Friday, May 29, 2015

What to expect in occupational therapy school

Expect to treat your OT/OTA education like a full time job. During OT school, it is not unusual to spend an entire day on campus for lectures, labs, guest speakers, etc., and then spend your evenings working on homework, reports, and group projects.

Speaking of group projects, OT/OTA school involves participation in a lot of group projects! These will vary from research projects to presentations to hands-on clinical skills. Group work will solidify your ability to collaborate and work effectively as a member of team, which are crucial skills to becoming a successful occupational therapy practitioner.

OT/OTA school also involves giving lots of presentations. Terrified of public speaking? Don’t worry! OTs tend to be a kind and compassionate group, so your classmates most likely will be, too. These experiences will help you hone your communication skills, which, as we’ve mentioned before, are so critical to success as an occupational therapy practitioner. Throughout your OT career you will be communicating with clients, family member, and colleagues. Depending on your work setting, you may be called to speak in front of groups, whether it is in an IEP meeting, during an in-service, or during medical rounds. It’s best to get comfortable with speaking in front of groups during OT/OTA school while you’re still learning and practicing.

Of course, there is also the hands-on learning! You will begin learning the practical skills of how to be an OT/OTA in your classes, but it is during your fieldwork where you will really solidify these skills. We’ll talk more about fieldwork coming up in the next section.

A graduate degree in occupational therapy, just like any graduate degree, is a big undertaking. Many graduate programs require the completion of some sort of capstone project or thesis prior to graduation. Whether this is a project or thesis will vary by school, so it’s a good idea to find out before you select a program so you know what to expect! Some programs allow you to take a comprehensive exam at the end of the degree program instead of completing a project or thesis so, again, it’s good to find out these details before committing to a program. 


As a part of your occupational therapy education, you will be required to complete fieldwork. This is where the education gets real! Fieldwork is the hands-on portion of your education and where you will really get an idea of what your future as an occupational therapy practitioner will be like. You can think of it like the student teaching or med school rotations equivalency of OT school.

There are Two Types of Fieldwork

·         Level I Fieldwork: There is no minimum number of hours required for Level I Fieldwork. Rather, each occupational therapy program sets the number of hours required for Level I Fieldwork. It usually ranges from 40-80 hours, and is completed prior to Level II Fieldwork. Learn more about Level I Fieldwork on AOTA’s website.

·         Level II Fieldwork: This consists of a minimum of 24 full-time weeks for occupational therapy students and a minimum of 16 full-time weeks for occupational therapy assistant students. Level II Fieldwork is typically completed in two, 12-week rotations for occupational therapy students and in two, 8-week rotations for occupational therapy assistant students. Learn more about Level II Fieldwork on AOTA’s website.

What’s the Difference between Level I and Level II Fieldwork?

The purpose of Level I Fieldwork is to expose you to the occupational therapy process in a variety of settings through observation and guided participation in very select aspects of treatment. The purpose is not for you to work independently. Level I Fieldwork may take place in a variety of ways, including one day a week for a semester, one day every other week for a semester, or every day for a full week.

Level II Fieldwork is much more hands-on and comprehensive. Level II Fieldwork is where you really learn how to be an OT or OTA. The goal is for you to be working independently by the end of your placement! By the time you finish your Level II Fieldwork placements, you should be demonstrating the skills of a competent, entry-level OT or OTA. In other words, the goal is to be ready to start your first job! Not only will you get a ton of hands-on experience, but this is where you will really hone your clinical reasoning skills and learn to apply all of the theory you learned during your academic program. Ideally, you will complete your Level II Fieldwork in two very different practice settings, in order to solidify your knowledge across the lifespan (e.g. pediatrics and adult rehab or mental health and physical disabilities). It is truly an exciting time!

