Today I am so excited to have first year OT student, Lauren of Gotta Be OT, share a day in her life. If you are considering a career in OT and have been wondering what the student experience is like, then this is the post for you! Take it away, Lauren!
As a first year OT student, I spend most of my time in the classroom learning the foundational concepts of OT in various practice settings and with various populations. Because my schedule varies so widely, I thought it would be helpful to discuss less of the hourly breakdown for my day, and more of what I spend my days doing – or the occupations of an OT student, if you will! If you are planning to attend OT school, here is what you can expect to experience:
7 – 8:30 AM
Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast (sometimes!), and travel to campus. Because I take a bus to school, I use the 10-15 minute commute time to review homework readings, check email, organize my to-do list and plan my schedule for the day.
8:30 or 9 AM to 3 or 4 PM
My classes typically begin at 8:30 or 9 AM, and I spend most weekdays on campus. In my program, I typically have only two classes per day and they range in length from 2 to 4+ hours long, depending on the topic and content. Because there is such high variability in course layout, time, and content among all of the many OT schools, I have included descriptions of the most common activities OT students engage in during their in-class time.
- Lectures and Discussion: Much of my time is spent listening to professors outlining and explaining various topics related to occupational therapy. We view Powerpoints, watch videos of clinical scenarios, and discuss readings and homework. During lecture, we are learning the foundational concepts and skills that will provide the framework for the more “hands-on” work we will do to begin applying these ideas in practice.
- Group Work: Being able to work well in a group is CRUCIAL to your success in OT school (and anywhere else!). Many people who enter OT programs are frustrated by the amount of group work that is required, but the purpose of it is to help students understand the importance of collaboration, working on a team with other professionals, and how their own personality and skills can both help and hinder them as members of a team in their program and in the future. Be prepared to spend a lot of your time working with your classmates to brainstorm, problem-solve, critique, and develop ideas!
- Practical, Hands-on Lab Work: This is my favorite part of my classes! A few times each week, we get the chance to administer assessments, conduct evaluations, and practice skills like transferring, interviewing, and client handling we’ve learned about. Occasionally we take field trips to local businesses or practice settings to learn about how what we’re learning in class will apply in “the real world.” Although the lab work doesn’t leave you feeling 100% confident about your abilities, it does give you experience with the various skills an entry-level OT is expected to demonstrate and an important understanding of how difficult many of these skills can be to master!
- Guest Speakers: I love the hands-on lab activities, but having guest speakers in my classes is my second favorite part of being an OT student! We have had parent panels, OT consumers with disabilities, experienced practitioners, and others come speak to us, and getting their first-hand perspective on what it means to be in any of these positions is a great help for students and soon-to-be new practitioners.
- Research: Most programs require students to complete a master’s thesis, final research presentation, or other product in order to earn their degree. This looks different on each campus, but you can expect that a high-quality OT program will have students actively engaged in researching an area of interest for a final presentation, designing, implementing, and writing up the results of an independent research project, or participating in a faculty research project.
- Student Presentations: We spend a great deal of time giving formal and informal presentations throughout the semester. It may be a quick 5 minute oral presentation about a topic you were assigned to research briefly in class, or a lengthier presentation about a particular concept or practice model that you spent weeks researching with people outside of class. Either way, you can expect to see Powerpoints, Prezis, and handouts all the time!
12-1 PM (Lunch)
During our 1-hour lunch break, I typically eat lunch, catch up on readings, and/or chat with classmates. On some days I attend professional development or academic events on campus, which is a good way to get a break from class, and the presenters are always informative and enjoyable.
4 – 10 or 11 PM
After class, the work continues! I spend 2-4 hours per night doing readings, emailing various people, working on homework assignments, completing projects, and/or researching for class. Additionally, I might have meetings outside of class time to work on group projects with classmates, communicate with my instructors, and organize upcoming events.
Because OT school is a very demanding (but rewarding!) endeavor, it’s important to maintain a good work-life balance. At least two nights per week I am involved in leisure activities like my dance classes and Bible study that allow me to interact with people who aren’t in my program, take a break from the books, and relax. It’s vital to build in time for fun to avoid excessive stress and fatigue that can lead to burnout.
BONUS: Fieldwork Days
All first year OT students have some kind of Fieldwork I (FWI) experience during their first few semesters, although the structure of this fieldwork experience varies greatly by program. In my program, I have had weekly FWI experiences since starting school in the fall, and multiple fieldwork assignments to go along with them. Although what I’m doing on each fieldwork day has varied significantly, here’s a general breakdown of what my classmates and I do on fieldwork days:
- Observe and practice documentation skills
- Observe occupational therapy interventions with clients
- Practice and develop professional written and verbal communication skills via in-person exchanges and email
- Research interventions, tools, and topics of interest from fieldwork site
- Assist occupational therapist with interventions
- Plan (and often implement) interventions with clients
- Collaborate with other professionals (PTs, teachers, SLPs, etc.)
- Complete fieldwork assignments
- Discuss fieldwork experiences and problem-solve with classmates and fieldwork coordinator
Overall, the life of an OT student is a constantly changing and often challenging one! Flexibility and positivity are key, and they keep me going on days when I feel like I can’t read another word, write another sentence, or look at another research article. But even after a long day at school, I go to bed knowing that I’m following my dream, and I’m happy to be exactly where I am! Best of luck on your OT journey!
For more information about how other OT students occupy their time, you can check out these links:
- “Life as a VCU OT Grad Student” - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waVcKqqLZ_U
- The “itsmyOT” Youtube Channel has a lot of helpful videos about one student’s journey through OT school. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDwQphTASm6S1qTlecJOfIA
Note: I am not a student at VCU or the program that “itsmyOT” attends, but these videos may be helpful to you as you research OT schools and learn more about what attending a master’s level OT program could be like.
My name is Lauren, and I am a first-year occupational therapy student at a top research university in the Southern United States. I started blogging a year ago to help increase awareness of the OT profession and provide information to potential OT students, and I’ve had a great time writing, researching, and getting more involved in OT ever since! After I graduate, I hope to work with military veterans, service members, and families to help them engage successfully in meaningful occupations – at least that’s the plan for now! In my free time, I enjoy bellydancing, talking with friends, traveling, and spending WAY too much time on OT-related websites.
Connect with Lauren:
Blog: Gotta Be OT
Email: gottabeOT1 [AT] gmail [dot] com
PS - Lauren will be at the AOTA Conference in Nashville, so be sure to look her up!