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Health & Social Care careers

Healthcare: Physiotherapy, Rehabilitation & Occupational Therapy

What does this all mean?

You may think that your responsibilities in this line of work will involve chatting to old people, massaging famous athletes when they have cramp and weaving baskets. However, these preconceptions aren’t entirely true. So what’s it really all about then?

Physiotherapy, rehabilitation and occupational therapy careers are all about enabling those people who are temporarily or permanently disabled to be as independent as possible in their everyday lives. If you choose to pursue a career in this area, you will be helping people to regain their independence and mobility by using purposeful activity.  

Why is rehabilitation work so important?

Everyday people find themselves in an unenviable position, where they can no longer do everything they used to do. This may be a result of ageing, an accident or prolonged illness.

Clearly, most people would like to return to how they were before. Although this is not always possible, it’s the job of physiotherapists and occupational therapists to help them get to a position where their independence and mobility is as good as it possibly can be.

Often in this field, you will find yourself working with a multitude of other professionals to meet the individual needs of each patient. Essentially, you will be working as a team to try and help people recover from, or adapt to, their disabilities or illnesses.

Occupational therapists and physiotherapists can work in a variety of physical and mental health settings. You could work in in patient environments, such as hospitals, or in community settings, such as patients’ homes and outpatient clinics. Therapists are also likely to have a varied client group, from children with mobility problems, to older people that are suffering from crippling illnesses.

Occupational therapists look at people’s abilities to carry out everyday tasks, such as bathing, dressing, preparing food and returning to work. Not only do they advise people on new ways to complete these tasks, but theycan also provide equipment or recommend adaptations to their home environment, such as grab rails and wheelchair access.

Physiotherapists look at these same everyday tasks, but focus more on strength, stamina, balance and exercise tolerance. Physiotherapists will also suggest if a further period of rehabilitation is necessary or if regular help is required to keep people safe in their homes.

What do I need to get into this sector?

As with all healthcare careers, you’ll need to be kind, caring and understanding. The nature of this entire subsector means that you may have to work unsociable hours, including bank holidays and weekends.

The people you are helping to rehabilitate may be unmotivated and uncooperative, so you will need to be able to encourage people and enable them to understand and appreciate their progress. You will also need to have good communications skills.

Therapy interventions begin with an assessment of the patient, which is designed to understand their individual needs. You will look at their range of movement and their ability to carry out everyday tasks.

Sometimes rehabilitation can be achieved through exercises and encouragement, but sometimes extra help is needed in the form of care in the community initiatives. This could involve the provision of carers at home, meals on wheels, or aides such as special seats, beds or washing facilities.

Written by Katie Owen

Occupational Therapist @ University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Trust

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