The occupational therapist work force is growing at a fast rate and employment conditions are good, according to a report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
ABS figures at the 1996 census showed the number of occupational therapists increased by 58% between 1986 and 1996. In 1998, there were an estimated 3,586 registered therapists in the five jurisdictions surveyed-97% of these were employed.
Occupational therapists are health workers who provide a wide range of support to people with physical, psychological or developmental injuries or disabilities.
Occupational therapy labour force 1998 shows that they are typically female, aged 25-34, and work full-time in salaried positions, mostly in public hospitals.
Head of the AIHW Labour Force and Rural Health Unit, Glenice Taylor, said that the usage of occupational therapy services is strongly related to age.
'Usage is highest among the youngest and oldest age groups,' she said. 'Children aged 0-14 years were equally as likely as those aged over 65 years to consult an occupational therapist-around 165 per 100,000 people in their respective age groups.
'Within the younger client age group there is a high proportion with a developmental disability (93%), while older clients are more likely to receive treatment for general rehabilitation (56%).
'As a result, far more occupational therapists worked in these two clinical specialty fields than in any other, with slightly more in the general rehabilitation field (24%), than in developmental disability (22%).'
The report shows that occupational therapy seems to have become a popular career choice, with a 59% increase in the number of people completing undergraduate courses in this field at Australian universities in the decade to 1999. There has also been a much larger increase in the number of postgraduate completions, which rose from 353 to 598 between 1989 and 1998.
'As medical knowledge and techniques advance, so will the number of people surviving otherwise terminal accidents or illnesses,' Ms Taylor said. 'Consequently, the need for occupational therapists is expected to increase.'