#HMP- Occupational Therapist

Tag: #HMP- Occupational Therapist

Career Spotlight: Occupational Therapist

Are you looking for a dynamic career where you can interact with people of all ages, in all places, and help create meaning in their lives? Consider becoming an occupational therapist. Occupational therapy is an incredibly flexible field, with opportunities to work in settings as diverse as hospitals, schools, homes, and community centers. Regardless of the setting, occupational therapisits can make a significant impact on a person’s quality of life. Are you interested in exploring this exciting career path? Read on to learn more about the field of occupational therapy.

What do occupational therapists do?

Long story short, occupational therapists help clients to participate in areas of their lives as independently as possible, doing the things that they find most meaningful. In practice, this can look many ways. OTs commonly work with clients who have injuries, acute illnesses, mental health and neurological conditions, and those who have recently had surgeries. The goal of the work is to increase a client’s ability to perform a task or tasks which are relevant to their daily lives. Examples of tasks are trips to the grocery store, socializing with friends, completing school work, engaging in tasks required by the client’s job, and performing certain physical movements. OTs also frequently participate in redesigning a client’s home or another space, in order to increase their independent use of that space.

Where do they work?

The work environments of occupational therapists are incredibly diverse. Depending on the nature of the task(s) that the OT is helping a client with, OTs may work indoors or outdoors, in hospitals, homes, or out in the community. An OT can often choose their work environment(s) based on the nature of their employment, for whom they work, and their client populations. For example, OTs employed in hospitals would be likely to work indoors in clinic/office settings, whereas OTs working with children would be more likely to spend time in schools and/or outdoors.

Who do they work with?

OTs can be employed by many types of organizations, and can also be self-employed entrepreneurs. This provides a lot of opportunities for growth and tailoring throughout a career: you can work in many settings, with many different kinds of colleagues and patients/clients, and in many types of organizations. It is fairly common for OTs to start out employed by various organizations, and to start their own independent practice later in their career. OTs who work in hospitals would tend to interact with other hospital staff, especially other practitioners seeing the same patients (such as doctors, physical therapists, nurses, etc.) In schools, OTs may collaborate with school staff such as teachers, school counselors, and advisors, as well as with parents.

What is the training required?

Practicing as an occupational therapist requires a license. The most common pathway to licensure is to attend a masters program in occupational therapy, which can take 2-3 years following a bachelor’s degree. A growing number of OT master’s programs are transitioning to OT doctoral programs. Browse a list of programs here and explore the differences between entry-level master’s and doctoral programs.

What is the job outlook?

The median annual salary for occupational therapists in 2020 was $86,280. Employment is expected to grow in the coming years. Occupational therapy is lesser known than some other similar fields, which often means there are jobs available with fewer candidates to fill them.

In the Know: Professional organizations and resources

Want to learn more, find resources, or connect with occupational therapists? It’s never too early familiarize yourself with professional organizations in your field of interest. Organizational websites can have a lot to offer, from program lists, to licensing information, to networks of professionals. Here are a few occupational therapy organizations:

Lawrence Connections: Alumni with occupational therapy backgrounds

These Lawrence alumni have backgrounds in occupational therapy. Feel free to message them on Viking Connect, Lawrence’s alumni platform. Alumni are on Viking Connect by choice (not by requirement), so they are here to connect with students! There is no better way to understand a profession than to speak to professionals in the field.

Wherever your career path leads you, we’re glad you took the time to learn about this vibrant, flexible, and expanding field!

Shadowing in the Pandemic? A Guide to Connecting with Health Care Professionals during COVID

Shadowing is an excellent way to explore careers in health care and medicine. The process of shadowing involves observing a professional in their daily work environment to experience the real-life routines and challenges of your field of interest. Unfortunately, many students continue to face shadowing access challenges due to the ongoing pandemic.  However, if you are in this situation, there are still options for you to connect with professionals in the field! You do not need to miss out on the insights and benefits that shadowing can offer. If you want ideas for pandemic-era shadowing and connecting with health care professionals, this resource is for you! 

Is shadowing possible during COVID? 

Yes, and no. Many (but not all) health care shadowing programs have suspended their in-person programs during COVID. For example, ThedaCare (a large healthcare system in Fox Cities) is currently limiting college student shadowing experiences to students who are required to shadow as part of their formal college curriculum, such as nursing school students. However, shadowing policies may vary at this point in time, especially at private or independent practice clinics. For example, there are private/independent veterinary clinics, dental clinics, physical therapy clinics, and other healthcare clinics in the area that are currently allowing shadowing for interested college students who reach out. 

What alternatives are there? Informational Interviewing 

If you are having difficulty identifying shadowing opportunities, consider setting up some informational interviews. “Informational interview” is a fancy term for a simple concept: talking to people about what they do. If you have ever had a conversation with a family member or professor about their career, you have already essentially conducted an informational interview. Here are a few steps to get started with informational interviewing: 

1) Identify people you would like to meet with. You can search in Viking Connect, Lawrence’s alumni platform, to find Lawrence alumni who are working in your field of interest. Click “Explore the Community,” and then search by industry, keywords, etc. You can also reach out to Lawrence professors, friends or family members in the field, or other individuals in your field of interest. 

2) Contact the person to ask to meet. Send a brief email or message in which you say a bit about yourself, your career interests, and how you found the person you are contacting. Mention that you are interested in hearing about their field and/or their career path, and ask if they would be willing to meet for a short time (30 minutes) via Zoom, phone, in person, etc. 

