If you’re on the journey to becoming an occupational therapist and you know what it takes to apply to OT school, then you should already know that a key part of your OT school application is shadowing.
In fact, I’ve heard it said many times that the number one thing occupational therapy school programs look at when it comes to applicants is the amount of shadowing hours they have accumulated as well as the number of different settings they have observed OT in.
But what exactly is OT shadowing? Why do OT schools want you to do it? How do you find opportunities to shadow an OT? And what can you do to make your OT shadowing experience worthwhile?
I’m here to break it all down for you. So let’s jump right in!
What Is OT Shadowing and Why Should You Do It?
First things first, it’s important to understand as a pre-OT that shadowing experience is a major player in your acceptance to occupational therapy school.
I’ve heard it said many times that although students may not have had the most amazing GPAs, they believe their acceptance to OT school really came based off their extensive log of OT shadowing hours in multiple settings.
OT shadowing, or observation, is when you as a pre-OT student actually get to go into various settings where occupational therapy is practiced and watch an OT perform their job tasks. This is a time for you to see what a day in the life of an OT is really like, ask lots of questions, learn some new things, and start to get an idea of what type of setting you’d like to work in once you’ve graduated.
The time you spend shadowing will certainly be invaluable to you as you continue pursuing your goals of becoming and occupational therapist, as it will give you an idea of what the job is actually like.
This experience can also help you to better understand concepts of practice you’ll learn about in grad school, as well as help you create some connections within the field. Who knows? You may even end up working at that same clinic once you graduate!
How Do You Find OT Shadowing Opportunities?
Now that you know what OT shadowing is, how exactly do you go about finding occupational therapists to shadow? Well friend, there are many different ways to find shadowing OT opportunities.
- Contact your university’s career center. Odds are that those who work in the career center can help connect you with opportunities to shadow other therapists in the community, or perhaps they can even connect you with previous students who took the same career path that you are interested in.
- Contact your university’s alumni association. This organization is also specifically meant to help you network with other professionals who attended your university. Although you may not be alumni yourself quite yet, there may be someone in the alumni association who works as an occupational therapist that you can connect with.
- Reach out to your local hospital. Occupational therapists work in a variety of different settings, but you can almost certainly find them in the hospital in your community. You may have to go through a bit of formal training in order to shadow in a hospital. Contact the hospital near you to ask about their policies on professional shadowing.
- Look online for outpatient clinics near you. Occupational therapists often practice in outpatient clinics as well including those that are part of the hospital system, private clinics, and rehabilitative gyms and clinics. Simply find a clinic online that offers occupational therapy as a service and contact them to ask about shadowing opportunities.
- Ask a friend for connections. Maybe you know someone who has shadowed an occupational therapist before, or maybe you know someone through your family, church, school, or other organization who has a child or sibling in occupational therapy. If you feel comfortable doing so, ask that person if you can have their therapist’s contact information and see if you can shadow them.
- Look for OTs online. There are TONS of occupational therapists with an online presence these days, whether through their own personal websites or profiles on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. There may be a practicing occupational therapist near you whom you could connect with online and set up some shadowing opportunities, like I got to with my amazing OT mentor, Lauren Grabowski!
Overall, there are many different ways to find OT shadowing opportunities–you may just have to get creative and think outside the box!
You should also plan to set up these shadowing opportunities far in advance, if possible. Setting up these opportunities can take time, especially if any sort of background check or training is involved as a prerequisite.
Afterall, you are asking busy working professionals to take time out of their day to allow you to come in and observe them with really little to no gain on their part. This means it can take time for them to get back to you, as you are likely not their top priority–their patients are! Be mindful of this when communicating with potential OTs to shadow, and be respectful of their time and wishes as well.
You will probably have to be a bit flexible in order to find shadowing opportunities too, so be ready to offer multiple times that you are available to go in to observe.
How Can You Make Your OT Shadowing Experience Meaningful?
There are lots of ways you can intentionally make your OT shadowing experience more meaningful than just sitting in a room and watching quietly.
Remember that the purpose of OT shadowing before getting accepted to graduate school is to ensure that you really want to pursue this career. Grad school is a whole different ball game compared to undergrad–there’s no changing your major once you’re in an occupational therapy program, so you should use your time shadowing to really make sure that you do want to be an OT before you spend so much time, money, and effort getting into the field.
On the other hand, OT shadowing is also meant to provide you with a first-hand look at a day in the life of an occupational therapist so that you can learn more about the field, gain a deeper understanding of what OT is all about, and start to pick up on some of the verbage you’ll hear in graduate school.
In order to make your OT shadowing experience more meaningful, you can:
- Take notes. Bring a notepad and a pen and write down observations, questions, and any terminology you hear the occupational therapist use. You can also write down treatment ideas as you observe, which will certainly help you in the future when planning your treatments as an occupational therapist.
- Ask lots of questions. Your OT will love to answer any questions you may have! Remember that the therapist you are shadowing once had to shadow just like you, so they will likely appreciate your questions and interest in the field.
- Do some research. Before going into a new setting or meeting a new therapist, look up everything you can find on their setting, practice, and even their credentials. Doing some research beforehand will certainly help you to come up with questions to ask the OT, as well as help you understand what the OT is doing when you’re observing.
- Shadow different therapists in multiple different settings. As mentioned previously, shadowing in multiple settings will provide you with a broader scope of understanding of the field of occupational therapy as a whole. Shadowing multiple different OTs will be helpful as well, since no two OTs are exactly alike and all of their methods of therapy will be at least slightly different.
Finding OT shadowing opportunities can seem a bit daunting at first, but once you get started, I’m sure you’ll find that shadowing can be a lot of fun! Afterall, if you really want to be an OT, it’ll be exciting for you to experience your future work environment as well as witness what your future job will actually be like.
Regardless of who and how you end up shadowing, make sure to keep a detailed record of all the shadowing hours you have accumulated. I like to keep a spreadsheet on my computer including the date that I shadowed, the number of hours I spent observing, the OT’s name, email, phone number, location of practice, type of setting, and any additional notes in order to stay organized.
If you need any help along the way, I’m happy to lend a hand! You can always contact me for any questions about getting into occupational therapy school, since I know it can be a lot to figure out and accomplish on your own! But you got this, friend! Best of luck to you on all your OT shadowing endeavors.
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