Thursday, June 5, 2014

OT Student Corner | How did you know you wanted to be an OT?

Update: This post triggered a cool social media domino effect. If you're interested in hearing more OT's stories of how they knew they wanted to be an occupational therapist, check out this post on AOTA's Checking the Pulse and visit the AOTA Facebook page and scroll down to June 6, 2014, where they posed this same question to their followers and got a tremendous response!

I received an email recently with the following question:
"How did you know occupational therapy was what you wanted to go into? I'm debating a number of professions, but I'm not sure what to go into. I want to work with kids and I want to help people as much as possible. Do you have any advice?"
I think this is a very common question for all students trying to figure out what they want to do with their life. Most students enter college at such a young age and what a big decision to make! It's definitely a bit overwhelming.

So here's my answer:
"Ummm...I didn't know. Actually, some days, I still don't know."
And here's my advice:
Job shadow, job shadow, job shadow! All of those careers you are considering, get out there and observe them. Find out what a typical day looks like, ask questions, look around to see what other professionals they work with. There might be a lesser known profession that you've never heard of that would be the perfect fit for you.

For anyone who's interested, here's the extended version of my experience of finding occupational therapy as the career for me.

As a child I wanted to do all sorts of things when I grew up. Librarian, optometrist, photojournalist, interior designer....basically, I had no idea what I wanted to do. By high school I started leaning toward healthcare professions.

First I wanted to be an athletic trainer, but as a runner who never did what the athletic trainer at my school told me to do, I decided that I didn't really want to deal with athletes all the time. Because athletes are difficult, and I didn't want to deal with that.

By the time I entered college, I decided I was going to be a physical therapist, but I wasn't completely enamored with the idea. I did a lot of job shadowing during my freshman year of college of PTs working in different practice areas: pediatrics, hospitals, clinics. It was during this time that I discovered occupational therapy. As I was job shadowing, I saw other therapists, who turned out to be OTs, who were doing things that I thought looked really cool.

I job shadowed some OTs, did research on what exactly OT is, and decided to make the switch. I am a bit of an indecisive person, so OT seemed like a great match for me. I loved that there were so many different practice areas that OTs worked in. Pediatrics, geriatrics, hospitals, clinics, mental health, community settings. I figured if I got bored with one area, I could always switch to a different practice area. I was also really intrigued by how OT originated in mental health and was drawn to the holistic approach of OT. I just loved the idea of OT.

And that was that. I (mostly) never looked back. I went to OT school, became an OT, and now here I am. I actually took a fairly traditional route to becoming an occupational therapist, but that is definitely not a requirement. I highly recommend you check out how Christie of Mama OT found occupational therapy. Such a great story!

Therapists, what advice do you have for students trying to figure out what career to pursue?

PS-The coolest thing about this email I received? As I looked at the sender's information more closely, I realized it was from a student at the same college that attended my freshman year! You know, the tiny midwest college I went to because they had a PT program, then realized I didn't want to be a PT, and then semi-blindly jumped into a new college my sophomore year to enroll in an OT program. What a small world! And like I said, no one knows what they want to be when they grow up, especially at age 18!

Are you an occupational therapy student or considering a career in OT? Have a question you'd like answered? Leave it in the comments or send me an email and I'll try to address it in an upcoming post!


  1. Is there any specific experience in OT that helped you commit to your decision as a student? I was also wondering if it's detrimental to have a bachelor's degree in something such as anthropology before applying for OT school. I have taken pre-requisites but I was unable to get to my University's OT program for some reason or another so I am currently studying anthro. While i have an interest in diversity and cultures I have been shadowing OT's for two years and enjoy this setting much more, I am very concerned about admittance into a master's program however.

  2. I just had a college student shadow me today for a few hours, and it made me examine why I love being an OTR for almost 30 (gasp) years. The time has flown. I am in private practice and do contract home-based EI treatment:
    * I love science and scientific inquiry. Every case is a mystery to solve and and opportunity to learn more about the brain, the body, and behavior.
    * I am very creative, and I like the challenge of never knowing what situations will greet me when I open the door.
    * OT has allowed me to explore work in hospitals, out-patient rehab, home care, ergonomic workplace assessment, psychiatry, and school-based work. All with one degree. And a boatload of additional training.
    * I am committed to enhancing the independence and engagement in life for all of my clients, and I can see the results of my efforts very day!


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