Life / Careers

You can do this: Occupational therapist

Sandra Dewsberry "loves working with people. I love working to assist them to improve their quality of life as they’re coming to the end of it."


Sandra Dewsberry, 55, occupational therapist, St. Joseph’s Care Group, Thunder Bay

Why I like my job
I’ve been an occupational therapist for over 30 years. In high school, when I was starting to think about what I’m going to do with my career, I did two placements in the occupational therapy roles, and I realized it’s what I really wanted to do. I ended up doing a 33-month degree at McMaster University in health sciences, with a specialization in occupational therapy.

Today, I work on the mental health side in the psychiatric hospital with long-term care residents, who are mostly seniors with cognitive issues like dementia. We try to take a non-pharmacological approach to healing and figure out what might be agitating or upsetting patients (as many can’t vocalize their issues), or why they might be reacting to treatment in a certain way. I have upwards of 40 clients, and for each, working with a patient’s doctors, personal support workers and families, we come up with a specific action plan based on clients’ needs. Sometimes that includes scheduling visits with psychiatrists or even priests, or maybe encourage them to exercise – little thing we can do to help them deal with their anxiety and improve their quality of life.

But it’s a very varied career. Working in long-term care is only one small aspect of what I’ve done. Over the years, I’ve worked the community going into people’s homes and improving the quality of life there. And you can work across all ages – from newborns to 100-plus.

It’s a new day, every day. I love working with people. I love working to assist them to improve their quality of life as they’re coming to the end of it.

How to start
Today, occupational therapists are required to have a master’s degree in the field, and complete a minimum of 1,000 hours of clinical work. Schools across the country, including the University of Toronto, Dalhousie, the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia, offer programs. There, students learn theoretical practices of occupational therapy – how different factors in life, such as a person’s immediate environment, work or even personal relationships, might influence their health – as well as do hands-on clinical placements, where they put their learning to use. After university, prospective therapists must take a certification exam by the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists to be allowed to practice.

Where you can go?
Occupational therapists work with people of all ages with physical or mental health issues. As a result, there are opportunities to work in hospitals and private clinics across the country, as well as schools, long-term care facilities (like nursing homes), and in private homes. There are opportunities to work with governments in all major cities (to advise on areas like disability accessibility, health planning and rehab programs). Many businesses also work with occupational therapists to develop plans for safe and healthy work environments.

The basics: Occupational therapist
$65,838: Median annual salary for an intermediate-level occupational therapist, though with more experience, OTs can expect to earn upwards of $90,000
+14%: The amount of growth expected in this field over the next eight years.

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