Why Occupational Therapy in India still has a long way to go

Occupational Therapy (OT) is a branch of medical sciences, history of which, in Asia, dates back to the year 1952, when the Occupational Therapy department was started at KEM Hospital in Mumbai. The stream has grown in the country since its inception, but there is a considerable lack of awareness among patients and the medical community. The major issue with Occupational Therapy in India is that it often gets over-shadowed by the widening scope of Physiotherapy. The lack of quality professionals teaching in the medical colleges offering Occupational Therapy course is another roadblock for the development of OT as a profession in India. While talking to PaGaLGuY, students and professionals in the field of Occupational Therapy pointed out the various aspects of the profession and highlighted the importance of occupational therapy in society. 

Lack of qualified Occupational Therapists 

Although the need of Occupational Therapists in private hospitals, NGO’s, and rehabilitation centres is increasing day by day, there are not enough qualified personnel in the country to fill the void. Namita Shenai, a practicing paediatric Occupational Therapist in Mumbai, informed PaGaLGuY about the lack of occupational therapists in the country. “While the body regulating Physiotherapy (PT) education in the country has authorised private institutes to conduct the course, the same has not been done for Occupational Therapy. Also, there are no diploma courses for OT, which makes the choices of the students limited between B.OT (Bachelor of Occupational Therapy) and M.OT (Master of Occupational Therapy),” pointed out Shenai.

B.OT is a four and a half year course, while M.OT is a two/three (depending on the colleges) year course, offered in different medical colleges across the country. 

Due to the lack of qualified practitioners, the student-teacher ratio is skewed in most of the government-run colleges offering Occupational Therapy. There are 21 medical colleges across the country that offers B.OT course affiliated to AIOTA (All India Occupational Therapist’s Association). “Most of the students who take up Occupational Therapy in India are girls. Quite a lot of them get married and stop pursuing their career after that, creating a dearth of qualified professionals in the country. Also, many of them go abroad for further studies and don’t come back, due to lack of opportunities in the country,” said Shenai.

Developing understanding of the course among students 

A fourth year student Pooja Shah, from Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital, Mumbai shared her experience about getting into Occupational Therapy. “I didn’t know much about the curriculum when I joined. However, gradually I came to know more about the course and started liking it. By the end of the third year, I was determined to work hard and deliver results for society”, said Pooja.

Pooja is not an exception when it comes to medical aspirants joining Occupational Therapy. Lack of awareness about the stream and limited opportunities in the country makes it a less preferred option among the medical aspirants. “It is not a glamorous career choice and thus youth is not attracted to the profession. You need to spend time the patients to learn more and develop empathy towards them. It is then that you feel connected with the subject,” said Shenai. 

Sharing her experience, Sneha Sanam, a final year PG student of Occupational Therapy  said, “We came to know about the importance of occupational therapy, when we attended the induction lecture at the very first day of our college. Since then, I have changed a lot as a person, and have learned about the help and support we can provide to people in the society.”  

“Along with academics, the teaching community in the colleges must remain aware of the private sector on a professional level as well. Students might find it difficult in the private working set-up once they are out from a government run college, with lack of hands-on training on technological devices used for treatment,” pointed out Shenai from her own experience as a practitioner. 

Occupational Therapy and its importance

Occupational Therapy allows patients to get back to their respective occupation in a minimal timeframe. OT practitioners help patients both mentally and physically for their well-being. Sachin Vaishnav, an accident patient who lost his hand, shared his experience stating, “It gets really hard to manage your daily life when you loss some part of your body in an accident. You need mental support as well as the treatment to get cured and get back to your normal life. Occupational Therapy helps you heal gradually, making it easier for you to accept the fact and get back to your occupation.”

“You feel special when you see the development in the child from whatever condition they were suffering from to independently performing their daily activities,” concluded Shenai. 

To Know more about the current scenario of Occupational Therapy in India, read our previous article here