One Big Thing to Keep in Mind

One big thing to keep in mind when considering attending OT or OTA school is that you will not get paid for your fieldwork (you will pay tuition just like you’re attending school) and due to the time commitment of completing Level II Fieldwork, you most likely will not be able to work while completing your Level II Fieldwork. Be sure to plan your finances accordingly. Level II Fieldwork is like a full-time job, and then you often go home and spend your evenings and weekends researching, treatment planning, and looking things up! It sounds intense, and honestly, that’s because it can be, but you will learn so much during this time! You will walk into your first day feeling like you don’t know what you’re doing (don’t worry, that feeling is completely normal) and you will walk out on your last day feeling like you’re ready to be an OT or OTA. That’s a pretty substantial change in such a short amount of time!

To learn more about fieldwork, visit the fieldwork section of the AOTA website.

Want to read more? This post is an adapted excerpt from my new FREE e-book I co-authored with Christie Kiley, entitled The Most Important Things You Need to Know about Becoming an Occupational Therapy Practitioner: A Guide for Prospective Students.

Click HERE or on the image above to get your own copy of the free e-book! Help other prospective students by sharing the link on your social media using #OTguide.

P.S. How to decide between becoming an OT or OTA, Tips for choosing the best OT school for YOU, and a day in the life of an OT student!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

OT Student Corner | You have a job offer, now what?

You made it through OT school, you successfully passed the NBCOT exam, and you have your OT license in hand. You made it through your interviews and now you have a job offer (or offers!) in front of you. What do you do next?

First off, congratulations! What an accomplishment! Take a moment to celebrate and give yourself a pat on the back!

Now, back to that job offer (or offers). How do you figure out if it is a good match for you? I recommend making a list of pros and cons for the potential job. This is especially helpful if you have more than one job offer in hand, because it helps you compare the offers.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when choosing the best job for you.

  • Does it match what you are looking for in a job? If after interviewing, you discover that the job is not what you expected, it's okay to turn down the offer. I've done this, and while I felt a little stressed out at the time that I still didn't have a job, in the long run it was definitely the right decision for me. With that said, your first job does not need to be the best and only job you ever work. Maybe there are not any jobs currently available in your desired practice area. It's better to have experience working as an OT, than no experience at all. You can always work your way up to that dream job!
  • Is there mentoring available? This is extremely important for new graduates or those changing practice areas. While you don't necessarily need to have a formal mentor  or mentoring program, it's good to know if you will have more experienced colleagues that you can reach out to with questions.
  • Does the pay meet your expectations? You probably didn't go into occupational therapy to become rich, but you should certainly be able to pay your bills with your salary as an OT or OTA. Don't forget to take into account other benefits, such as insurance, time off, and retirement plans.
  • What does your gut say? I'm an instinctual decision maker. I can list out the pros and cons of a potential job, but for me, it almost always comes down to that intuitive feeling in my gut. If it feels like a perfect fit, but something (pay, benefits, schedule, etc) is not as good as another job, take that gut feeling into consideration. There must be a reason why you are drawn to (or not drawn to) a particular job. When I accepted my first job out of college, it was actually the lowest paying of the three offers I had, but everything else about the job felt right to me (schedule, setting, location, priorities of the hospital), so I went for it and I loved it!
  • Negotiate. In hindsight, when I accepted that first job out of college, I should have negotiated for a higher salary that matched the other offers. I think I was just so excited and inexperienced that I didn't know I could do that. The worst that would have happened is that they would have said no. They would not have taken the job offer away. Reflect on your offer and experience to determine if negotiating is appropriate. (FYI - since that time I have negotiated higher salaries both successfully and unsuccessfully. In one unsuccessful instance, I took the job anyway, and it was not awkward at all. Employers understand and will not hold it against you).
  • Ask questions. If something was not clear about the offer, or benefits, or schedule, or anything at all, reach out and ask for clarification. This will help you make an informed decision.
  • Respond in a timely manner. Employers are interviewing because they have a position to fill and usually they need to fill it quickly! It's okay to take a day or two to think over the offer, but try to give your response as soon as possible, so the employer can either get the hiring process started (yay!) or find a different person for the position.

Do you have any advice to add to this list? Please share in the comments below!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

OT Student Corner | Questions YOU Should Ask at an Interview

Interviewing is more than just answering questions. You want to be prepared to ask questions, too! Remember, the interviewer is trying to figure out if you are a good fit for the position, but you are also trying to figure out if the position is a good fit for you.

