Have you ever wondered what a day in the life of an Occupational Therapist is like?
Before we dive into a common workday, let’s break down what Occupational Therapists do as a profession.
The American Association for Occupational Therapy states that “Occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants help people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations).”
Occupational Therapists can work in a variety of locations, such as:
- Rehabilitation facilities
- In patient’s homes
- In schools
By providing certain therapies, Occupational Therapists help a number of people spanning all ages. For example, here are some ways that an Occupational Therapist might help a patient:
- Helping the elderly maintain their independence while they experience physical and/or cognitive changes
- Providing interventions for school-age children who need help participating with their classmates
- And quite commonly, helping the injured make full recoveries
The AOTA notes three types of therapy services that all Occupational Therapists typically offer their patients:
- An individualized evaluation, during which the client/family and occupational therapist determine the person’s goals
- Customized intervention to improve the person’s ability to perform daily activities and reach the goals
- An outcomes evaluation to ensure that the goals are being met and/or make changes to the intervention plan
It’s important to know that unlike many western medical professions, Occupational therapy practitioners have a holistic perspective.
This means that their main objective is to understand the patient’s needs as a whole and adapt accordingly.
Now that you have a strong understanding of what they do, let’s take a look at how they do it!
A Day in the Life of an Occupational Therapist
Before we dive in, it’s important to note that, of course, every Occupational Therapist is different.
A number of the factors outlined above (workplace, patient type, etc.) play into the differences of any given day.
In addition to the above possible variations, the way an Occupational Therapist actually practices certainly varies from professional to professional.
This is a fact applied to any profession, but especially this one. That’s because of the highly apparent creative and adaptable qualities embodied by Occupational Therapists.
The most successful Occupational Therapists are naturally innovative, caring people. They treat each patient uniquely.
While some injuries and disabilities have “protocol” interventions, OTs are well-known to be acutely aware of their individual patient’s specific needs.
When every patient is different, every day is different.
With all of that in mind, we can look at what a day in the life of an Occupational Therapist might look like.
Morning Schedule for an OT
The first step in every Occupational Therapist’s day is preparation. Before it’s time see any patients, there are a number of things to accomplish:
- Gather all therapy tools, paperwork, and activities
- Ensure therapy area is in order and properly stocked
- Review the day’s patient list and corresponding patient treatment plans
- Block out your treatment schedule based on patient plans
- Review and/or prepare instructions based on notes from the previous session
- Confer with colleagues as necessary on particular cases before the patient arrives
Since many Occupational Therapists begin seeing patients at 8:00 AM, the average time an OT arrives in the office is between 7:00 and 7:30 AM.
As 8:00 rolls around, it is time to start the day’s treatments.
Note that because not every patient is a returning case, Occupational Therapists are frequently meeting patients for the first time each day.
This is especially true in the hospital setting.
In these instances, the protocol is different than that of a previously seen patient with a treatment plan already in place.
Let’s look at how a first meeting would go when a patient is being seen for the first time:
The first step is to take their history and examine the injury or area that will be treated.
A nurse or chart may provide some initial information, but the therapist needs to learn more about each patient themselves.
Little details are often important pieces of the treatment plan puzzle. Obtaining such details ensures the therapist can choose the right therapeutic activities and build the perfect plan for each new patient.
Armed with a detailed history, the therapist will build a patient chart that will also include information from:
- The treating Physician
- Family and caregivers
- Any additional medical professionals currently treating the patient
From here, a new patient requires short- and long-term goals to be established.
Understanding what’s important to each individual is the crux of these goals.
Aside from the obvious basic functionality needed for daily life, many patients have varying goals depending on their reason for needing therapy and their lifestyle.
It’s incredibly important to have a thorough understanding of what’s most important to each individual patient.
Working these motivations into treatment plans is often the difference maker when it comes to length and success of therapy treatments,
Once goals are established, a treatment plan is developed.
The therapist will chart a plan for the patient that includes treatments, the frequency of visits, length of sessions and more.
It is not common to provide therapeutic services on the first visit, although that may occur especially in a hospital or rehabilitation setting.
After the initial visit, a new patient therapy session will consist of:
- Beginning to implement the treatment plan and/or rehab program
- Teaching the patient a number of exercises they can do at home
- Going over pain relief techniques as needed
We’ve accomplished a lot of work so far wouldn’t you say? Let’s take a lunch break!
But wait…we have to mention that sometimes a day in the life of an occupational therapist does not include lunch, at least not right at “lunch time”.
As it happens with many medical professions, schedules tend to change based on patients.
This means that Occupational Therapists also have to become masters in the art of flexibility.
As morning turns to afternoon, lunch eventually happens, we promise!
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Afternoon Schedule for an OT
With new patient evaluations complete, it’s time to see some returning patients.
Because every patient is so different, it’s impossible to generalize what each day is truly like. That is actually one of the perks of the job; the constantly changing work keeps Occupational Therapists engaged and growing.
A day in the life of an Occupational Therapist ends the same way it began: preparation.
It is important to set aside time every afternoon to finalize patient notes from the day’s treatments.
Additionally, spending a little time reviewing the coming day’s schedule lightens the preparation load first thing in the morning.
In a hospital setting, you will also likely have a weekly meeting with colleagues to go over patient progress. It is truly a team effort to help each patient reach their personal wellness goals.
Tips for Success as an Occupational Therapist
1. Harness Your Caring Nature
Rely on your creative, adaptable and caring nature. These qualities will ensure you help patients to the fullest extent of your capabilities.
2. Find a Mentor
Take the time to find the right mentor who shares the same treatment style as you. This person can help guide you in your treatment plans!
3. Stay Connected to Learning
Continuing education is an important requirement of course, but make time to research and implement all available therapies within your specialty as they arise.
4. Focus on Each Unique Patient as an Individual
While you may have seen their ailment many times, their need and motivation for therapy will be unique to their lifestyle.
5. Aim for Overall Wellness
Utilize your multidisciplinary colleagues and the patient’s family/caregivers to work towards the common goal of overall wellness.
6. Stay Organized
Spend time at the end of each day noting details in patient charts to ensure you don’t forget anything between treatments.
7. Involve Yourself in Professional Organizations
Like having a mentor, engaging with professional organizations helps you stay sharp. And, the networking is an added bonus.
Now you have a picture of what a day in the life of an occupational therapist is really like!
Remember these key factors:
- Mornings always start with preparation for the specific patient load
- Lunch is a hard thing to schedule, so make time to eat while staying flexible for your patients
- After treating patients in the afternoon, be sure to note the details of each day’s therapy sessions since you may not see the patients again for a week or more
- Finish the day with more preparation…for the day ahead
- The way an Occupational Therapist actually practices certainly varies from professional to professional
- OTs are well-known to be acutely aware of their individual patients’ specific needs
Now that you know what a day in the life of an Occupational Therapist is like, could this be the right profession for you?
Share with us in the comments below!