Q: Please tell me a little bit about yourself! Where are you from? What’s your educational background so far? What are your interests? Favorite colors? Got any pets? What makes your soul sparkle?
A: I am from Texas but I went to school out of state. I have a masters degree in OT. no pets. I am so excited for halloween because I have ALWAYS wanted to have trick-or-treaters!! Being in school for the past seven years I haven’t lived in a place where kids trick or treat. So that is currently making my soul sparkle. I play guitar and read. I honestly like to do nothing a lot as well.
Q: What degree(s) do you have/when did you graduate? What has it been like taking the board and applying to jobs during the pandemic? How are you currently feeling in general and feeling in regards to OT?
A: I have a bachelor of arts in physical and behavioral studies and a masters of occupational therapy. I graduated with my masters in May of 2020, virtually of course. I had a super hard time motivating myself to study for the boards for multiple reasons. I do not study well at home, home is where I relax. I have to go to the library. But from March-May everywhere was closed. I had also moved back home with my parents as there was no reason to stay in a different state if I wasn’t going to school with a global pandemic going on. In March I was like “OK. It’s time to study.” And then April rolled around and I was like “Haha alright, now it’s time to study” And then it was May and I was like “OK. Dude. We have got to get it together. If you fail this test you will regret it forever. It’s very expensive and We don’t want to drag this out.” But I still didn’t have a test date set in stone. So I convinced myself I could not start studying until I had a test date. I mean I didn’t want to overstudy which is totally a thing. Once it was around June 7th I was finally able to go to the library in my hometown, which is more geared towards families and not people doing some serious studying. I wore a mask and went every single day except for Sundays for about 3 weeks. The testing center was super crowded. I had gotten there early, because I have anxiety about being late, so I was able to get a good spot in line. We had to test with our masks on which wasn’t ideal but doable. The center was so crowded that I didn’t want to risk going to the bathroom and having to wait to be checked back into the testing room since the time on our test does not stop if we take a break. I ended up passing with flying colors. After getting licensed and registered I was very much like “Now what?” This is what I have been working for my entire life. Literally. That was it. And now I don’t have a deadline to meet or a test to take or a paper to write. It was a strange feeling.
I have been actively searching for a job since July. In reality it hasn’t been THAT long but it sure feels like it. Anyone who is hiring is looking for experienced therapists. They aren’t interested in training new grads right now, which I totally get. The thing that grinds my gears the most is not hearing ANYTHING. Like, I don’t care if I’m not the candidate for you. Just tell me that so I can move on to another prospect. It's kinda like dating, I don’t want to get ghosted. I have lost count to the amount of jobs I have applied to and I have heard back from two and interviewed for one. Things are still pending. I feel behind my classmates because I feel like everyone has a job but me, which isn’t true it just feels that way. I am scared of getting a job I hate because I never *loved* any of my fieldwork rotations.
I have honestly felt a little betrayed by OT. I was always told “wow what a great choice! You will always have a job and you can work anywhere!” Of course no one saw the pandemic coming. Now I keep hearing “Everyone recovering from COVID is going to need you. There will be a hiring surge.” I won’t hold my breath.
Everyone applauds your career choice but no one tells you how difficult it is to get into these programs. Sometimes I get annoyed with OTs because everyone (including ourselves) stereotypes us as the feeler, creative, arts and crafts people. Which is honestly insulting. I kept waiting to learn all the OT magic stuff in school and it never came. A lot of stuff is just common sense. My brain is more wired toward the biomechanical/science aspect and I question if I should have just become a PT after all.
Q: What drew you towards occupational therapy? Why did you select OT as your major over other health professional careers?
A: When I was eleven I was in an accident that resulted in a compound fracture of my Tibia and Fibula. I had seventeen surgeries and went through a lot of therapy myself. That experience got me interested in the medical field. I knew I didn’t want to be a nurse or a doctor, and I thought PTs were mean (lol). I also didn't want to go to college for a total of seven years (which is exactly what I ended up doing). So I found OT which seemed like a good mix of PT and speech. I liked that there were a lot of things you could do with it. As someone who doesn’t like to commit to one thing I liked the diversity.
Let’s spill the tea for a quick second on what it was really like for you to apply to grad schools..
Q: How many schools did you apply to? How did you go about selecting these schools?
