Okay, the struggle is real y’all–finding a career path that is fulfilling, reflects your dreams and beliefs, suits your personality, and plays up your strengths and abilities can be SO STINKING DIFFICULT.
With the tons and tons of different career options in today’s world, how are you supposed to know which career is right for you? Well, considering the fact that you are here reading this article, you are likely well on your way to discovering the right career path for you.
It is important to consider a few things when choosing a career path: your own personality traits and interests, job duties, education, and other factors such as how often you’d like to work, job flexibility, workplace environment, and of course, the pay scale and job outlook.
Maybe you have already stumbled upon the occupational therapy field and are now asking, “How do I know if occupational therapy is right for me?” Well friend, you came to the right place. Let’s take a look at some things to consider before pursuing a career in occupational therapy.
Personality Traits and Interests
As a psychology nerd and a big fan of personality tests like the Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram, I am a strong believer in utilizing your personality traits and strengths in your daily work for a couple of reasons. First, if your work utilizes your strengths, you are far less likely to feel inadequate in your job and will be able to work more efficiently and with more overall job satisfaction. Second, if your work revolves around your interests, it is far more likely that you will feel passionately about your work which will further increase job satisfaction and decrease your chances of experiencing job burnout.
So what are the personality traits we see most often in OTs?
- Helping Nature–The first step in determining if occupational therapy is right for you is assessing whether or not you gravitate towards the helping professions such as counseling, therapy, and social work. If you do gravitate towards these careers, it is likely because you having a “helping personality”, or a strong desire to give of yourself to make a real difference in the lives of others.
- Creativity–Occupational therapists are always looking for creative ways to work on goals and problem solve in order to meet their patients’ needs. Whether by creating a spurt of the moment obstacle course when working with a child on the autism spectrum or finding new ways to help an elderly patient navigate their daily tasks after a stroke or major surgery, creativity is definitely key for becoming a successful OT.
- Patience–In any job working with people, there is certainly a requirement for a great deal of patience in therapy sessions since it can take a patient quite a bit of time to reach a goal you may have set. People who are right for the OT profession should be gifted with this high sense of patience in order to give their patients the best quality therapy, and in turn, give them the time and attention needed to meet their goals.
- Personability—As an occupational therapist, you will be working daily with people who are experiencing physical, mental, and emotional disabilities and frustrations. In order to work well as an OT, you must possess high quality interpersonal skills such as clear and kind communication, a strong sense of empathy and compassion, and the willingness to be a constant encourager and cheerleader for your patients.
While there are certainly many other personality traits that are helpful in the field of occupational therapy, it is important to consider these first in determining whether or not OT is the right career choice for you.
In addition to these personality traits, it is extremely helpful to choose a career path that interests you. In the field of occupational therapy, you will be a lifelong learner, so you should enjoy studying topics such as:
- Human Anatomy and Physiology
- Human Growth and Development
- Developmental Disabilities
This certainly does not mean that you need to be an expert in these topics or that every single one should be so interesting to you that you never want to put down your textbook, but you should enjoy these overall topics as an occupational therapist so that graduate school will not totally bore you to tears or lead you into a serious mental breakdown.
When choosing your career path, it is also very important to consider what your job tasks and duties will be like on a day to day basis. As an occupational therapist, your daily activities are never really the same each day because every patient you will see will have different needs, goals, and abilities. This is great news for the person who gets bored at work doing the same old thing day after day, and allows room for creativity, adventure, and spontaneity.
However, as an occupational therapist, you will generally spend your time each day doing these sorts of things:
- Working directly with people to meet their therapeutic goals
- Spending lots of time on the floor (especially when working with children)
- Planning therapy sessions
- Making crafts or finding tools and resources to use in your sessions
- Working with gym equipment and toys for therapeutic purposes
- Completing assessments and paperwork
- Thinking critically and outside of the box
The best way to really get a grip on what a day in the life of an occupational therapist is like is to find an occupational therapist near you to shadow. This will allow you to see first hand what an OT actually does in their daily work and will help you when making the decision on whether or not to become an occupational therapist.
Education and Licensing
Another important factor in determining if occupational therapy is the right career path for you is considering the amount of education you have or are willing to get, and determining if you are willing to do what is necessary to keep up your occupational therapy license. In order to become an OT, you will need to complete a Bachelor’s degree (it doesn’t really matter what your major is, but something related to health sciences is helpful) including all of the prerequisite courses for your OT program and go to graduate school for occupational therapy.
You can complete either a Master’s of Occupational Therapy or an Occupational Therapy Doctorate degree, depending on your specific career goals long-term. After you’ve finished your OT degree and completed at least 6 months of fieldwork, you will need to sit for the NBCOT exam to become a licensed occupational therapist.
After passing the NBCOT exam, you will need to renew your license every 2 years and complete at least 30 hours of continuing education every 2 years as well. This can be obtained by going to conferences, taking courses, and obtaining new specialty certifications. If you are willing to take all these steps to become an OT and continually renew your license to practice, then you are in good shape to be an occupational therapist.
If you’re still vibing well with the idea of being an occupational therapist after considering the personality traits, job duties, and education involved, then you’ll want to consider some additional factors next. Having a career in occupational therapy is a great way to work while having a family, since most OTs can bring in the equivalent of a full time salary while working only part time, depending on the job. You can also work per diem, or be on call, or do home visits as a contract worker in order to increase your job flexibility.
If you have the travel bug like I do, there are also amazing opportunities for OTs to work as traveling therapists. Essentially, a traveling therapist works off of contracted positions in various settings and locations to fill a gap while the company looks for a full time therapist to take your position. You could be in that location for anywhere from a few weeks to months to years, depending on the company (and sometimes they provide your housing and a stipend, too!).
Pay Scale and Job Outlook
Finally, let’s consider the incredible pay scale and job outlook involved in the field of occupational therapy. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the projected change in employment from 2016 to 2026 is a 27% increase…and most occupations are only projected to grow 7%! This is AMAZING news for those of us looking to become occupational therapists in the next few years, as it means the job market is open for OTs, making it pretty easy to find a job after graduation, although it may still take some time to find the right fit.
As if basically being guaranteed a job straight out of grad school isn’t enough, the median salary for occupational therapists according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is around $83,200 per year, or $40 per hour. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Want To Be An OT?
Hopefully after considering all of these details in your search for a career that suits you best, you are feeling more passionately than ever about becoming an occupational therapist. Not sure? Feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns, and I would be happy to have a chat and provide some insight (get it…OT insight…?).