So you’ve decided you want to become an occupational therapist. Congratulations–and welcome to the most AMAZING field ever (I may be a little biased). Now it’s time to put in the work to make your dreams come true.
Maybe you’re a new high school grad trying to decide what to major in to become an OT and you’re looking for some extra work over the summer, or you’re looking for a job as a gap year before starting college.
Or maybe you’re a new college grad and life circumstances have you forced to wait on applying to occupational therapy schools (AKA marriage, student debt, family issues, REAL LIFE… ), so you’re looking for a job related to your field to get you some applicable experience before OT school.
Can I Pay the Bills and Get OT Experience?
Regardless of your reasoning, life happens to all of us and things don’t always go as planned. Although it may seem ideal to graduate high school, go straight into college, graduate again, then go straight into your occupational therapy graduate program, not everyone has the ability to do these things without a little bit of time in between.
And you gotta work to pay the bills, right?
So what jobs can you do NOW with either a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree that will get you real experience that will be useful for a future career in occupational therapy? I mean of course you could work at a restaurant or coffee shop, but what if you’re ready to build your resume with some more meaningful job experiences?
Let’s take a look at some of our options.
Perhaps one of the most obvious jobs you can always get with little to no experience is nannying! This job is especially great for those who want to go into pediatric occupational therapy in order to get some experience working with children, however, this can be valuable experience for really any setting in OT since it has you working directly with people.
Most people get their nannying jobs through neighbors, mutual friends, church groups or other organizations, or services such as care.com. You can do this job with either a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree, and you can be sure to gain some positive experiences along the way for your future OT career.
Maybe you enjoy childcare but want a job that is more structured and “professional” than nannying. If that is the case for you, maybe you should consider becoming a teacher’s aide, or paraprofessional. These positions are typically offered in a variety of settings including preschools, charter schools, private school programs, daycare centers, and so on.
You can also work specifically with children with disabilities in special education classes in order to get some more relevant experience for occupational therapy.
Typically, the minimum education requirement for a paraprofessional position is a high school diploma, however, additional courses and training in child care, child development, and CPR and First Aid certification are usually required (but these things look AWESOME on your resume, and the more education you have, the better OT you’ll be).
Similar to a teacher’s aide job is that of an ABA therapist. Applied Behavior Analysis is a therapeutic intervention typically utilized in the case of an autism diagnosis where the goal is to reshape behavior through a strategic rewards system. Although a little more advanced than working as an aide, as an ABA therapist, you will get hands-on experience working with children one-on-one in an actual therapy setting.
ABA therapy jobs are actually a lot more common than you might think (considering how the prevalence of autism diagnoses continues to rise). These jobs typically require a bachelor’s degree and always require completion of a Registered Behavior Technician course along with RBT certification, although you can sometimes complete these requirements upon hiring.
These therapists work in a variety of settings from schools, to therapy centers, to private homes, much like occupational therapists, and even work directly with occupational therapists at times as well, so you’re sure to gain some valuable experience as an ABA therapist.
Perhaps you want to be an occupational therapist but aren’t too sure that pediatrics is your thing (don’t worry, it’s not for everyone!). Or maybe you just would rather work in a rehabilitative setting in order to gain a better understanding of health and movement. In that case, you should consider becoming a rehab technician, or rehab aide.
Rehab aides typically work in hospitals, private gyms, and clinics alongside occupational therapists and physical therapists to assist in therapeutic interventions. This could mean anything from leading a patient through a few exercises, to taking care of and setting up equipment for a therapy session, to keeping up with medical records.
These positions typically only require a high school diploma but do often desire some sort of applicable prior experience. But you never know until you reach out to specific organizations and apply!
Occupational therapists work in a variety of different settings implementing a variety of different treatment methods often including yoga, art, dance, and various other holistic strategies to treat their patients. As a prospective OT student, it would certainly be to your advantage to gain a certification to teach one or more of these different classes as a job and as a bolster to your future career!
You could become certified to teach pilates, yoga, water aerobics, or become a personal trainer. You could teach classes in painting, ceramics, or drawing. You could also teach classes in ballet, tap, and jazz, or even Zumba! Whatever you choose to teach, you can be sure it’ll eventually come in handy in a future therapy session.
The Options Are Endless!
Ultimately, in a field as broad as occupational therapy, any job experience is useful and can be integrated into your future practice, because we are working with real people who come from all sorts of different backgrounds. We are constantly learning, training, growing, and improvising to keep our therapy sessions fun, engaging, and effective. It never hurts to have a little extra experience in something that may seem completely random.
Like my mom always says, everything you do always builds upon your past, and you never know when you’ll need to use something you’ve learned along the way, even if that knowledge or skill seems completely random or useless right now! Keep your options open, and keep your goal in sight. Occupational therapy school will be here before you know it!
If you have any questions or want to run an idea by me, I’m all ears! Feel free to contact me–I’d love to hear from you.