Occupational Therapist Q&A
Q: Why did you get into occupational therapy, and why school practice specifically?
A: I wanted a medical career of some kind. It was a very conscious decision not to be a doctor because I wanted a family, and I had other interests in life. So, I chose a health profession that would allow me to provide assistance to other people, but also where I could have a little balance in my life. I was completely seduced by working in school environments. It’s wonderful to help kids right where they live every day. It’s not a clinic, so it’s not artificial, and you don’t have to simulate things. I love working in an environment where kids are making friends, learning and growing every day. It’s just really fun. I feel as an OT you can make such a difference in people’s lives if you go to where they’re living.
Q: What helped you early in your career figure out what path you wanted to take?
A: I was 26 and sitting in on a group of young psychiatric patients being led by a more experienced OT. She had them do a values clarification exercise, and it turned out to be really informative for me. She had them write a want ad for their perfect job. It wasn’t so much about what the job would be called; it was more about what you’d be doing. I found myself writing an ad saying that I really wanted to be in a position that used my problem solving skills, which I think are my greatest asset to help people with disabilities and be in a position to influence. I still have that ad today.
Q: What was your role when you were a staff OT at HCDE?
A: Our role in schools is not medical necessity. Much of what is done in hospitals, rehab and clinics would be termed medical necessity in the health care system. What we do is based on educational need. The focus of our work is on making it easier for the child to learn and making it easier for the teacher to teach the child. We’re going to spend our time on getting him a really good seating system, helping to position him so he can reach the computer and access things that he needs to so he can participate all day in spite of the fact that he has cerebral palsy.
Q: What do you do in your current role as director of therapy services?
A: My role now is more oversight of the program. The most important thing I do is thinking ahead to the future. Where do we need to be going? Particularly in a marketplace where there will continually be shortages as we have more baby boomers aging and the schools aren’t really producing enough to keep up. I look at technological solutions for delivering services, trying to envision how we can move into the future with the workforce that we have and make the best use of them and try not to get overwhelmed by rising gasoline prices. Our people go school to school or house to house, so we have to think how we do that more efficiently or how do we cut down on our travel time.
Q: How has the OT field changed recently?
A: Beginning in 2008, the only way to become an OT is to have a master’s level education at least. You have to have a baccalaureate degree in a related field and then enter into an OT masters program. You can also now enter at the doctoral level.
Q: What’s the plus side of getting a doctorate in OT?
A: The profession as a whole, and this is true for physical therapy as well, is trying to prepare more therapists at the doctoral level so that we will have more people prepared to be educators and scholars. That is certainly one of the reasons there are so many PhD programs now to make sure we have enough faculty. We do have, as with all the health care professions, faculty shortages. Is it a crisis level? I don’t think so, but there are certainly plenty of openings.
Q: What do you look for on a resume of an entry-level OT?
A: Because there is a shortage in the market, the main thing that we’re interested in is that they have their education and license. It’s very helpful if they’ve had the opportunity to either do formal fieldwork in early intervention or school programming or if they’ve worked at a summer camp for kids with disabilities. If they’ve worked with Special Olympics or had any exposure to working with the populations that we deal with in the schools it is always very positive.
Q: You teach at Texas Woman’s University. How did you get involved with that?
A: I’m a pretty brassy broad. One day I actually called most of the university OT programs in the area like Texas Woman’s University and University of Texas Medical Branch and said, ‘Look we’re the biggest employer in the area and you’re not preparing people for our jobs.’ Of course in response to that they said, ‘Well come on over and help us teach them.’ This semester I am teaching courses in school OT practice, one for 1st year graduate students and one for 2nd year students. I also helped create an online course for post-grads to get a certificate in school practice.
Staff OT range for 180-day of work year for schools: $38,600- $56,200 (*this is below market rate)
Manager level OT administrator range based on 240-day work year for schools: $67,000- $101,000
Director level OT administrator range based on 240-day work year for schools: $82,000- $123,000