Ideally, many of these questions will be answered during the interview, but just in case they're not, these are things you'll probably want to know about a potential job.

  • How many OTs work here? Is it a big team? Will you be the only OT? Are there OTs with more experience or specialty practice areas that you can learn from?
  • How long have you been working here? I always like to find out what the staff turnover is like. Generally, places that have low staff turnover are very proud of it and will start to rattle off how long each person in the department has been there. That's a sign that it's a good place to work. Higher turnover isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just something to be aware of.
  • Who will I report to? This will give you an idea of how the company is structured and how much supervision you can expect.
  • What is a typical caseload size? This is just good information to have. If they give you an unclear answer, that may be a red flag.
  • What does a typical day look like? As we know, there is no such thing as a "typical" day in OT. But, they should be able to tell you the hours of the job, approximate number of clients seen in a day, number of treatments vs evaluations, meetings, etc.
  • What is the population that is served? This might seem obvious based on the setting and the homework you did prior to showing up for the interview, but it's helpful to ask about age ranges and specific diagnoses. It might turn out that the population served is much more specific (or general) than you anticipated.
  • What assessment and evaluation tools are used? It's good to know what is used and this is also an opportunity to share your familiarity with the tools used by this site.
  • How is documentation completed? This includes both written vs computerized, as well as all at once (at the end of the day) vs after each client. You can also ask about progress reports, re-evaluations, and discharge notes to find out how frequently you will be required to do those.

Always, always, always do your research before your interview! Check out the company's website, Facebook page, etc. Be sure to ask a question that is specific to your interests, as well as a question that is specific to the company.

Here are a few that I usually ask:

  • I noticed on your website that you have a program in XXX. What is the role of OT in this program?
  • Do you accept fieldwork students?
  • How do you support career growth?
  • How do you support continuing education requirements?

P.S. Common interview questions.

Do you have any questions you would add to this list? Please share in the comments below!

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tips for choosing the best OT or OTA school for you

To become an occupational therapy practitioner, you must attend an accredited occupational therapy school to be eligible to sit for the NBCOT exam. Accredited just means that the school meets the educational standards put in place by AOTA’s Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education (ACOTE). There are currently 326 occupational therapy and occupational therapy assistant educational programs in the United States and its territories! You can find a list of all of the accredited schools by visiting AOTA’s website.

A few things to keep in mind when choosing the best school for you

First of all, you need to find a school that is the right fit for you. What might be the best fit for your friend or neighbor or cousin, won’t necessarily be the right fit for you. There are a lot of schools to choose from and every individual has different needs and requirements.

Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking for an occupational therapy program that is the best match for you:

·         Do you want to (or need to) stay close to home?

·         What are the admissions requirements?

·         What are the prerequisites?

·         What is the cost of the program?

·         What makes the program unique?

·         What are the requirements for graduation? (e.g. completion of a Master’s thesis or project)

If at all possible, visit the programs you are interested in attending and meet with an admissions counselor. Often you will get an intuitive feel about whether a program is the right fit for you just by visiting. Be sure to check out the strengths of the programs in which you are interested. Maybe an OT program has a student-run clinic or a research center that matches your interests. Some schools offer specialty certifications, combined bachelor’s/master’s programs, or specific fieldwork requirements, just to give a few examples of things that may set a school apart. These are all worth looking into when checking out a potential occupational therapy program.

Last, but not least, you need to consider expenses. Private schools are much more expensive than public schools, and out of state tuition can be very high for non-residents. Be sure to take your own financial situation into consideration when choosing an OT school, and it is always worth looking into the financial aid that each school offers to see if you might qualify for any assistance.

Click HERE or on the image above to get your own copy of the free e-book! Help other prospective students by sharing the link on your social media using #OTguide. 

