The question I hear all the time is “why did you chose to be an Occupational Therapist?”
In 2009, I graduated from college, and that was about the same time the recession hit. With a bachelors degree in international cultural studies, I knew it wouldn’t be easy to land a job right out of school.
I first looked into becoming a physician. After leaving school in Hawaii I shadowed an ER doctor in Florida. I remember shadowing late into the night with patients intoxicated and screaming obscenities, for what seemed like hours.
It definitely wasn’t the best experience, and I could tell the physician didn’t love his job. By the end of the night, he was telling me to look into becoming a PA.
A few months later, my sister was working at an nursing home in Georgia in the payroll department. She told me that some of the Occupational Therapists were making $45 to $50 per hour, and they were paying a travel OT $55 per hour to cover for PRN needs.
When I heard this, I was back in school working on prerequisites for medical school. Researching OT further, I found that the University of Utah had a Occupational Therapy refugee resettlement program.
I thought this was awesome, and it totally lined up with my background in cultural studies.
Occupational Therapy and Refugee Resettlement
The refugee resettlement program is setup to assist refugees with learning skills to assimliate to a new country and culture. OT’s provide simple resources to assist them in learning life skills such as finding a job, creating a resume, learning how to use public transportation, etc.
I actually went to the University of Utah to tour and learn about the program, but I became discouraged learning that the refugee resettlement program wasn’t a traditionally OT setting. During the tour and meetup, they didn’t even talk about the refugee program.
I still think working as an OT in refugee resettlement would be a rewarding career, but it’s definitely not found in your typical OT job search.
Why I finally decided on OT
A few months later I wasn’t really sure if I still wanted to do OT, but I started shadowing at a local hospital rehab setting. Honestly, I was a little bored by it. It seemed like the OT was always doing the same exercises, and the patients seemed bored too.
Then one day, one of the therapists asked me if I would be interested in shadowing him at his hand therapy clinic. Finally, this seemed to be a little closer to my interest level.
The hand therapy clinic was a new and exciting experience for me. The OT was mostly seeing patients one on one, measuring their progress with goniometers, and making custom splints. I could tell he enjoyed working with his patients, and the patients enjoyed coming to therapy.
The last patient of the day was a teenager close to my age that had multiple tendon lacerations from attempted suicide. I remember after seeing the bandages come off, feeling light headed. I had to step out of the room to regain my composure. I almost passed out on my way to the water fountain. I had never before seen an injury to this scale, and it was a bit overwhelming.
Driving home I wondered if I was fit for this type of job because of how I responded, but at the same time it was exciting to see and be a part of this traumatic experience. I later realized that the blood and trauma was something I would get over. And it peaked my interest to know more about splinting and injuries of the upper extremities.
I think for most people, choosing a job in the medical field comes from their desire to help people. I definitely felt this way, but I also wanted a stable income with the changes going on in the world. It wasn’t until shadowing a hand therapist that I started to develop a better idea of what I wanted to do in OT.
Looking back I would have done things differently. I would have shadowed more, asked more questions about daily work life as an OT, and spent more time in different settings.
Today, I can honestly say out of all the jobs in the medical field, I’m glad I chose to be an OT.
If you’re interested in becoming an OT, you will want to start job shadowing. To learn more, check out my article on How to shadow and Occupational Therapist.
David is the lead editor of OT Focus. He has been practicing as an Occupational Therapist since 2013. He specializes in acute care, hand therapy, and ergonomics.