Occupational therapists assess and treat people who have limited ability to carry out everyday activities because of illness, injury or circumstance.
Occupational therapists with up to six years experience usually earn
$47K-$68K per year
Occupational therapists with more than six years experience usually earn
$68K-$99K per year
Source: Auckland District Health Boards/PSA MECA, 2017.
Current job prospects
Pay for occupational therapists employed by district health boards (DHBs) varies depending on experience.
- Occupational therapists with up to six years experience usually earn between $47,000 and $68,000 a year.
- Occupational therapists with more than six years experience usually earn between $68,000 and $99,000.
Occupational therapists working in private practice usually earn between $45,000 and $110,000 per year.
Source: Auckland District Health Boards/PSA, ‘Allied, Public Health and Technical: Multi Employer Collective Agreement (MECA)', 2017.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the figures and diagrams in our job information)
What you will do
Occupational therapists may do some or all of the following:
- assess clients' abilities and help them gain or regain skills
- plan and direct therapy treatment, including physical and social activities
- recommend adaptations to equipment in environments such as home, work or motor vehicles
- advise clients on changes to their lifestyle to help them with daily activities
- observe and report on clients' progress.
Skills and knowledge
Occupational therapists need to have:
- knowledge of occupational therapy methods
- knowledge of the human mind, body and behaviour
- the ability to negotiate with people and motivate them
- an understanding of different cultures.
- may do shift work that includes evenings or weekends
- work in a variety of places, including hospitals, private clinics, nursing homes, workplaces and schools.
What's the job really like?
What do you love most about your job?
“I love working in a helping profession. You’re looking at people’s quality of life and if they’re unwell and disabled it’s about you helping them get back to engaging in meaningful activities.
What’s the one key skill you need?
“It’s all about communicating. You’ve got to be able to develop a relationship with your patient before you even start so that you can help them get the best out of their treatment. You learn very quickly how to relate to people from all walks of life and that’s exciting because no two people are the same.
What’s most satisfying for you?
“I feel very lucky because I come to work each day and love what I do. Occupational therapy is a great job. I gain great satisfaction in being able to help others achieve their goals and have a job that has a real impact on improving individuals' quality of life. Having a huge passion for your job, that’s a great feeling!”
Andrews finds out about the work of occupational therapists - 3.30mins (Video courtesy Dave Mason Productions)
Rio: Occupational Therapist’s use the term “occupation” to define how people look after themselves, which we call “self care”, work which we call “productivity” and leisure activity.
Time for Andrew to take Chantal the patient out for a spin in her new wheels. It’s important for patients to feel comfortable with carrying out every day chores.
Andrew: So how is this going to help her when she gets home?
Rio: Chantal has her own little vegetable patch at home and she manages that daily, so this is meaningful to her and getting her back into something that she would do everyday as well as giving that shoulder a good workout.
Andrew: So you need to know a lot about the body and how it works everyday?
Rio: Yeah, Occupational Therapy does involve a variety of skills and certainly what you learn at university is your basic human anatomy and how the body works and the brain functions and the rest of the stuff you really pick up on the job as you go along.
Clinton: But what makes a good occupational therapist?
Rio: I think someone that’s willing to be a part of the team, and willing to problem solve creatively with your client, so if you’re good a t things like art, like working with your hands, that’s normally a good point and you would be a good Occupational Therapist.
Clinton: However, Occupational Therapy is not all about bones and muscles.
Rio: So Andrew, the type of injury that Chantal has had – falling off a ladder – has probably affected her memory, so there is a test we can do called the post-traumatic amnesia test to look at her short-term memory and her long-term memory. Now Chantal, the area of your brain that has been affected that controls your memory is called the temporal lobe, which is what you see in the front and I’m going to get Andrew to do a few examples of remembering some pictures to see how you go on that. Is that ok?
Andrew: Alright, so there we go, there’s James…
Andrew: …and Scottie. Can you remember those people?
Chantal: I think so.
Andrew: Can you remember who that is?
Andrew: Can you remember who that is?
Andrew: Can you remember who that is?
Andrew: Do you remember who that is?
