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.
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 sources of our pay 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!”
Becoming an occupational therapist
To become an occupational therapist you need to complete one of the following:
- Bachelor of Health Science in Occupational Therapy (AUT)
- 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
Becoming a hearing therapist
There are no specific requirements for becoming a hearing therapist. However, a National Diploma in Hearing Therapy may be useful.
Relevant health or social services qualifications and experience – such as occupational therapy and teaching – may may help with being selected for the diploma, or on-the-job training through an audiologist employer.
The Vulnerable Children Act 2014 means that if you have certain serious convictions, you can’t be employed in a role where you are responsible for, or work alone with, children.
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.teraumatatini.com
What are the chances of getting a job?
Competition for entry-level jobs
Employers prefer to hire occupational therapists with experience, so competition is high for entry-level jobs.
New graduates may have better chances of finding work outside the main cities, and with smaller health providers such as private clinics.
According to the Census, 2,520 occupational therapists worked in New Zealand in 2018.
Mental illness and ageing issues create demand
Job opportunities for experienced occupational therapists are good because:
- New Zealand's large ageing population is using more therapy to remain independent and active
- demand is increasing for occupational therapists to treat mental health illnesses and assist with 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).
- Stats NZ, '2018 Census Data', 2019.
- 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).
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)
Progression and specialisations
Occupational therapists may progress to work 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
- mental health and addictions
- geriatrics (elderly people)
- paediatrics (children).
Last updated 4 August 2020