A: Where I went to school they have a grad program for OT. At the time you would apply to OT school your junior year of undergrad and begin the program your senior year of undergrad. It is a three year masters program so ideally you would only go to school for six years. I applied my junior year and didn’t get in. I was left a senior in college with no major. I was so lost and helpless. The advisors were not trained properly to get me from point A to point B. At this point I had to pick a random major that I had the most credits for which ended up being human relations. A major that would cause me to graduate a semester behind even going to full time summer school. Not to mention I would not be able to attain any prerequisites for other OT schools. That was something I realized quite late in the game. That different OT schools all require different variations of the same classes. I cried all summer before my HR classes. I felt a lot of pressure because if I did get into OT school that spring, I would not have a bachelor's degree and I would have wasted $30,000 on a major I hated for literally no reason. After doing research I found that my university has an option for students to create their own major if they believe the university doesn’t offer it. I quickly jumped on this opportunity. After creating my class schedule which included the prerequisites I needed and allowing me to graduate on time all I had to do was write a proposal as to why I needed this major as well as give it a name. The university doesn’t like for students to know about this option because it makes their numbers look bad. Which is truly gross. What I learned from the whole experience is that no one is going to look out for you except for YOU. Do your research and do it early. Don’t wait. I did end up getting into my school's OT program my senior year and finishing in a total of seven years.
I did get a binder and print everything I needed to know about each OT program that was near me. Such things included application deadlines, classes I needed, score requirements, etc. I wish I had done this SO much earlier. I could have had a better plan in place when things went south. OTCAS was also a newer thing, I think that makes things a little easier now. In the end I applied to two schools. If I hadn’t gotten in I was going to continue to apply to other schools in the fall when the other deadlines were.
Q: What was the cost to applying to schools (approximately) were there any other fees you were not expecting beyond application fees? (maybe GRE fees or anything else?
A: I’m not sure but it was expensive. For my school’s application there was a fee and then along with that I had to pay the OTCAS fee. There are always little fees you have to pay along the way. I ended up getting a tutor for the GRE as I need help with math. So if you think you'll need a tutor you should budget for that. It made a huge difference for me.
Q: How many hours of shadowing experience did you need to apply to school?
A: I believe I needed 15-20 but I ended up getting a few more than that. I’ve been told they don’t care if you have 100 or 15 as long as you just do what’s required.
Q: What was this process like for you to get those hours? Do you have any tips for other pre-OT students on how to earn these hours (especially with things so different with the pandemic)?
A: I had connections that I was able to utilize to my advantage. So if you have any doctor friends ask them to pull some strings and then write a nice thank you letter after! Things are so hard right now. Just reach out to clinics in your area respectfully and explain your situation. If they can’t help you ask them if they can direct you to a clinic that might be open to having you.
Q: Did you need certain pre-req classes? Do you remember (approximately) what these classes were? Had you already taken these during your bachelor or did you need to return separately to earn these credits?
A: I went on about this quite a bit above so I won't elaborate too much. Just make sure you know what each school wants as early as possible and plan accordingly. I do recommend taking the classes that will be more difficult for you at a community college if possible. It’s less expensive, smaller class sizes, and you will likely get a better grade. I ended up taking physiology at the community college and it saved my science GPA.
Ok so now let’s chat about your OT program!
Q: What was your favorite thing about your experience in OT school/your program?
A: One of my favorite experiences was in our neuro class. We had people who had CVAs, TBIs, and SCIs come and work with us on three separate projects. It really helped put our skills to real life work. I also liked that we took a lot of classes at the beginning with the PT students, it helped to build a bond between us and really understand each other. I think there is too much immature rivalry between the two fields especially when you are students.
Q: What do you wish your professors/the program had focused more on?
A: I always wanted more practical stuff. One day we made a trip to the community college nearby to do a project with the COTA students. They had just taken an exam and were discussing the questions. All of the questions were super practical stuff that we as OTs should know. I felt embarrassed and angry that we were not being taught that super practical information. I also wanted more treatment ideas. Like I wanted our classes to be like “This is what cerebral palsy is and this is how you would move forward in treating this patient. These are the things you would look for. Etc.” But we never really got treatment ideas. It was always just how to identify certain problems or diagnoses but never how to treat them. We were always told that we’d figure it out but having some guidance would be helpful. Our program had a lot of issues. It’s a three year masters degree, we were side by side the PTs for the first year-ish and then we split off but still had some classes together. The PTs were getting their doctorate while we were just getting a masters. No reason for our program to be the same length as theirs. It just felt like a money grab.
Q: Do you feel like your program adequately prepared you for fieldworks/”the real world” after graduation?
A: I didn’t realize that I would graduate and have to find a job that would train me. Like that I was not going to be expected to waltz in and know what I’m doing. I wish goal writing and documentation would have been focused on more as it wasn’t given much attention in class. Something that is also kind of scary when I think about it is our teachers aren’t the ones who are teaching us to be therapists, it’s our fieldwork educators. They are the ones building the field of OT. That’s a pretty big responsibility.
