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:
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."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?"
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!