Occupational Therapy – The gameplan for applying

“I believe luck is preparation meeting opportunity. If you hadn’t been prepared when the opportunity came along, you wouldn’t have been lucky.”

Oprah Winfrey

Life seems linear when you’re in school. On your first day you get a syllabus, it’s your guide for the entire semester! It holds the due dates, when you can anticipate a quiz, exam. Really – nothing should come as a surprise over the semester if you’ve been paying attention. Inevitably the class may get behind and some assignment due dates get pushed back. (Granted I didn’t attend school during the coronavirus so you all you guys can tell me how that goes.) Regardless, everything feels pre-determined.

As pre-occupational therapy students, we are tyring to determine which schools we want to apply to. They have their own nuances with pre-requisite coursework, some have interviews, some don’t; however one thing that’s usually non-negotiable: observation hours

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Observation Hours

  • Start with a plan – look at every school and figure out how many hours each school is requesting. some may only ask for 20 hours, the gold standard is typically 40 hours. Exceed that number of hours if possible. It may be tough with coronavirus however the coronavirus has always allowed people to become creative with virtual observation hours and schools allowing you to count substitute hours. Youtube is an invaluable resource for viewing videos with great, targeted intervention strategies. If you want to look up early intervention, pediatric OT, school-based occupational therapy or even look up neurodevelopmental occupational therapy rehabilitation with adults – it’s all there!
  • Shop early” – I understand everyone has a Plan B, Plan C, Plan D and things comes up however if you have an interest in occupational therapy early on, you should defintiley seek out OT clinicians in a variety of settings. Imagine back in the day pre-LinkedIn, pre-Instagram, pre-youtube having to call a clinician’s work phone or figure out someone’s work email and hoping they checked it that week. Hospitals may have the corporate compliance hurdles to jump (e.g. HIPPA compliance), however the little pediatric/small clinics and independently-owned clinics might be a little easier to shadow. We are OTs – we love to help people if we can! Sometimes, unfortunatley, we cannot. Email, message us on Facebook, message us on LinkedIn, our blogs, tweet us – it may not be a good time, but you never know. It could be a quick way to connect. The only hurdle is contacting them (and maybe a coronavirus protocol or two).
  • Continue the relationship – if you find a setting you like, it certainly would not hurt to keep the relationship going and exceeding the amount of contact hours that you need for applying to school. I had someone as young as a high school senior who observed with me 1 day/week for several months until the coronavirus changed protocol.
  • Personal statement – It is likely that you will have a personal statement to write. Keep notes about situations, describe what you observed, and why you are passionate about it. You will come across as authentic if you have a specific, real scenario that demonstrates why you are passionate about entering the occupational therapy field.
  • Letters of Recommendation – Think about who you will need these letters of recommendation from. You may only need professors or professional references. You may need one from an OT. If you went to a particular setting or clinic you will build a rapport with the therapists who can vouch for your organization, commitment, and high level of interest!
  • Questions – I love questions from students. Every question is important and it’s worth asking. It says to me that you’re thinking and it’s appreciated that you ask after the session has ended. You can think about your own questions, however this is observation. I had years of training and experience so I would not expect someone getting their initial observation to understand what to ask. If you want to ask a few basic questions, maybe even think along these lines:
    • How did you select your interventions? (I would discuss the client factors, client goals)
    • Could you have done anything differently?
    • What are the patient’s goals?
    • How do you describe occupational therapy to your patients?
    • How can I learn more about occuapational therapy? How can I learn about the intervention that you used? (never anything wrong with learning or maybe finding a starting point to watch videos if an area interests you. You may find videos made by a therapist in a oupt clinic or hospital nearby!)

Otherwise, everything seems stressful in the moment. Once your plan starts to come into action, you create a routine to attend observation hours and build a relationship, it will be your first step in your OT journey in the books. There’s other creative ways to gather observation hours and enrich your experience whether it’s through volunteer opportunities (children’s hospitals always seek out volunteers), summer camp clinics (whether it’s volunteer or employed), you will have to determine the situation right for you and your plan!

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