I remember being a young high schooler who spent a great deal of my time in physical therapy. (I was THAT kid who always managed to break a bone or get injured no matter what I was doing). As I grew older, I was having trouble deciding on a career path. I loved the idea of PT and joining the healthcare field, but also really loved working in the special needs classroom and teaching swimming lessons to special needs children. I loved seeing the joy I could bring to them and their families with adaptive function ideas to increase their independence. I was really struggling in deciding which direction I wanted to go. That is when, luckily, I discovered occupational therapy (OT). I remember when my aunt initially told me about the profession, my first thought was, “I do not know how this relates to anything I want to do. I really am not interesting in providing therapy about people getting jobs.” In looking further into the field, I realized that this is EXACTLY where I needed to be. In looking back, the only way I even knew the profession existed was because my aunt happened to work in healthcare and share the profession with me. In discussions with many young students and even adults, I constantly get the question, “what is OT?”
OT has officially been around for over 100 years, and yet many people do not know the profession even exists, let alone what it is. In recent years, I think our profession has progressed very well in spreading the word about OT. Many of that is related to endorsements from well know individuals, such as Al Roker, as well as the use of social media. While I do think our profession is getting much better at emphasizing the importance of OT, I still think we can do better. Many of this lies in the arms of OT practitioners. So then my question is, why do many OT practitioners continue to struggle with promoting our profession? I work in an outpatient orthopaedic clinic in a hand therapy setting. Often times, many patients call what I do PT, and I am guilty at times of not necessarily correcting them. If I do correct them and tell them I am not a PT, I am and OT, I find myself in this long dialogue about what OT is and how it differs from PT. This concept is not always visible in my setting. So why do I find it so difficult to shrink our profession down into a short description? I think it is because of all the amazing and diverse things OT has to offer. Sure, I can say OT is about using occupation as a means to allow individuals to function as independently as possible. However, I cannot just keep it at that. Many individuals are like, “Oh, okay… so what does that mean?” This takes it into an extended conversation with describing all the wonderful and diverse aspects of the OT profession. The conversations and explanations take time, because our profession is so diverse and allows individuals to accomplish so many things. So why do I tend to avoid this conversation when I know how great our profession is? Why do I not want to take the time to explain why I love what I do? In today’s world, we are in such a hurry and always so busy, that taking that time to have that conversation seems like a burden. I believe this is happening across our profession, especially with many young therapists!
That being said, I am working on changing this. I am working on taking the time to explain fully how amazing our profession is and how much it is growing. In January 2017, US News and World Report ranked and Occupational Therapist #23 and Occupational Therapy Assistant #12 in their listing of 100 best jobs. Our profession is absolutely amazing and so diverse. OT is truly focused on allowing everyone to live the lives they want as independently as possible. That is our true goal! I highly encourage ALL OT professionals to focus on spending time each day explaining our profession and how wonderful it is. I encourage all OT professionals to make time to educate our youth in OT and explain how it is such a great career choice. Make a commitment with yourself to educated at least one person each week about our profession. Take the time to go to a high school career day, or even middle school or elementary school, and educate our youth. Take time to attend a medical conference, advocating for OT. Be part of AOTA and other organization promoting our profession. Donate funds when possible to assist with advocacy. Attend advocacy meetings state wide or in Washington D.C. I challenge every OT practitioner to make sure you are being heard and truly advocating on a regular basis for our profession. In the next 100 years, OT must become a profession that people are asking “why not OT?” instead of “what is OT?” With continued growth and constant changes in healthcare, this wonderful profession needs continued advocacy!
U.S. News and World Report. (2017). The 100 best jobs. Retrieved from https://money.usnews.com/careers/best-jobs/rankings/the-100-best-jobs.