A Day in the Life of an Occupational Therapist

A day in the life of an occupational therapist

When asked to give me one word that described a typical day for an occupational therapist, my colleagues replied with “adaptive” “interesting” “dynamic” “encouraging” and “rewarding” It is hard to describe a typical day as an OT, let alone jam everything that happen 8+ hours into one word. The word I like best to describe my typical day as an Inpatient rehabilitation occupational therapist is “motivating”. As an occupational therapist, you are constantly motivating patients to achieve a greater level of independence. Meanwhile, your patients have a way of motivating you to strive to be the best you can be.

Morning ADL

Motivating begins early, usually around 7 am when you go to greet your first ADL (ADL is OT speak for helping a patient bathe, dress, toilet, and groom) patient of the day. Upon arrival to your first patient of the day’s room, you start motivating the patient to rise, shine and greet the day. Typically, my first two or three patients will be an ADL. The importance of the ADL is ensuring your patient will be able to complete their daily routine as independently as possible after having a joint replacement, stroke, spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury etc. For some patients, they may only need a few ADL sessions before they can complete their routine on their own. Other patients, particularly stroke patients, may need more practice, as they now are battling a hemiplegic arm and leg, making dressing seem impossible at first to the patient.

Activity Analysis

Motivating continues as the day goes on, with the remainder of my OT treatment session typically taking place in the therapy gym or kitchen. In the gym and/or kitchen, we work on functional activities that patients will have to complete at home to ensure they will be ready when discharge comes around. If a patient is unable to complete the whole activity, we use activity analysis to break down the task into smaller steps. Once the patient is able to complete the smaller steps, we will combine them to allow them to complete the whole task on their own. For example, if you have a patient with hemiparesis who wants to be able to make coffee, you make start by working on opening containers and progress with each step from there.

Working with Families

As the day goes on, you continue to work with patients and patient's families to motivate them that they will be able to make it home. Your job is to find out what they need to be able to do to make it safely home. The family will come to you with questions and fears about taking their loved one home, and your job is to ease them by showing them that they CAN do it! I think that is one of the best and most fun parts about being an OT, being able to problem-solve through a patient’s barriers and figure out how they can make it home. When you are used to seeing the patient and patient’s family worried about home at the beginning and then see them so calm at discharge, it is priceless.

At the end of your day, though many times you are exhausted, it is motivating to look back to how a patient was doing a few days or weeks ago and to see how much better they are doing now. A patient may be able to walk around the gym now when just a few days back they could barely take a few steps. It reminds you why you came into this profession, to help people get back their independence and get back to enjoying life. To motivate patients, and have patient motivate you, is an endless cycle that will never be boring.

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The Ultimate Guide to Occupational Therapy and OTA

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