Utah's acute nursing shortage has been well-publicized, but less well-known is that Utah has a critical shortage of occupational therapists.

The therapists are medical professionals who specialize in restoring and enhancing independence in living, learning and working skills for physically-disabled patients.Many Utah hospitals don't employ occupational therapists or employ too few because their services often are not reimbursed by third-party carriers.

"Occupational therapy is a medical field that has made huge strides in the past few decades," said Eunice Zee-Chen, president of the Utah Occupational Therapy Association. "It is no longer the making of baskets and mocassins that was once associated with the profession."

Chen says modern technology and occupational therapy create a significant partnership. The occupational therapist teaches and develops patient skills with an ever-widening assortment of adaptive equipment and augmentative devices that make normalcy more possible.

Occupational therapy had its beginnings during World War I when tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen suffered serious injuries, but survived because of better medical care.

Today, occupational therapists serve not only in acute care and rehabilitation hospitals and extended care facilities, but also in public schools.