Deciding on a future career is definitely nerve-wracking. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do, and it ranged from becoming a dentist, a pediatrician, a heart surgeon, a brain surgeon, a filmmaker/artist, an equine veterinarian, a physical therapist, then finally an OT!
I’ve been working as a pediatric (and sometimes adult) occupational therapist for almost a year now so I thought I would compile a short list of reasons to become an occupational therapist! Hopefully this will give you some insight into whether this career is right for you or not.
1. It is so broad!
This can either sound super intimidating or it can sound amazing. To me, this has opened so many doors to the way I conduct my practice, the methods I take, the conditions I treat, and even the ages of patients that I see.
In my day-to-day therapy life, I see conditions ranging from strokes, brain injuries, autism, muscular dystrophy, sensory processing disorder, ADHD, premature infants, delayed milestones, feeding issues, cerebral palsy, breastfeeding difficulties, torticollis, head and neck cancer, and more.
Occupations I work on include, sleep, hygiene, dressing skills, feeding and eating, social interaction skills and more. And the methods of approach I take include strengthening and conditioning, play, vision therapy, neuro rehabilitation, sensory processing, parent coaching and education, and providing tons of resources.
And I just work in outpatient pediatrics!!
The field of occupational therapy is so vast, and this is especially so when it comes to self-pay/private practice (where you don’t have to worry about the restrictions of insurance).
2. The reward is so great!
When a kiddo hits their goal. When a grateful parent finally has a solution to a problem. When an adult patient can finally be left at home for a weekend without having to rely on a caregiver to take care of them. Helping a patient brush their teeth for the first time in a week while in the hospital. When a child who doesn’t show affection runs up to you and hugs your legs. These rewards are sprinkled throughout our everyday/weekly lives as occupational therapists.
These rewards make the hard work and dedication so worth it. Seeing the joy and thankfulness in my parents’ faces when I let them know that I pray for them, or that I will send them a resource that may help them out fills my cup when the weeks feel long.
Occupational therapy is a career full of serving others to reach their greatest potential and independence in their every day lives.
3. You have so much time with your patients.
Unlike most traditional medical careers, the amazing thing about therapy and rehabilitation, is that you have so much face-to-face time with your clients. You lead your sessions and get to truly know your patients during that time. On a weekly basis, I see each of my patients on average for 1 hour. When you compare that with a medical doctor who sees a patient on average 5-20 minutes a few times a year, that’s really a big difference.
With all of this time, and depending on how long treatment lasts, your patients can really become like your family. You grow bonds with them and their families, you share in the successes, and are a support during hard times.
With more time together, there is also more of an emotional investment in the success of your clients – which can be hard don’t get me wrong. But it is also so beautiful to be able to have that human connection.
While day-to-day flexibility will depend on where you are working, the flexibility within this career is so great. You could work in a different setting every year for the rest of your career and never see the same thing twice. As a career that educates you as a generalist, and with the possibility to specialize in so many things, you can go from working in an elementary school to an emergency department (as long as you keep up with your skills) without an issue.
There is also so much flexibility when it comes to all of the services that you can provide. For example, I work at an outpatient pediatric clinic 4 days a week (soon-to-be 3 days a week), I also run my own business where I provide educational and reference materials for other OTs, students and families. Next year I hope to start doing travel therapy, in a few years maybe I’ll pursue a doctorate degree, and start teaching on a graduate level. With such a broad career, I have found that there is so much flexibility, and I don’t have to choose one thing to do for the rest of my life!
5. The creative outlet it provides
Because each individual we see and treat is unique, that also means that all of our treatment sessions can (and should) be unique. If you are someone who craves monotony in your daily life – OT is not for you lol. Every day in the clinic is unique, from the patient and conditions I see, to the treatments I provide, to the progress that is made. Much of occupational therapy involves problem solving, and lots of those problems are so unique that I requires a creative solution.
Any given day I am creating new games, figuring out a way for someone to participate in a valued occupation with their limitations, I am constructing or building mechanisms, creating unique play scenarios, or modifying the environment to support participation. On a daily basis, I get asked all kinds of questions which, honestly a lot of the time, I don’t know the answer to. But with a little research, a little asking around, and a little creativity can be answered and solved.
There are lots of reasons to become an occupational therapist (and a lot of reasons not to depending on your preferences), but these are my top five reasons.
Do you have a reason why you chose, or didn’t choose, occupational therapy?