One of the many reasons why occupational therapy makes such a great career is the fact that there are almost limitless settings in which we can practice. The beauty of OT is that we can literally do anything; all we have to do is shift gears and put on our learning caps!
Acute care occupational therapists deal with a wide variety of medical conditions and diagnoses.
Pros of this setting include: Acute care is known for its flexibility. You often get to choose your own schedule, and every day is different. The pay is average, but you have a lot of access to hospital resources for CEUs and lunch and learns.
Cons of this setting: If you don’t want to be running around a hospital all day, this is not the setting for you and often, these OTs don’t get to see the complete progress of their patients.
Bottom line: If bodily fluids and heavy transfers don't scare you away, the benefits are plentiful. Acute care is also known for teamwork and is all about interdisciplinary teamwork and flexibility.
Skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) is a huge employment area for occupational therapists. If you have a soft spot for the geriatric population, this is the setting for you!
Pros of this setting: These OTs are rewarded with high pay and heartfelt stories from older generations. If you are working in home health, you have the flexibility of setting your daily schedule.
Cons of this setting: The SNF setting can be stressful, has lots of paperwork, and (sometimes) unmotivated clients.
Bottom line: Choose these settings if you like working in geriatrics, looking for a good salary, and don’t mind a fast paced setting with some flexibility.
Variety is the spice of life, and travel occupational therapists like their work to be flavorful! Travel occupational therapists work for ~13weeks at a time, then move on to another location in the US.
Pros include constant variety and change; you will never get bored. There is a continual opportunity to learn from other clinicians, learn new EMRs, meet new people, and see new clinics (or even states)! Plus, the pay is incredibly high for our industry!
Cons include a hectic, stressful lifestyle with constant changes. You will constantly get comfortable in one spot, then need to move on. Some new grads find this setting too fast-paced for their taste, while others see it as an opportunity to learn.
Bottom line: If you make friends easily, love traveling, enjoy constant change, and look at a whole new job every 3 months as exciting, rather than intimidating, traveling OT could be for you!
Pediatric OTs love working on family education, thinking outside the box, and working with motivated clients and families! Clinics can be specialized, so you will work with a specific type of diagnoses often, or very generalized with a large variety of clients, ages, and functional levels!
Pros of this setting include having someone else to handle scheduling, cancellations, and other logistical headaches, easy access to other OTs (and potentially PTs and SLPs) to learn from and grow with, and typically motivated clients, with consistent opportunity to work closely with families.
Cons of this setting include a tight schedule, meaning that you'll be working with the parents and families of your client, while you are also trying to engage the child in a motivating, purposeful task, handle productivity requirements, and get all of your paperwork finished. You are constantly interacting with others, and don’t often get a moment to yourself until you get into your car at the end of the day. Also, the pay is average and the setting can be tough on your body.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you love being part of a team, find meaning in the relationships built with families, and like going to work in the same place every day!
OTs in a school setting love to create a positive learning environment for their students, enjoy sharing their knowledge with coworkers through in-services and consultations, and love getting to know and grow with their caseload.
Pros in this setting include getting your summers free, plus the ability to work on skill development in the actual environment, address social skills with peers, utilize structured expectations and goals, no weekend/evening/summer clients, communication with parents/families on your terms, and typically work with students with a more moderate level of disability.
Cons in this setting include the fact that you're sometimes limited with what you can address (LOTS of handwriting), often lack of direct support from other OTs, scheduling can be a nightmare and requires strong communication, flexibility, and self-advocacy skills, LOTS of documentation for IEPs, quarterly progress, and daily progress notes, limited access to parents, often limiting carryover to the home, sometimes hindering pace of progress.
This setting is for you if you love the classroom and school-based activities, have strong communication, problem-solving, and self-advocacy skills, and enjoy seeing a student progress throughout the school year!
Work hardening occupational therapists have varied roles. They can work with companies to do employment pre-screens, or they can work with injured workers to implement programs to prepare workers to return to the job. This setting is generally less taxing on one's body than other practice settings.
Pros of this setting include a good job outlook (more and more companies are using these services), low physical demand on the body, motivated patients (usually), and a unique job description.
