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When OTs Wore White Shoes

Why Occupational Therapy?

Published January 20, 2014 4:28 PM by Debra Karplus

It's hard for me to believe that I have been an occupational therapist for nearly forty years.  A chance meeting at a summer job with a wise older woman (she was probably in her thirties) was my first exposure to the field.  I was headed to college that fall with an undeclared major.  I was interested in teaching, psychology and arts and crafts, but did not want to become a teacher, psychologist or artisan.  The woman put me on the path of occupational therapy, and though I found the medical courses to be challenging, to say the least, and was ready to change majors several times along the way to a pursuit less demanding, I stuck with occupational therapy and have had no regrets.

Now I am that "older woman" and I frequently find myself around college-bound high school students who want to do something meaningful with their lives after graduation.  My sales pitch for a career in occupational therapy is generally well-received, as I find myself answering numerous questions about what OTs do and what the curriculum involves.  I can provide these potential OT students with several very convincing reasons why occupational therapy is a career choice with many perks.

Improving the quality of life for your patients makes you feel good about yourself.

I share with potential occupational therapy students that helping your patients or clients live more satisfying lives is a win-win situation.  Because OTs essentially treat the whole person in terms of their physical, mental, and emotional well-being, we become connected to the recipients of our service.  At the end of most every work day, we truly feel that we have made a difference whether grand or subtle.

There are ample jobs for occupational therapists and therefore reasonable job security.

The number of people who could benefit from occupational therapy services seems to be growing.  Yes, baby boomers are aging and having hip replacements and being diagnosed with maladies such as arthritis, but it's more than that.  As infant mortality rates drop, more babies ages zero to three are being diagnosed at a younger age with deficits that require the jump start of an OT.  Additionally, school-aged children are being seen for occupational therapy as they start school, helping them to become more successful in their classroom activities.

Burn-out rate for OTs is low as there are so many very different settings where OTs work.

Many OTs begin their careers in hospitals, long term care facilities, or schools, being clinicians who provide direct care services.  But there is room for clinicians to branch out into different arenas such as driver evaluation for persons with disabilities.  Also, OTs can move into education or research.

Pay and working conditions for occupational therapists are higher than many jobs, including others in health care.

Occupational therapists can typically support themselves on the starting salary of a new graduate.  Young therapists with the wanderlust and a sense of adventure may find that becoming a travelling OT is a terrific and lucrative way to see the country while building a career.


Thanks for sharing, Linda.  I am glad that the article I wrote inspired you.  

Debra Karplus February 8, 2014 8:52 AM

Enjoyed reading your recent posts Debra!  After 34 yrs. of being an OT, also with a BS in OT, all of which have been interesting and gratifying it is great to see young people who are still motivated to help others.  We too had no COTA's available in my early career, but today they are a great help and allow so much more flexibilty to our lives. Some should go on to being OT's as their capabilities merit the compensations of being the fully credentialed therapist.  

In looking back, I am thankful to a wonderful lady from Los Angeles Parks and Recreation for recruiting a group of high school students to voluntarily work with 8-18 yo. developmentally delayed children in a summer camp setting.  That was the first exposure and changed my direction of interest from "teaching" to Occupational Therapy after we asked her how to become involved with this population.  Of the group, 4 of us have turned to some form of health care, all in different avenues.  So one never knows whose lives are touched by our work.  The direction of this career has been a blessing, with the flexibility to pursue many directions of treatment, which I have through the years, which has allowed a wonderful base for treating hand therapy patients from many diverse problems relating to our experience in the general settings.  I have loved the journey all they way through!  Hope to see more young folks take the path too.  The caliber of the new grads is amazing.  Though returning to get an advanced degree would only help me with teaching, I prefer clinical teaching for fieldwork and splinting, which is possible without it and was fortunate to have supportive doctors and pioneer hand therapists to teach me in preparation to be one of the 1st certified hand therapists in 1991.  It truly has been a wonderful journey and great to share with new excited students who will hopefully take up the torch into the future.

Linda, Occupational Therapy/Hand Therapy - OTR/L, CHT, Mountain States Rehabilitation February 8, 2014 8:25 AM
Marion VA

Thanks for sharing your comments on my article, Laurie. I am so glad that a fork in the road brought me to a satisfying career as an occupational therapist.

Debra Karplus January 29, 2014 10:51 AM
Champaign IL

Very inspiring article. It is true that there are so many diverse fashions to be "occupied" as an Occupational Therapist. I love what I do, especially because I have the freedom to help others in a variety of ways to be "all that they can be".

laurie mulroony, O.T. - O.T., Bingham Gardens January 29, 2014 10:22 AM
Louisville KY

Great to hear your comments on my article, Stephanie.  Occupational therapy is a great profession that many college students should seriously consider.  Again, thanks!

Debra January 29, 2014 8:22 AM

I am a hearing impaired OT. I began my career in 1989 in the hospital setting in the Bronx, moved onto out patient head injury rehab, every now and then provide home care, dabbled with pediatrics, eventually settling as a rehab director with long term care. I love what I do, very much! I look forward to many more years providing OT services.

Stephanie, SNF - Rehab Director, Hilaire Rehab and Nursing January 29, 2014 7:00 AM
Huntington NY

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