Careers in Medicine in Africa: Occupational Therapist


By: Rukhsar Jabbar. M.Sc. Physiotherapy. Freelance Health Writer and Datelinehealth Africa (DLHA) volunteer.

Medical review and editorial support provided by the DLHA Team.

Young African Occupational Therapists posing indoor

Young African Occupational Therapists posing indoor. Credit





In the world of rehabilitation, where teamwork is key, occupational therapy stands out as a versatile powerhouse alongside physiotherapy, speech-language pathology, and physiatry (rehabilitation medicine).


From addressing physical and mental health to serving individuals across ages and abilities, occupational therapists cover a vast spectrum of practice.


Their unique perspective enriches the interdisciplinary team dynamic, ensuring clients receive comprehensive care. With each professional playing a crucial role, collaboration not only enhances the quality of care but also proves to be cost-effective. It's clear: in the realm of rehabilitation, occupational therapists are indispensable champions of holistic healing. [2]



Who are Occupational Therapists?


A healthcare professional who assists you in enhancing your capacity to carry out routine chores is an occupational therapist (OT). They provide occupational therapy, which teaches you how to safely navigate your surroundings and use various equipment to engage in daily tasks.

Your primary care physician (PCP) and other specialists work together with your occupational therapist to form a team for your entire healthcare. [5]


OTs are qualified to use everyday activities (occupations) as a therapeutic tool to advance people's health and well-being. By working with people and communities to improve their ability to engage in the occupations they want to, need to, or are expected to do, or by changing the occupation or the environment to better support their occupational engagement, occupational therapy (OT) aims to enable people to participate in daily activities.[6]



What Is Occupational Therapy?


Occupational therapy is a "client-centered health profession concerned with promoting health and well-being through occupation," according to the World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT). [3]


Enhancing the abilities required to live as independently as feasible is the aim of occupational therapy. This involves having the ability to look after oneself, to work, to leave the house, and to interact with other people.

Occupational therapy can assist you in improving your day-to-day functioning and adjusting to a (new) mental or physical handicap. Your health and quality of life may both benefit from this. An occupational therapist can also provide helpful hints and counsel to family members. [1]


The following are possible components of occupational therapy, based on the nature of the limitation and your circumstances:

  • Retraining in daily skills (e.g., dressing, cooking, and housekeeping).
  • Acquiring and honing abilities for employment, education, or leisure.
  • Exercises for perception and movement;
  • Concentration and memory;
  • Manual and creative tasks;
  • Assistance in organising your daily schedule;
  • Adjustment of your living or working environment;
  • Using assistive technology, such as a prosthetic or walker;
  • Offering family members counsel and
  • Advice as necessary. [1]



Where is Occupational Therapy provided?


Occupational therapy is provided in the following settings: [1]

  • Centres for rehabilitation care;
  • Occupational therapy clinics;
  • Early intervention centres;
  • Nursing homes;
  • Outpatient clinics, and
  • At home visits.



What Are The Roles and Responsibilities of Occupational Therapists


In South Africa for example, Occupational Therapists are responsible for a variety of tasks, all aimed at assisting patients in reaching their objectives and enhancing their quality of life. These include:


  • Assessment


Assessing patients' physical, mental, and emotional capabilities is one of the main duties of occupational therapists. This entails evaluating the patient's mental, rational, and problem-solving skills in addition to their range of motion, strength, balance, and coordination.


  • Creating Treatment Plans


Occupational Therapists create customised treatment plans that are based on this examination and are suited to the particular requirements and objectives of each patient. Therapy regimens may consist of cognitive therapy, physical therapy, emotional support, or any mix of these. [9]


  • Teaching & Advising


Occupational Therapists are crucial in teaching patients and their families how to enhance everyday functioning in addition to treating patients and offering therapeutic services. This could be giving patients advice on how to make their house more accessible or instruction on how to operate adaptive equipment, like a wheelchair or walker.