P.S. Tips for deciding between OT and OTA.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

OT Student Corner | Common Interview Questions

Graduation season is upon us and that means many occupational therapy students will soon be applying for their first job! This is a very exciting time, but as someone who has recently relocated and gone through the interview process, I understand that it can also be a stressful time. I have moved and changed jobs five times in my eight year career, so I'll let you guess how many times I have interviewed :)

Over the years, I've discovered that the key to interviewing is to have stories to tell. Each question that is asked of you is an opportunity to tell a story about your experience and your values. In most instances the interviewer just wants to get to know you (just as you probably want to get to know more about the potential employer). In the OT world, rarely is the interviewer trying to trick you or catch you off guard. With that said, below are some common interview questions for OT positions. I recommend practicing your answers (or stories) for each of these questions out loud prior to your interview.

Note: There will always be a question or questions that you are not prepared for. That's okay. As long as you are prepared for some common questions and have some stories prepared, you should be able to handle the unexpected questions.

Common Interview Questions for Occupational Therapy Jobs:

  • Why did you decide to become an OT? This is almost a guaranteed question. Be prepared to answer it concisely. This is not the time to go on a long monologue about why you chose OT as a career and how you think OT is the greatest career ever (even though it is).
  • Why do you want to work here? Do your research before you show up for your interview. Know why you want to work at this specific school/facility/hospital. Your answer should not be because you want a job. You have to show them that you want this job.
  • Tell me about your work / fieldwork experiences. What population did you work with? What assessments are you familiar with? This is a straightforward question, but be prepared to answer it concisely. The interviewee doesn't want to know every last detail of your work or fieldwork experience, but they do want to know what makes you qualified for this job. Highlight your experiences that are most applicable to the job you are interviewing for. Be prepared to share ages and diagnoses of clients you have experience with, as well as assessments and practice frames of reference that you used.
  • What qualities do you bring to a team? You can also think of this one as, "What are your strengths?" Be prepared to answer this in one way or another. The interviewer may directly ask you what your strengths are, but I've found that it tends to get asked in a more general "What do you bring to the team?" kind of way. This is a great opportunity to set yourself apart from other applicants. You may have had a unique experience that others have not had, so this is your chance to speak up and share it!
  • What do you think your references will tell us are areas in which you could improve? This is  a sneaky way of finding out what you think your weaknesses are. It's okay, no one is perfect and everyone has areas to improve. The tricky part is to be aware of your weaknesses and have an explanation for what you are doing to improve them. It's also good to have a story about how you overcame one of your "weaknesses."
  • What would be your ideal OT department? This question is asking you what your values as an OT are. Reflect on your experiences and think about what you liked or disliked about each. This will help you figure out what an ideal OT department would look like for you.
  • Tell me about a time you have had to advocate for occupational therapy. I don't know if this is a common question, but I was recently asked this question and it caught me off guard a little bit, so I wanted to add it to the list, so you can be better prepared than I was. Unfortunately, in many work environments, OT is still not fully understood, so think about a time that you had to explain the value of OT in the work or fieldwork setting.
  • Tell me about a time that you went above and beyond. This one is always uncomfortable for me, because 1) I feel like I always go above and beyond and 2) I don't like to talk about how great I am, which is basically what this question is asking you to do. It's easiest for me if I have one particular story in my head that I am prepared to share if this question or a similar one comes up.
  • Tell me about a challenging situation and how you handled it. I've found that this is often a three part question: 1) a challenging situation with a co-worker, 2) a challenging client, and 3) a challenging family member. Again, have some stories ready to share.
  • Where do you see yourself in five years? The trick to this one is to be both clear and vague at the same time. Maybe you don't see yourself staying with this particular employer for five years, but now is not the time to say that. Share your career goals, which might include specialty training, gaining a leadership position, or participating in research. Do not say something like, "I hope to be a stay at home mom in five years" even if that is your goal. Make the interviewer feel like they fit into your five year plan.
  • Why should we hire you? This usually comes toward the end, so be ready to sell yourself. I know it can feel uncomfortable, but this is your opportunity to highlight all of your strengths, why you would be a good fit for this particular company, and you can also throw in anything else that you want to tell the interviewer that they didn't ask you.
  • Do you have any questions? This is almost always the last question at an interview. Don't ever answer this question with, "No." Always have questions. I like to go into an interview with a list of questions that I have. Many of my questions are the same from interview to interview, and these general questions often get answered during the interview process. You always want to show that you did your homework prior to the interview, so it's good to scour their website or social media pages to come up with some questions that are specific to the site. I'll cover specific questions to ask a potential employer next week.
  • What is your salary expectation? I've found that this question is not really asked all that frequently, but it's better to be prepared for it, rather than having no idea what to say. Do your homework prior to the interview using sites like or the Advance for OT Salary Survey results. You may get away with saying something general, like "a competitive salary" or "it's negotiable," but I've found that they employers that ask this question usually want a number, or at least a range. Salaries vary based on location, experience, and practice setting, so use the websites above to help get an idea of what can be expected in your area.