Cons of this setting include its repetitive (possibly boring) nature, meaning that your skills might grow stale. Not all environments offer this type of work, either.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you're a creature of habit who enjoys a calm, predictable workday with little chance for your own workplace injury.
Acute inpatient rehab occupational therapists are, in many ways, the original occupational therapists. They work in units where patients stay for a few weeks at a time, helping people learn to be as functionally independent as possible. This work is highly rewarding and physically demanding, and clinicians have the opportunity to form strong bonds with patients in a short period of time.
Pros of this setting include rewarding work, (generally) motivated patients, the opportunity to see and treat a number of unique diagnoses, interdisciplinary collaboration and teamwork, and consistent hours.
Cons: Pursue this setting if you are strong and healthy, and enjoy working with a population who will benefit directly from your therapy every single day.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you enjoy complicated diagnoses and value building relationships with your clients.
Many mental health OTs work in state-run or government facilities. They may even work in prisons or community programs.
Pros of this setting include a more creative freedom, a relaxed work day, growing practice area, on-the-job crafting, and often flexible hours. You have more autonomy in treatment modalities and lots of opportunities to incorporate fun occupations and your personal passions.
Cons of this setting include group preparation homework and off-the-clock planning. It's like being a daily public motivational speaker, below average pay, low budget, with small job market currently.
Bottom Line: This setting takes assertive people skills and personal charisma. However, with often a heavy sensory integration influence, It's an opportunity to get paid to practice coping skills. Who couldn't use better mental health?
OTs working in hand therapy and certified hand therapists (CHT) are highly specialized and trained individuals. They enjoy the rigidity of treatment plans and strict protocols combined with the creativity of creating splints and interventions.
Pros of this setting include the fact that CHTs garner a lot of respect for their specific knowledge of detailed anatomy. They often see a pay increase with their certification as well! Generally, these jobs come with stable schedules with weekends off.
Cons of this setting include the fact that the outpatient environment can be fast paced with little wiggle room between clients. If you are working in a private practice, there may be additional pressure from a small business such as self-promoting and advertising. Hand therapy can be difficult to break into and requires extra education.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you LOVE anatomy, enjoy working closely with physicians, and don't mind occasionally promoting yourself or your business.
Ever heard of adult day services? Neither had we, til we had been OTs for a few years already! Adult day services facilities allow patients' family members to drop them off for care and therapy while the caregiver is out running errands or working. Occupational therapists at adult day care centers enjoy the opportunity to work with all sorts of personality types, without taxing their own bodies too much.
Pros of adult day services include flexible hours, a mellow work environment, working with an often underserved population, and minimal paperwork demands.
Cons of adult day services include the possibility of creative interventions going unused, (sometimes) unmotivated patients, lower pay, and the fact that you usually need a second job to make 40 hours per week.
Bottom line: Pursue this setting if you are a "work to live type", and you wish to pursue other careers, hobbies, or family interests outside of your workplace.
Home health occupational therapists enjoy flexibility, high pay, and the opportunity to treat patients in their homes at a relaxed pace.
These therapists help patients function at their best, helping to order and fit equipment and recommend safety features to prevent falls. HHOTs spend much of their days driving around and completing documentation, but the OTs who love it REALLY love it.
Pros of this setting include truly helping patients function in their homes, flexibility in schedule/day, no workplace politics and high pay.
Cons of this setting include high wear and tear on your car, spending a lot of time alone in your car, no camaraderie from coworkers, and insanely long documentation requirements.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you want to make an excellent living, value privacy, and enjoy getting to know others in their own homes.
Long term acute care (LTAC) occupational therapists have the best of both the acute care and SNF worlds. Patients who go to LTACs need acute (hospital level) medical care, but often need SNF rehab level function (or even higher!) OTs who work in LTACs often work in teams with PTs, as the patients are often attached to many lines and wires. Bodily fluids and germs are a reality, as well.
Pros include plenty of camaraderie with other therapists, gratification when patients graduate to another level of care, opportunity to learn from other clinicians and flex your creative treatment muscles, and the opportunity to work with patients whom will truly benefit from your care.
Cons include physical demanding work, sometimes a depressing environment, lots of germs, and bodily fluid.
Bottom line: Choose this setting if you want a gratifying position where you work closely with other rehab professionals to improve the lives of gravely ill patients.
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