  • Patient-centred Team Collaboration


Lastly, to guarantee that patients receive the best care possible, occupational therapists work in conjunction with other medical specialists. This could entail collaborating with medical professionals, nurses, social workers, and other therapists to create an all-inclusive treatment plan that takes into account the needs of the patient. [9]


Occupational therapy applies to the following illnesses or conditions:

• Brain-related illnesses (dementia, stroke, Parkinson's disease, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, etc.);

• Paralysis (due to a damage to the spine, for instance);

• Mental health conditions (such as schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety disorders);

• Issues with the skeleton, joints, or muscles (such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or fractured bones);

• Artificial limbs, prosthetics;

• Developmental disorders, such as those connected to autism, motor (movement) difficulties, or physical and mental impairments. [1]



Occupational Therapists as a Career in Africa


African Occupational Therapists practise in a wide range of settings, such as public and private hospitals, non-governmental organisations, insurance companies, and private rehabilitation facilities. They treat patients of all ages in these settings, and their specialties include physical and mental health, HIV/AIDS, palliative care, trauma, and community-based rehabilitation (CBR). [7]


Initiating the processof becoming an Occupational Therapists requires fulfiling specific prerequisites. These are meant  to guarantee that those who are going into the profession have the abilities, know-how and credentials needed to deliver quality occupational therapy servives. 


Using South Africa as example, some of the basic requirements for working in the profession are as follows:



1. Having a Bachelor's degree in Occupational Therapy is the primary prerequisite for becoming an occupational therapist in Nigeria.


2. Completing a mandatory internship

Students can apply their theoretical knowledge in real-life scenarios during the 6- to 12-month internship, which gives them hands-on experience in a variety of occupational therapy settings and enhances their skills and talents.


3. Taking the national licensing examination

• Registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA):

To legally work as an occupational therapist for example in South Africa, graduates must register with the HPCSA upon the completion of their degree programme and supervised practice.

• Students can study pertinent texts, take refresher courses, and practice sample questions to help them prepare for the examination, which evaluates the competency of prospective occupational therapists. [8]    


Additional prerequites  for advancement in the profession include:


  • Clinical Practice Placement


Every programme includes supervised clinical rotations in a range of environments, giving graduates real-world experience and preparing them for varied situations.


  • Community Service Option


A year of community service in underprivileged communities is something that some graduates opt to do to accomplish their national service requirements and obtain useful experience.


  • Master’s Degree (M.Sc. Occupational Therapy)


Postgraduate degrees allow specialisation in fields such as neurology, mental health, or paediatrics, which can improve career prospects and perhaps increase income potential, while they are not required.


  • Continuing Professional Development (CPD)


Therapists are required to keep their registration current by participating in required Continuing Professional Development (CPD) activities, such as attending conferences, workshops, or online courses.


  • Certification in Specialized Areas


Extra certificates in particular fields of practice, such as assistive technology or hand therapy, show competence and can lead to more specialised jobs that pay more.


  • Research and Publications


Participating in research initiatives, giving talks at conferences, or writing papers demonstrates knowledge and dedication to the field, which may lead to leadership positions or academic jobs.


  • Clinical Supervision Qualification


Skilled therapists can obtain certifications to oversee student externships, advancing the field and possibly generating revenue through possibilities for mentoring. [10]



What are the Salaries in South Africa for an Occupational Therapist?


It's crucial to remember that occupational therapy is a profession that is expanding in South Africa as more and more people become aware of its advantages. This indicates that there is a significant need for licensed occupational therapists, which may result in lucrative compensation and employment prospects. A sampling of current salary expectations are indicated below. Note that USD conversions may vary depending on the ruling exchange rate at the time of consideration.


Entry-Level Salaries


For individuals who are just starting in their occupational therapy profession, the typical entry-level pay in South Africa is roughly R240,000 [$12,752.19] per year. As you get more experience and expand your talents, your earning potential will increase.


Mid-Level Salaries


As occupational therapists gain more experience and expertise, their income potential grows. In South Africa, mid-level occupational therapists can anticipate yearly salaries of approximately R330,000 [$17,534]. This is a substantial rise above the entry-level pay and acknowledges the importance of seasoned occupational therapists to both companies and patients.


Senior-Level Salaries


In South Africa, occupational therapists with many years of experience who have made a name for themselves as authorities in their area are considered senior-level practitioners. The average annual compensation for these therapists would be over R480,000 [$25,504], which is a substantial rise over the starting pay. [9]


Factors Influencing Occupational Therapist Salaries in South Africa


Occupational therapy is a crucial healthcare profession that helps people of all ages overcome physical, mental, and emotional challenges that may affect their ability to perform daily activities. In South Africa, occupational therapists play an important role in the healthcare system, and their salaries can vary depending on several factors.