Fun questions:

I have mixed feelings on the use of "fun" questions in a an interview, but I guess overall they are harmless. The interviewee is just trying to get to know you a little bit and maybe see how well you think on your feet when thrown off guard. In my experience, I've been asked a "fun" question in about half of my interviews.

Here are a few examples of fun questions that I have been asked:
  • What is the most recent book you read? I read a LOT of books, so this should be an easy question for me, but I often blank whenever someone asks me this question, whether it's in an interview or just casually. Maybe because I read so many books (and so quickly) that I tend to forget the name of books? I actually nailed this question during one interview. I had recently read a Joyce Carol Oates book and one of the interviewers was a big fan of hers. I got lucky, because many people probably have no idea who that author is and if they do, it may make me look a bit odd due to the nature of the topics she writes about.
  • What would you bring to a staff potluck? This one totally caught me off guard, and I'm not sure why. OT departments always have potlucks. They just do, so consider it part of your new career. I guess we all love food. I usually use staff potlucks as an opportunity to make something I've been wanting to try, but haven't had a chance to do so.
  • What's your favorite Blizzard flavor? Nailed it! Pumpkin pie. And I taught the interviewers about a flavor they were not familiar with. (This question is obviously very regional, because I don't think Dairy Queen exists in all parts of the country.)
  • Are you a xx fan or xx fan? Maybe it's just me that gets this question because I've moved around so much. "Are you a Packers fan or a Broncos fan?" "Are you a Giants fan or a Patriots fan?" "Are you a Red Sox fan or Dodgers fan?" My response is usually along the lines of "Ummm...neither. I mean, I guess I'm a Red Sox fan. Yes, obviously I love the Red Sox. And the Patriots, too. And there's a hockey team here, right? Yeah, the Bruins. I love the Bruins." And then I tell them that I don't actually watch sports because I grew up in Iowa, where there are no professional sports teams, so my family just wasn't into sports. And then that usually turns into a conversation about how corn, not potatoes is grown in Iowa, and Iowa is located right in the middle of the country, you know, the flyover states, and so on.....
If these "fun" questions stress you out, don't worry. These are not worth losing sleep over. I think "fun" questions are a sign that you're doing well in the interview, and they just want to get to know you a little better in a less formal way. I've never not gotten a job offer because of my answer to the "fun" questions. In fact, I think I've always been offered a job at the interviews that asked one of these questions.

P.S. Tips for preparing for an interview.

Good luck with your interviews! Have any other common questions to add to the list? Please share in the comments below!

Friday, May 8, 2015

OT Approved Toy | Rush Hour Shift

I love games by ThinkFun and the original Rush Hour board game has long been my favorite of all of the ThinkFun games! Rush Hour is actually how I first discovered ThinkFun and all of their great games! When ThinkFun recently contacted me to see if I'd be interested in checking out their new Rush Hour Shift board game, I knew I had to see what they had come up with.

Rush Hour Shift is a two player version of the popular Rush Hour board game. In my opinion, this game is much more difficult than the original Rush Hour game, but that doesn't mean that it's not a great game. I just want you to be aware that this game is more difficult. With that said, if you are a fan of the Rush Hour game or logic games in general, then you will probably enjoy this game, as well!