3) Prepare and conduct the interview. The interview itself usually lasts around 30 minutes, and is led by you, the student interviewer. Prepare a list of questions ahead of time, based on what you are most interested in gaining from the experience. Do you want to learn about what their typical day looks like, or what experiences were most valuable for them when they were a student?  

4) Always send a thank-you note. Make sure to thank them for their time, and feel free to stay in touch. 

Also be aware that many health care professionals are working long and intense hours right now, and be respectful of the fact that some might not have the time to speak with students. 

What alternatives are there? Virtual Shadowing 

There are also quite a few opportunities for virtual shadowing experiences, and these are becoming increasingly more widespread due to the pandemic. Virtual shadowing experiences are usually quite different from in-person ones, and sometimes consist of pre-recorded videos as well as synchronous sessions. Make sure to check with each program to see if you can list it as official shadowing experience – this varies by program. 

While the virtual aspect can certainly take away from the direct nature of the experience, shadowing during COVID can offer some unique insight as well. Rarely before has it been possible to observe health care professionals at such an important time in the field, when their service to our communities is especially crucial. This can set the stage for meaningful conversations with health care professionals, if you have the opportunity to speak with them.  

Here is a sampling of virtual shadowing programs: 

HEAL Clinical Shadowing (physician) 

Webshadowers (physician) 

Medschool Coach Beyond Shadowing (physician) 

Teleshadowing (physician) 

Virtual Shadowing (mostly physician, some PA) 

Medical School Headquarters e-Shadowing (physician, PA) 

Pre-Health Shadowing (Medical, Nursing, Dental, Pharmaceutical, PA, PT) 

University of Colorado Virtual Shadowing (physician, nursing, PA) 

Physician Assistant Shadow Online (PASO) (PA) 

Ampers&PA Virtual Shadowing (PA) 

Empowered PAs (PA) 

OT Observation…Plan ‘B’ (Occupational Therapy) 

Dental Shadowers (Dental) 

Career Highlight: Occupational Therapist

Interested in pursuing occupational therapy as a career? Read on to find out more information about what a job as an occupational therapist looks like!

Job Duties
As an occupational therapist, frequently your job will involve evaluating and assisting people with various physical and/or neurological disabilities. For example, you may lead an autistic child in reciprocal play, or demonstrate healthy and/or alleviating exercises for people with chronic health conditions. As a result, your day to day activities will vary, and require a lot of flexibility. Part of this may include evaluating and assisting with updating a person’s home and/or work environment to ensure their health needs are being met. This often includes educating family, caregivers, and employers on how a patient can be best accommodated, providing information such has how to help them through a meltdown or flareup of symptoms, and how to use special equipment when necessary. Finally, occupational therapists work with the patient to develop a treatment plan to help the patient meet their own health goals.

Where They Work
Occupational therapists work in a variety of locations, depending on the patients they see. Many occupational therapists are employed by either hospitals or private healthcare practices. However, some work in educational settings, as schools will sometimes hire occupational therapists to help with child development in special needs circumstances. Retirement facilities will additionally hire occupational therapists to assist their elderly residents get accustomed to life in assisted living. And as may be suggested by the job duties, many occupational therapists additionally visit the homes of their patients to provide better hands on care.

Working Conditions
Work hours for occupational therapists are often flexible, suited to their patient’s needs. Most occupational therapists work full time (40 hours a week), and many work only during weekdays, similar to a typical day job. However, many also work nights and/or weekends when needed, in order to accommodate their patients and better recognize their needs. As previously mentioned, most will work in either an office of occupational therapy or hospital as a type of home base — where paperwork and planning commences. However when engaging with their patients, typically occupational therapists will spend a lot of time on their feet. This can include helping a patient get outside for some exercise, generally assisting around the house, etc. Additionally, local travel is often necessary for OTs who may need to visit patients in their homes as well as patients in a hospital or hospice care situation, as many OTs will treat patients in multiple facilities.

Who They Work With
The disabled, chronically ill, neurodivergent, and elderly are the populations typically served by occupational therapists, although exceptions exist. An occupational therapist will have the most interaction with their patients and caregivers, in addition to other occupational therapists. This is especially true if they work out of a private practice or hospital setting, where multiple occupational therapists are employed by the same organization (by contrast, schools will typically only hire one occupational therapist). In a hospital setting, an occupational therapist may expect to work with nurses and doctors as well, when necessary.

Education and Training
Occupational Therapists are required to go through quite a bit of education and training. The first major step is to take the Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant (COTA) exam in order to get their license to practice. However, most occupational therapists elect (and most states require) to obtain a 2-year associates degree in Occupational Therapy, as these programs prepare you to sit the COTA. After successfully passing the COTA, you can find work as an occupational therapist assistant and gain valuable fieldwork experience. In order to become a full-fledged Occupational Therapist, a masters’ degree in Occupational Therapy is required — although many programs exist that combine bachelor’s and master’s in occupational therapy. Finally, you must take a final exam — the Occupational Therapy Registered (OTR) — and obtain state licensure, whose requirements vary based on location. Then you’ll be able to practice!

Pay and Job Outlook
Pay varies based on state and on where you are on your career journey. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that in 2020, the median pay for an occupational therapist was $86k per year, or $41 per hour. However, occupational therapy assistants make a little less, on a range from around $36k/year to as much as $60k/year — all dependent on geographic location. As can be expected, occupational therapists in the midwestern states and smaller cities/towns make a smaller average than occupational therapists who work in large cities, especially along the coasts. That said, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics expects employment for occupational therapists to grow up to 16% in the next ten years, which is much faster than the average employment growth across all occupations. They suggest that occupational therapy will continue to be vital in treating people with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, autism, or the loss of a limb.