Occupational Therapist: What It Takes To Work in Nursing Care Facilities


One would often see occupational therapists work in private nursing care facility, government hospitals, and private clinics or in schools. These health care institutions hire licensed occupational therapists to join their team of caregivers who provide basic health care services, helps patients to promote physical vitality, prevent injuries and achieve the highest possible independence. When talking about nursing care facility, it generally means a health care institution where professional health care providers give custodial care, rehabilitation therapies, long-term nursing care and other services to elderly people with terminal diseases, chronic illnesses and children with developmental disabilities.

Occupational therapists play an important role in bringing back the natural motor capabilities of their patients. They help patients to recover, develop and improve their skills needed for daily working and living. Therapists focus on giving compensatory exercises to improve the patient’s ability to complete activities of daily living with independence. Although all of the orders of the doctor must be religiously followed, Occupational Therapists can modify some minor orders whenever they think it is necessary.

Job Description

Nursing CareWorking in a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) as an occupational therapist involves planning, evaluation, administration, implementation and supervision of OT treatments in accordance policies and procedures established by the founding committee of the SNF. The clinical competence and knowledge of the occupational therapist are measured by how he implements the guidelines and how he provides the appropriate treatment in accordance to the patient’s age and medical condition.

Basically, occupational therapists work with clients on a one-on-one basis. They give physically challenged patients mild to moderately extensive exercises according to the instruction of the rehabilitation medicine doctor.

Their other tasks inside the Skilled Nursing Unit include:

  • Identifying the physical limiting factors of the patients that hinder them from doing the activities they normally do by evaluating their functional capabilities and limitations. These limiting factors must be reflected in his recommendation for additions or modifications of treatment goals in the doctor’s order. Prior to recommendation, the treatment goals must be functional, within the capacity of the patient and reflects the patient’s limitations, He is also involves in discharge planning and creating home medicine and exercise orders.
  • Carrying out unique treatment plan per patient with full consideration of their physical, mental, social, cultural, spiritual and age related needs. The individualized treatment program must be implemented in a safe manner. Simultaneously, he must assess the effectiveness of the treatment plan during therapy sessions and record the patient’s progress for reporting purposes. From time to time he must also update the family or caregiver about the patient’s improvement.
  • Reporting of the relevant patient data to the other department that the patient is enrolled or entitled to. Since the nursing facilities provide all the services needed by the patients for their general health welfare, the endorsement to other department must be intricately followed through by the occupational therapist.

Occupational therapists are also involved in planning and departmental process improvements. Their inputs are very much required for the institution to achieve one common goal and that is to improve their nursing services. With all these being mentioned, it is important that occupational therapists that plan to take a chance and venture their career into skilled nursing facilities to have the basic education and advanced licenses and certification.

Educational Qualifications

  • Professionally educated and graduated from an accredited college or university by the state governing board.
  • A Bachelor’s degree in Occupational Therapy is needed.
  • Completes a clinical training under the supervision of a rehabilitation medicine doctor or professional occupational therapist for a minimum period of 6 months.
  • Most skilled nursing facilities require occupational therapists to have a master’s degree, while small number of institutions required doctor’s degree for much higher positions.
  • Must have volunteered or worked for the community in an occupational therapy setting.

The bachelor’s degree for Occupational Therapy takes four years to finish. This includes the class proper where all the principles are intricately tackled, various hands-on training and internship where they are taught on how to communicate and handle patients, participation in implementation and actual demonstration of physical activities carried out to patients. They must also present an original thesis and defend it to resident professional OTs and the board of panelists of the school to graduate.

Master’s degree, on the other hand, takes two years to finish. This degree enhances the skills of the occupational therapist and increases the chance of employability. Doctor’s degree can be taken for a much longer period than the master’s degree. By having master’s degree and doctor’s degree occupational therapists are able to assess and understand the unique cases of the patients, which entails a more accurate diagnosis and better evaluation of therapeutic intervention and treatment programs.

Some schools offer a dynamic dual degree program in which both bachelor and master’s degree are obtained by just finishing a five-year program. Online degrees are also available for prospective occupational therapists in which there is no physical attendance needed in taking class and examinations. All school works and examinations are submitted online. The professors will assess the student based on the quality of the materials submitted and by the result of the exams.

However, no matter how convenient the online education is, there student still needs to complete the required months of supervised fieldwork to gain real-world experience.

Important Skills and Qualities

  • Compassion and dedication
  • Patience
  • Ability to read and interpret doctor’s orders (home medications and exercises)
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Excellent Skills in listening and understanding patients
  • Interpersonal skills
  •  Critical thinking skills
  • Psychomotor/physical skills
  • Analytical and organizational skills
  • Can work with minimal supervision
  • Fast learner

Licenses and Certifications

Occupational therapists are required to be licensed to practice their profession. All the states in the US, has licensing board that accredits OTs who have completed necessary degrees and who passed the NBCOT certification examination. Passing the certification examination of NBCOT or the National Board of Certification of Occupational Therapist allows them to use the title Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR). To maintain the certification, all licensed and certified occupational therapists must take continuing education classes. The classes and schedule of fees vary by state.


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