Occupational therapists are healthcare providers who work alongside doctors, physical therapists, physiotherapists, and mental health professionals. Occupational therapists assist people in learning or re-learning how to do normal daily activities. People who need occupational therapy range from the elderly in nursing homes to special needs children at schools.
These therapists may help a patient regain the ability to eat meals independently or may help a child learn to write.
While direct patient care is often rewarding on its own, many occupational therapists desire a different way to use their education and training, and may even desire to be the lead in a particular area. It takes experience and education to advance an occupational therapy career, and here are some of the best ways to do it.
Get an Advanced Degree
Those with a bachelor’s degree and the proper licensing often have limited career choices. They may only qualify for jobs in a hospital setting when they would prefer to work in a school or be over an occupational therapy department. These types of leadership roles often require a Master’s degree in occupational therapy or higher.
This means that those occupational therapists who want to move up the ladder will need to get more education. An advanced degree shows potential employers that you have the ability to not only perform the work of an occupational therapist, but that you can create care plans for other OT’s to carry out.
Getting a doctorate offers even more opportunities for advancing your career. It can give occupational therapists the opportunity to lead in critical roles in the healthcare industry. It can also qualify them to teach collegiate courses, to administer certification testing, and more. An advanced degree is a critical piece to advancing your occupational therapy career.
Complete New Training
There are always new methods and techniques being developed. Training courses are one way to learn and apply these skills in a clinical setting. For instance, learning how to work with children on the autism spectrum will take a different approach than working with a patient who has a car accident and a traumatic brain injury.
New training is one way to gain new skills to help you advance your occupational therapy career.
Cross-Train in Other Disciplines
Cross training may sound challenging but there are many ways to do it. If you work in a facility with multiple patient types, ask to train in an area you are less familiar with. This initiative can help your employer see you as someone who is flexible and willing to learn. Another option is to offer your services through contracting agencies on a part-time basis.
This might allow you to work in new facilities and with different types of patients. You may desire to work more with children, but your current job is only in a nursing home. Doing contract work can help you get a foot in the door to work with kids, while still maintaining your current job.
Start A Small Business
Some occupational therapists want to branch out into more creative ways to use their degree. Advancing their career may mean that they have to start their own small business. They can use their degree to offer health coaching to people who want to lose weight or manage their medical conditions more effectively.
Some occupational therapists can offer in-home services for parents of special needs children. They can create training courses for other occupational therapy professionals to share their knowledge.
Without goals, it’ll be difficult to advance your career in the occupational therapy world. The work can be tiring as there may be seasons where it feels like your patients aren’t progressing and this can be frustrating and discouraging.
Setting goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely can help you tremendously as you advance your career. It can also help you make money on the side if you set new goals for it.
Saying something vague like “I want to get more education someday” is far less achievable than “I want to finish my master’s degree in occupational therapy in five years”. Not only is the second goal more specific, but it also has a timed deadline on it. Advancing your career becomes more real when you have unique goals in mind. With goals you can do anything you put your mind to.
If you’re interested in a career in occupational therapy pursue education and cross training. Also consider starting a small business so you can get a feel for whether or not you want to own your practice. Finally, and most importantly, if you want a career in occupational therapy set the goal, and then make it happen.
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Erin is the mother of identical twin girls and their slightly older brother. She is a domestic engineer, and previously had a career leading customer service teams for a major HVAC company. Cleaning without harsh chemicals, and cooking easy and usually healthy meals are part of Erin's daily life. She volunteers with youth leaders, and genuinely wants to help others win. Erin has a degree in Communications, with a focus on Broadcast Journalism.