1. Remember your “Why”

I can probably guess that you are pursuing a career in occupational therapy because you want to help people. I’m going to take another guess that you either want to work with children who have developmental disabilities or with adults in rehabilitation. Or maybe you want to help people with mental health conditions. Some of you may want to do hand therapy or some other specialty. This is one of your whys.

But there should be more reasons why you want to become an occupational therapist. I am not talking about good pay or having fun – although those are nice factors. But those reasons are likely not deep or meaningful enough to pursue, study, and have a fulfilling career in occupational therapy.

If you don’t know, I encourage you to really take the time to stop and reflect.

Life is filled with challenges. Conflict. Disparities. Injustice. Disease. Racism. Some type of bad. There is and always will be opposites between two things:

  • Rich vs. poor
  • Left wing vs. right wing
  • Majority vs. minority
  • Government vs. independent
  • Healthy vs. unhealthy
  • Privileged vs. unpriviledged

Why is your “why” so important? Because occupational therapy is hard. OT school will be hard. Clinicals will be hard (some students may cry everyday during clinicals). And your OT job will be hard.

This is not to discourage you at all! It is to get you prepared for the reality of a career in healthcare in the US. The reality of the health of our communities. And how you, as one occupational therapist can actually make a difference, even it may not seem like it.

President John F. Kennedy was visiting NASA headquarters for the first time in 1961. While touring the facility, he introduced himself to a janitor who was mopping the floor and asked him what he did at NASA.

“I’m helping put a man on the moon!”

Therapists who maintain sight of their “why” are more likely to have joy and satisfaction with their job and are less likely to burnout. Because there will be a lot of things that are “unfair” – access to healthcare, the clients you treat, your scheduling, productivity demands, the lack of time or resources available – whatever it may be, your why will give you purpose and meaning to doing everything you do, even insignificant things like putting together your resume.

2. Find Inspiration

And it does not need to be just OT. Watch videos of TED talks, healthcare workers, or even ordinary day people who are standing up for what is right and doing what they believe will make a difference in the lives of our communities.

3. Make the best of your time

You will likely have some time before the next application deadline. Or even if you don’t – it does not matter. Everyone, especially students who are waiting to get accepted into a program should make the best of their time. What can you do?

Sure it may sound cliche, but you really should learn something new each day. Learn skills that will help you in your career – a foreign language that is spoke a lot in your community, how to better communicate, write better e-mails (which will help with your documentation), learn to type faster, read more books, or pursue a new hobby like photography. It does not need to be expensive. YouTube is free! By the way, check out our YouTube channel for videos made for students and new grads.

Besides learning something new like a new skill, if you have the time – I highly recommend taking up a part-time job in a related field to strengthen your application and make you stand out even more.

  • EMT
  • Rehab aide
  • Teacher aide
  • CNA
  • ABA
  • Coaching, mentoring, or teaching

4. Strengthen your application

Step 3 will help to strengthen your application but look at each of the other components and how you can improve them. If you did not get great marks in a pre-requisite, consider taking it again. This knowledge will help you when you practice out in the field. Everyone can probably learn to write better -> resume and personal statement. Try to get more shadowing and volunteering hours. Practice interview and communication skills. While this may seem like a lot, let’s take a look at step 5.

5. Set new goals and deadlines

Deadlines are easy to set – the dates for when applications end, when enrollment begins and ends for classes, when jobs open, etc. The key is staying organized and prioritizing what is most important.

Let things that are not under your control go.

Think back on your #1 – your why and use this to guide and motivate you in setting new goals. Set long-term goals, but also short-term ones (these are easier to achieve). I recommend setting your goals to be “SMART” goals: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and within an appropriate amount of Time. Then put them in your calendar and/or on your wall and cross them off when you finish them. Checklists are great for this too!

6. Seek help

Sometimes, you may just need some help. It may be a good idea to have someone you trust look over your application or give you input. Some of you may be first-time college students or may not know anyone who works in healthcare. That’s OK.

Seek help either online (on social media) from other occupational therapy students. I also provide consulting services for students who are applying or got rejected from occupational therapy school. This may be worthwhile for you – especially if you are still feeling lost or just want someone to look over your application.

Good luck!

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” ―Thomas Edison