This is the story behind Jeff’s aka OTDUDE’s acceptance as a Pre-OT student and his journey to becoming an occupational therapist.
- OT Program: Dominican University of CA Graduate
- Location: Bay Area, CA
- University & Major: Chemistry, B.S. – University of CA, Davis
- Work history: 2 years EMT
- Hobbies: blogging, cats & dogs, board games, korean spa’s
- Cumulative GPA? 3.06
- Pre-req GPA? 3.61
- Observation Hours? Skilled Nursing Facility
- Letters of recommendation? 1 Director of Rehab (Shadowing), 1 EMT Professor, 1 EMT Work Supervisor
- How many programs did you apply to total? 1
- How many cycles did you apply? 1
- How many interviews did you do? 1
What made you decide to pursue OT?
I was actually pre-PA and before that, I wanted to become a pharmacist. I decided that pharmacy was not for me and wanted a job where I was not tied to being in one location for my shift. My mom knew a co-worker whose son was Pre-OT too and suggested that I check it out. Around the same time, my father received some outpatient OT hand-therapy which really helped with his injury. I decided to research more about the profession online – found out that my pre-requisites fit the school’s requirements and the rest was history.
What other careers did you consider? Why OT instead?
Pharmacy, Physician’s Assistant, Nursing.
I like how OT’s can use their creativity and how the day-to-day is different and not the same as it is for some other professions. To me, the stress level is lower compared to the others. Nursing can have a lot of workplace bullying, depending on where you work. The high competitiveness of Pre-PA programs turned me off but also the fact that I didn’t see myself in a clinic or other similar setting doing that kind of work. I saw the value of OT in working with patients 1:1 for a treatment session and was attracted to how OTs are being able to see patient progress. I also saw OT as a stable career that will always provide a valuable resource to healthcare and the local community.
What would you say to our readers who may be still unsure about OT as a career?
Although OT is not well known, it is a very rewarding career. You get to spend time working with a patient 1:1 and not have to manage multiple patients as you would as a nurse. PA is a good career as well, but they are not really as “hands” on. OT has a lot of paths you can take including school OT in working with children, hand therapy, management, research, driver rehab, mental health, and many more specialties too. The pay also is very competitive and there is lots of room for growth.
What tips do you have for writing the personal statement?
Tell your unique story that will stand out from other applicants. Make it concise and to the point, and chronological if possible. Talk about your experience in healthcare – even if you don’t have any – how your shadowing inspired you. Reflect on what you learned or saw in your shadowing hours and try to demonstrate how you know about what OT’s do. Last, talk about how your experience, background, or motivation will make you a successful OT student in their program. Mention their program (school name) and why it is the right fit for you. Does the school’s mission or values align with yours or how you relate to them? Have several people read it over and send it off!
How did you choose who to ask for your letters of recommendation and how did you ask for them?
I knew I wanted someone related to OT to be one of my LORs. I didn’t know many OT’s personally so the natural choice was to ask someone from where I shadowed. I decided to ask the DOR because she was who I contacted first and she was the one who organized my shadowing with the OTs. She also saw how I interacted with everyone and could speak to those qualities. The other 2 choices were because as an EMT, it was relevant to the OT profession and they were reliable sources to put on the application. My EMT instructor was very approachable and as a top student in my class, she was glad to write my letter. The 3rd letter was from my EMT supervisor who knew I had a strong work ethic and was a dependable safe employee. Asking them was not too difficult – the key is to ask early because teachers or supervisors can be busy. It may not be a bad idea to let them know your goals of getting into an OT program, but this depends on your situation.
How did you get your shadowing hours? Any tips?
I looked up SNFs in my area and called them directly. A few got back to me but 1 was willing to commit to taking me in. Right now with COVID-19, I can imagine how hard it is. Check out my post on some tips.
Any tips on writing a good resume?
The first thing you should do is keep a master doc with all your jobs. This does several things. 1 – keeps a record of your employment history, even if it’s something random – write it down. 2 – allows you to re-use some verbage and talking points without having to “reinvent the wheel”. The OT program will never know you re-used some phrases from your own job. It’s a good habit to develop especially when you are applying for jobs.
Other tips: make it 1 page (I think more than 1 is too extra), use strong words to start each bullet point like, “demonstrated”, “developed”, “managed”, “collaborated”. Make it easy on the eyes. Include relevant information and not random things like driving for Uber – unless it deserves to be on there for some reason of course. Every line counts. Don’t use it as filler. Have someone look it over for typos and mistakes.
How do you think you stood out from other applicants overall?
I think it was unique that I was an EMT and worked directly with patients for 2 years. It demonstrated my ability to be flexible, safe, and be able to manage the stress of a healthcare job. My personal statement was also very strong -I modeled it after my sister’s statement which got her accepted to a grad program as well.
What were the strengths of your application?
Compelling letters of recommendation, strong personal statement, unique story, and relevant experience of being an EMT.
What were the weaknesses of your application?
Probably my cumulative GPA from undergrad, lack in variety for shadowing hours from different settings, not really many other extracurriculars like honors or awards.
What tips do you have for the OT school interview?
Practice, practice, practice. When I interviewed, it was just Q&A style in a group panel. I practiced with my girlfriend a lot and had her critique me on: eye contact, smiling, delivery, enthusiasm, not using fillers “um’s”, and looking confident. Oh, and dress nicely in well-fitted business attire – suits for guys with a tie for sure, nice watch. Sound like you know what OT’s do. Also prepare a strong (but brief) opener for a quick background about you which makes you stand out from others. Arrive early and just breathe. Be prepared to demonstrate your understanding of OT (and how it is different than PT).
What were the biggest challenges of your Pre-OT journey?
I did not have a lot of support and was kind of on my own. I had to research everything and didn’t really know about blogs or even think to follow OTs on social media. Self-doubt and fear of rejection as well. Waiting and being patient to hear the news and not being anxious. I stayed on track and avoided things like partying, alcohol, etc. It was good that I had a job that distracted me.
What did you learn from this journey?
Especially now with the pandemic, it is even more challenging to do things like finding shadowing hours. Seek support, even if you don’t know anyone – follow some influencers, YouTubers, blogs online. Stay away from negative posts on forums, Reddit, etc. as it won’t do you any good but make you feel discouraged and depressed, e.g., “I didn’t get accepted and this is my 100th time around”. I also learned that being organized and not procrastinating was important. It’s not only luck. Put in the hard work, prepare, practice, and practice more – this will pay off in the end!
What were your favorite resources during your Pre-OT journey?
The two male OT’s that I shadowed were great mentors. I also met another Pre-OT student and we bounced a lot of ideas together – even though we were each other’s competition. At the time, I didn’t really follow any blogs or social media posts like there are now. I don’t think there were even that many at the time? Besides that, one valuable resource was BLS.gov which has a page on OT that has a lot of information.
What type of work do you do now?
I work in a city hospital in the acute rehab unit and I float to the main hospital to various units: med surg, ortho, neuro, cardiac/tele.
Can you give some advice or tips for Pre-OT students?
- Stick with it.
- Talk to your peers & OT’s – connect with them online. Don’t be afraid to comment or DM them.
- Come up with short term goals – break them down further if needed.
- Put these goals on a calendar with deadlines, e.g. application deadlines
- Plan everything ahead if possible – e.g., your letters of recommendation and who you will ask.
- Have backup plans when your plan fails.
- Take care of yourself – physically, mentally, spiritually, eat well, exercise.
- Learn to manage your stress – life will always have stress.
- Have some fun too!
How do we contact or follow you?