One of the most beneficial things you can do before enrolling in an online OTA program is to hear firsthand from those who already work in the occupational therapy field. You can gain some valuable insight into the field and learn more about what to expect from a career in occupational therapy and learn why become an occupational therapist. We interviewed Marlene and Nikki, two occupational therapists who shared some of their best memories, some advice, and true stories of life working in OT. Here is part I of Talking with an OT.
How did you feel when you first started your career in occupational therapy?
1. Marlene: When I first started my career as an OT, I was very excited and very nervous. I felt confident going in on my first day of work. However, the more my employer let me be independent and treat patients on my own, the less confident I became. So I took it upon myself to learn everything I could as I came upon new situations, new diagnoses, and new settings. I spent a lot of time after work looking through my textbooks from school, researching online, reaching out to my OT friends, etc. to help widen my knowledge base to become a better OT.
The more I researched and worked, the more confident I became in my skills as an occupational therapist. I think one of the hardest parts is not having that daily feedback we get used to in fieldwork, where our educators are guiding us and telling us how we are doing.
2. Nikki: When I first started my career, to be honest I grabbed the first job I could because all I could think about was repaying my student loans! However, I soon found out it wasn’t the setting I wanted to work in long term and, in my opinion, they weren’t paying me adequately. I became quickly frustrated and disappointed. I worked there for about five months, then applied and was hired at my dream job: outpatient orthopedics and upper extremity rehab.
I loved it on my first day and I still love it today! I have a lot of job satisfaction here. However, that isn’t to say there still aren’t ups and downs. I often feel unsure of myself and ask coworkers questions a lot. It is important to realize as a new therapist that while you have an excellent education, you don’t know everything and need to ask for help. I still have to study and review material (yes, like when I was in school) on my own time to keep improving my skill set as a therapist. My best advice to a new therapist is to understand you don’t have to stay at your first job forever and to remember you are never through learning.
Did you ever feel unsure about your decision to become an OT? Tell me about it.
1. Marlene: I have always felts that OT was a great fit for me. I can’t remember I time that I felt unsure about my decision to become a therapist. There were, however, quite a few times throughout grad school where I was overwhelmed by all that was expected of me and I doubted how I was going to get through it. The hardest time during grad school was during fieldwork where you were constantly being evaluated on your performance. This was difficult, especially because you had not developed your clinical skills and were being asked to treat a full caseload of patients.
2. Nikki: I felt a little unsure when I was going through school. However, prior to applying to grad school I had shadowed enough clinics and had experience to know this is what I wanted for a career. However, in school some of the subjects we learned about I did not find interesting at all (i.e. mental health and pediatrics). I was frustrated learning about these subjects as I was not planning on working in either setting when I graduated.
While the vast majority of patients at my job are younger or middle-aged adults who do not have mental health conditions, I do treat children with severe upper extremity injuries and I have to relate to them. I also treat adults who have had prior head injuries and now an upper extremity injury and I have to be able to relate to them as well. I am glad I have the school background I do with both of those settings.
When did you first realize that you made the right decision in pursuing occupational therapy?
1. Marlene: I realized I made the right decision to pursue occupational therapy on my first level one fieldwork placement in graduate school. I was placed at an outpatient pediatric clinic and it just felt right! You could tell the OTs at the clinic were really passionate about their jobs and enjoyed their work day.
The children at the clinic really enjoyed coming there; it felt like play to them but they were developing the skills they needed to grow up successfully. It was a really fun environment that I could see myself fitting in easily when I finished OT school.
2. Nikki: Before I applied to occupational therapy school I was 100% sure I made the right decision to pursue occupational therapy based on my shadowing experiences at various clinics. When I started my hand therapy and gross anatomy classes I realized I was 110% sure. I found everything so interesting and I didn’t mind studying those subjects on my own time. It all came naturally to me and I enjoyed it.
My favorite thing about my job as a hand therapist is fabricating orthotics. It allows you to be creative using your anatomy background. At my current job, I create all kinds of custom orthotics. Some days I can’t believe I get paid to do this job.
Be sure to check back for parts II (What Does an Occupational Therapist Do?) and III (What Does it Mean to Be an Occupational Therapist) of our OT interviews.
Want to learn more about becoming an occupational therapy assistant? Contact an advisor today.