  • The level of experience an occupational therapist has can also influence their salary. Those with more years of experience may be eligible for higher salaries or more senior positions.
  • Occupational therapists with advanced degrees or specialised certifications may be eligible for higher salaries than those with basic qualifications.
  • An occupational therapist's pay in South Africa may also vary depending on where they work. The location and cost of living in a place might have an impact on salaries. Occupational therapists in major cities like Johannesburg or Cape Town, for instance, could make more money than their counterparts in rural locations.
  • An occupational therapist's pay may also vary depending on the industry in which they practice. Pay scales for public sector employees could differ from those of private sector employees. Employees in the public sector may be eligible for benefits including healthcare coverage and pension schemes that are not available in the private sector. [9]



Common Misunderstandings about Occupational Therapists


  • Occupational therapy will help me find a job.


Despite the word "occupation" in their title, an occupational therapist's objective is not always to assist you in finding employment. Instead, it has to do with routine tasks and pastimes that everyone must or desires to engage in. Eating, dressing, driving, and other activities are among them. It can also be used to describe tasks performed by individuals while working, such as typing, writing, or prolonged sitting. The goal of an occupational therapist is to assist the patient in reaching their objectives and, in the end, enable them to lead the lifestyle of their choice. [4]


  • Occupational therapy isn’t nearly as important as Physical therapy.


Both forms of therapy are equally vital, particularly for people who have suffered from injuries or severe surgeries. For example, an occupational therapist can assist a person who has suffered from a disease that prevents them from functioning normally in relearning how to eat, dress, walk, and perform other essential daily chores that many may take for granted. [4]


  • Physical Therapists and Occupational Therapists are interchangeable.

Different from physical therapists, occupational therapists concentrate on helping patients reach their goals, whereas physical therapists work on improving their strength and range of motion. An occupational therapist's role is to assist a patient who has had a catastrophic medical event, such as a stroke, in relearning how to take care of themselves, including dressing and feeding themselves. The occupational therapist will also suggest any tools required to support the individual's learning. On the other hand, a physical therapist aids the patient in regaining his mobility, equilibrium, and coordination. [4]





In Africa, occupational therapists play a crucial role in improving people's lives by helping them engage in meaningful activities. To do this effectively, therapists must understand and respect the cultural context of their clients. By doing so, they can ensure positive and lasting results while upholding their universal principles of care.

African occupational therapists must always reflect and stay self-aware as they work, bringing humility, enthusiasm, and hope. Despite challenges, they also have great opportunities and potential in their roles. [7]




1. What is occupational therapy? In: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG); [Internet 2020] Cited 2024 Mar 24. Available from:

2. Wan Yunus F, Ahmad Ridhuwan NF, Romli MH. The Perception of Allied Health Professionals on Occupational Therapy. Occup Ther Int. 2022:2588902. Available from:

3. Baum C, Carey L, Polatajko HJ. Occupational Therapy. In: Gellman MD, Turner JR, editors. Encyclopedia of Behavioral Medicine. New York, NY: Springer; 2013. p. 1371–4. Available from:

4. Cary Orthopaedics  Debunking Occupational Therapy Myths. [Internet. 2021]. Cited 2024 Mar 25. Available from:

5. What Does an Occupational Therapist Do? Cleveland Clinic [Internet]. Cited 2024 Apr 12. Available from:

6. Agho AO, John EB. Occupational therapy and physiotherapy education and workforce in Anglophone sub-Saharan Africa countries. Human Resources for Health 2017. 15(1):37. Available from:

7. van Vuuren Julia J, Okyere C, Aldersey H. The role of Occupational Therapy in Africa: A scoping review. S. Afr. j. occup. ther. 2024. 50( 3 ): 3-21. Available from: 

8. Idoko N. The Journey to Becoming an Occupational Therapist in Nigeria. Professions in Nigeria [Internet 2023]. Cited 2024 Apr 12. Available from:

9. Ashton. Unlocking Income: The Latest on Occupational Therapist Salaries. Arcadia Finance [Internet 2023]. Cited 2024 Apr 13. Available from:

10. Salarypedia. Occupational Therapist Salary in South Africa [Internet 2024]. Cited 2024 Apr 13. Available from:




Careers in Medicine in Africa: Physical Therapists




Published: April 15, 2024

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