can also help you find job opportunities.

Specialisation and advancing your career 

With experience, you may choose to specialise in areas such as:

  • Paediatrics
  • Mental health
  • Elderly care
  • Neurological rehabilitation
  • Hand therapy

Advancement opportunities include roles in management, research, education, or advanced clinical practice.

Continuing professional development

As a registered OT, you will need to maintain your CPD and renew your registration with the HCPC every two years.

CPD can include:

  • Attending workshops
  • Attending seminars
  • Pursuing further qualifications
  • Participating in professional networks and conferences
  • Keeping a CPD portfolio

Frequently asked questions about becoming an Occupational Therapist

Working as an occupational therapist offers you the opportunity to transform lives. Occupational therapists empower individuals of all ages to overcome physical, emotional, and social challenges, helping them lead fulfilling lives. If you have a passion for helping others, this rewarding career path could be the perfect fit.