To play Rush Hour Shift, you first set up the game board based on one of the provided configurations. This alone is a great visual perceptual challenge for kids! After that, each player is dealt four cards, and then they take turns making a move using their cards. This is where it differs from the original Rush Hour game in a few ways: 1) Rush Hour Shift is 2 player, and 2) the board game actually shifts! Depending on the cards that are played, the board may shift, suddenly changing the route you were planning to take to get out of the traffic jam. Just like the original game, the goal is to get your car out of the traffic jam, but in this game you need to do it before the other player does!

If you are a fan of Rush Hour and looking for either a 2 player game or an additional challenge, I would recommend Rush Hour Shift.

Best for ages: 8 and up

Skills addressed: 

  • fine motor
  • visual perceptual
  • visual spatial
  • problem solving  
  • turn taking


Other ThinkFun Games I love:

Like I said, I'm a fan of all ThinkFun games, but couple of my favorites are Shape by Shape and Bug Trails.

Did you know ThinkFun also has great apps for kids? You can check out a review I did of the Rush Hour and Chocolate Fix apps by clicking HERE.

Where to buy:

You can find Rush Hour Shift at most stores that sell toys, including Toys R Us, Barnes & Noble, and Target. You can also purchase Rush Hour Shift on Amazon.

For more OT Approved Toys, be sure to stop by my Toy Page.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary Rush Hour Shift game from Think Fun in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not compensated for this post and all writing and opinions are my own. Links to Amazon are affiliate links

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

OT Student Corner | Preparing for an Interview

Yay! It's graduation season! That means OT students all over the country are preparing for their first interviews. How exciting! Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some tips for successfully navigating the interview process.

First up, preparing for an interview.

In advance:

  • Do your homework. Research the potential employer and learn what makes them unique or different from other places you are interviewing. This is important for you to find a job that is the best fit for you, and also to be able to ask good questions of your potential employer.
  • Prepare for potential interview questions. Practice your answers! Next week I'll cover common interview questions and how to prepare for them.
  • Questions for the employer. Always be prepared to ask questions at your interview. It's not just them interviewing you, you are also interviewing them to make sure it's a good fit for you.
  • Research salary. Salary varies based on experience, geographic location, and practice setting. Do your research prior to the interview to know what to expect, as well as to be ready to answer the sometimes uncomfortable, "what is your salary expectation for this job?" question. I recommend checking out and the Advance for OT Salary Survey results.
  • Make sure you know how to get there. I usually ask if there is somewhere specific I am supposed to park and where I should report when I arrive. This reduces my anxiety around not knowing what to expect, because at least I know where to park and where to go in the building. Also, I recommend checking out how long it will take to get there and don't forget to take into consideration the time of day you will be going and if traffic may delay you. Do a drive by if necessary a day or two before to really make sure you know where you are going.
  • Decide what to wear. Dress professionally and choose your clothes prior to the day of the interview. If you pick out your clothes in advance, it's one less thing to think about on the interview day.

The day of:

  • Arrive on time! Give yourself plenty of time to get to your interview, including time to find parking and get to where you are supposed to be. You can always sit in your car and review your notes if you arrive too early. It's much harder to make up for arriving late.
  • Dress appropriately. Hopefully you've already decided ahead of time what you will wear, so this is just a matter of putting those clothes on! Remember, dress professionally!
  • Bring everything you need. This might include extra copies of your resume, your OT license, CPR certification, a list of references, a list of previous employers and previous addresses. You probably already filled out an application online when you submitted your resume, but often employers have a paper application that you must fill out when you arrive. Information that is often required is dates of when you were in school, dates and addresses for previous jobs, and previous home addresses (going back seven years) for a background check.
  • Relax and be yourself. The interviewer just wants to get to know you, and hear about your skills and experiences, so relax and show them who you really are!

The day after:

  • Follow up. Once you complete the interview, you still have work to do! It's always good to follow up the next day (usually by email) to thank the interviewer for interviewing you, to reiterate your interest in the position, and to highlight your qualifications for the job. Keep it short and sweet. This is not the time to write an essay. Remember, just three things: 1) thank you, 2) your interest in the job, 3) your qualifications for the job. Bonus points if you are able to tie in something the interviewer shared in the interview!

Good luck preparing for your interviews! Be sure to stop back next week for common interview questions!

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