Andrew: Alright, so you’ve got 2 out of 4, so you’re missing out two. What does that mean?
Rio: That probably means Andrew that Chantal does have some issues with memory retention, and it’s a good point for us to continue doing some work around getting her memory back to possible the way it was so we’ll work on that together,
Andrew: Ok, cool.
Clinton: Physical injuries can also affect taste, smell and touch. Occupational Therapists have tests for all and can help affected patients accordingly.
Andrew: So this is all fun games, but how does this help her?
Rio: Chantal since she has had the injury has lost some of the condition in her shoulder, so the muscles are not as strong as they used to be. So the action that she is doing now is actually helping to get those muscles conditioned back to their normal function again so she will be able to do everyday tasks.
Chantal: I won!
Clinton: So could this be the job for Andrew?
Rio: I thought Andrew was great. He took on board everything quite well and didn’t need much prompting and he got along quite well with the patient. I think he will be a great OT.
Eti: I think Andrew did really well. He demonstrated good people skills, he wasn’t shy to give instructions.
To become an occupational therapist you need to:
- complete the Bachelor of Health Science in Occupational Therapy (AUT) or
- the Bachelor of Occupational Therapy (Otago Polytechnic/Wintec).
- AUT University website - information about the Bachelor of Health Science (Occupational Therapy)
- Otago Polytechnic website - information about the Bachelor of Occupational Therapy
- Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) website - information about the Bachelor of Occupational Therapy
NCEA Level 3 is required to enter further training. Useful subjects include biology, chemistry, health and physical education.
Occupational therapists need to be:
- positive and encouraging
- approachable, with good communication skills
- skilled at report writing
- analytical and observant
- good problem-solvers
- good at time management.
Useful experience for occupational therapists includes:
- working with children, the elderly or people with a disability
- coaching and working with groups of people
- first aid experience.
Occupational therapists need to be reasonably fit and healthy as they may have to help lift patients.
Occupational therapists need to be registered with the Occupational Therapy Board.
Find out more about training
- Occupational Therapy New Zealand
- (04) 473 6510 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.otnz.co.nz
- Te Rau Matatini - Māori Mental Health Workforce Development
- 0800 6282 8464 - email@example.com - www.matatini.com
What are the chances of getting a job?
Competition for entry-level jobs
Employers prefer to hire occupational therapists with experience so there is high competition for entry-level jobs.
New graduates may have more chances of finding work outside of the main cities and with smaller health providers such as private clinics.
Mental illness and ageing issues create demand
Job opportunities for experienced occupational therapists are good as:
- New Zealand's large ageing population use more therapy to remain independent and active
- demand increases for occupational therapists to treat mental health illnesses and addiction therapy.
Occupational therapists work in public and private practices
Occupational therapists can work for a range of organisations, including:
- district health boards (public health services and hospitals)
- private occupational therapy or multi-disciplinary practices
- primary health care providers
- rest homes or private hospitals
- rehabilitation services
- primary and secondary schools
- ACC (as case managers)
- non-governmental organisations (NGOs)
- the Ministry of Education.
Some occupational therapists are self-employed.
- Ministry of Health, 'Health of the Health Workforce 2015', September 2016, (www.moh.govt.nz).
- Ministry of Health, 'Statement of Intent 2014-2018', October 2014, (www.moh.govt.nz).
- Occupational Therapy New Zealand website, accessed March 2017, (www.otnz.co.nz).
- Te Pou o Te Whakaaro Nui et al, 'Adult Mental Health and Addiction Occupational Therapist Roles', November 2015, (www.tepou.co.nz).
- Waitemata District Health Board, 'Our Health in Mind, Growing Wellbeing for our Community, A Five-Year Strategic Action Plan 2016-21', 12 February 2016, (www.waitematadhb.govt.nz).
Progression and specialisations
Occupational therapists may progress into working in management, teaching or research roles, or move into contract work as a workplace occupational health and safety adviser.
Occupational therapists can specialise in a specific area of health therapy, such as:
- burn management
- geriatrics (elderly people)
- mental health and addictions
- paediatrics (children).
Last updated 2 June 2017