Going for your master’s in occupational therapy, one of the highest paying master’s degrees, is a big commitment. Before you make this investment of time, money and a lot of hard work, you should be confident that a career as an occupational therapist is what you want. That can be difficult to do, especially if you haven’t had the experience of working with an occupational therapist before. Some of the ways you can determine whether to move forward with earning a master’s in occupational therapy are to observe professionals in this career and take the kind of undergraduate coursework that your master’s program will require. On your own, you can assess whether your personality traits match the qualities an occupational therapist needs to have.
Observing and Volunteering With Occupational Therapists
Perhaps the best way to decide if a career in occupational therapy – and the graduate degree needed to prepare for it – is for you is by getting a firsthand glimpse of what it’s like to work in this field. You can do this through shadowing or observation hours, in which you watch an experienced occupational therapist in action. You can see not only what kind of work an occupational therapist does but also how these professionals handle clinical interactions with their patients, documentation in patients’ medical charts and administrative responsibilities.
When you shadow an occupational therapist, you also get the opportunity to ask questions about the career. You might, for example, ask the professional you are shadowing what they like most and least about their job, what process they had to go through to get licensed and certified and what advice they can share with you as an aspiring occupational therapist. Often, the pros and cons that established professionals bring up are points that prospective students of the field haven’t even thought of yet.
Some prospective occupational therapists take a slightly different route, volunteering in a capacity related to occupational therapy. As a volunteer, you might have the opportunity for more hands-on work in direct service with the kind of patient populations that you could later work with as an occupational therapist. Of course, you won’t be providing actual occupational therapy services, since you’re not trained or qualified to do so. You can, however, see whether you like working with populations like kids in a children’s hospital, seniors in a geriatric facility and patients attending a special needs day program.
Aside from giving you insight into what it’s like to work in this career, observation hours can help you get into a master’s program in occupational therapy, which many programs require. Shadowing also gives you a qualified person to ask for a letter of recommendation.
Taking the Courses That Count as Prerequisites
Undergraduate programs of study for aspiring occupational therapists aren’t an option, since the occupational therapy assistant baccalaureate degree (OTA-B) is intended for occupational therapy assistants. That makes it difficult to really get a feel for what your graduate school curriculum would be like. However, if you check out the prerequisites required for most master’s in occupational therapy degree programs, you will at least have an idea of what kind of academic foundation you need to build on.
Generally, aspiring occupational therapists are going to want to have some prior study in anatomy and physiology, general psychology, abnormal psychology, developmental psychology, statistics and sociology.
Comparing Your Personality and Strengths to the Best Qualities for Occupational Therapists
IMAGE SOURCE: Pixabay, public domain
Whether occupational therapy is the right career path for you isn’t about whether you can or cannot succeed in the field, but rather whether it fits with your goals, strengths and values. It’s a good idea to take an honest assessment of whether you have, or have an interest in and capacity for developing, those skills and qualities. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics lists adaptability, communication abilities, compassion, interpersonal relations skills and patients as the qualities that matter most for occupational therapists.
Although technical skills are important, these qualities are largely related to interacting with your patients. Do you possess the compassion and patience to help people with injuries and disabilities overcome the challenges that arise as they try to make progress, even when that progress is slow? Can you establish a positive rapport with your patients to keep them motivated and engaged? If one approach to a patient’s treatment doesn’t work, are you flexible and agile enough to come up with different, sometimes creative measures to achieve a similar outcome? Not everyone has these skills, and that’s okay – but if you don’t enjoy working closely with people or you find that patience isn’t one of your strong suits, a different career path could be a better fit for you.
Other important skills for occupational therapists, according to O*NET, are the capacity for monitoring the performance of yourself and others, critical thinking about solutions to problems and service orientation, or an interest in helping others.