Q: If you’re comfortable sharing, approximately how much money did your program(s) cost?
A: I think it was around $100,000 if I include books and housing and fees and nbcot cost
Q: Do you have any advice for pre-OT/OT students who are applying to programs from a financial standpoint?
A: More expensive doesn’t always mean better. We all have the same results in the end. Do your research and apply to schools that make sense for you from a financial standpoint.
Ok, let’s chat fieldwork! Where did you complete your level II field works?
Q: How many weeks were you fieldworks and what settings were they in?
A: We complete a total of four fieldworks. I was at an inpatient rehab on the brain injury team, a unique pediatric setting, a SNF, and inpatient rehab. The first one is four weeks while the other three are eight weeks. I didn’t know this was abnormal until they asked us our opinion on changing it up. My classmates and I loved that we had the opportunity to see four different settings. Also, I cannot imagine being at a place for 12 weeks. Once the eight week mark hit I was ready to leave. I personally don’t see a benefit to extending another month. After eight weeks I felt confident and comfortable in my particular settings. Also, I am not about working for free for longer than I have to.
Q: What was your favorite setting and why?
A: My favorite setting was probably the inpatient rehab on the brain injury team, which is a bummer because I was only there for four weeks as a FW I student not knowing anything. I also still didn’t *love* the setting. I never felt like I found a setting that I was like “I could do this every day.” I also felt like I got the same rotation two times in a row for my most important ones (FW3 and FW4). The SNF and inpatient rehab were like the same thing so I was really disappointed in my very last fieldwork. I really wanted something to challenge me and to be able to learn a lot while I was still a student and not practicing on my license.
Q: Were your fieldworks affected by the pandemic at all? What was that like? How did you sites/your program handle it?
A: Thankfully we were finished on the last day of February and were not affected.
Q: What were you CI’s like at each placement? Did your learning styles match or did you feel you had to adapt to their CI’s learning/teaching style?
A: I always said that I didn’t care if the setting sucked but if I had a stellar CI that was all that mattered. Because an amazing setting doesn’t matter if you have a bad CI. But you can still learn so much and have a good time in a setting you don’t care about if you have a great CI. I was my first CI’s very first student. I think that held us back a lot because she didn’t really know what to do with me and I didn’t know what to expect. I hardly touched a patient. I was a glorified observer. But she was kind to me, I got to see cool stuff and that was all I really cared about. I felt guilty if I needed extra help or didn’t know what I was doing. I don’t care for the sink or swim method. In every setting it was typically me adapting to my CI. I never had a CI that was mean, I did hear horror stories, but I never jived with any of them as I wanted to. In the end they aren’t your friend, you are the student and they are your instructor.
Q: What was the hardest part about your fieldwork experiences?
A: Goodness. Probably seeing really tragic stuff and not knowing how to deal with it. I would think about certain patients a lot, still do. One of the things that I really had to work on was being the boss. A lot of older patients will try and boss you around during your session, you have to learn how to take control and show that you are in charge and that when they are with you they will be doing that particular transfer the safe way. I had one particular gentleman who loved to explain to me how to do my job. I really had to work on proving that I knew what I was doing and that he needed to listen to me. Still working on it to be honest but my CI was really good at it and I admired her for it.
Q: If you could do it again would you have selected those locations for your fieldworks? Why/why not?
A: During my time in the program they were trying to find a new fieldwork coordinator because the one we had was not good at her job so I was promised some things that didn’t transpire and I felt cheated out of other experiences. I would have chosen to do the one I did first last because it really was not appropriate for a FWI student and honestly shouldn’t have even been an option for FWI. Even though I have never had the desire to work with children my pediatrics rotation was incredibly helpful for me and I really enjoyed it. I would have liked to change up the last of my rotations. I was told to do acute for my last fieldwork and when it came time to put in our preferences there were no acute sites to choose from.
Q: How did you prepare for your fieldworks? Did you feel adequately prepared upon arrival or did you need to hustle and teach yourself after leaving your placement for the day?
A: I usually asked my CI before the first day if there was anything I needed to brush up on before I started and went from there. I also got a small notebook that fit in the pocket of my scrubs. If something was mentioned during the day whether it was a word or diagnoses I didn't know I would write it down in my notebook to look up and define later. In my last rotation I would also write down the treatments I was doing which became helpful later on when I would get stuck with a patient I could go back and see things we’d done previously. I would definitely go home and brainstorm about treatment ideas for the next day. We also had to complete projects during our time in fieldwork which was always annoying when you’re just trying to succeed as a fieldwork student.
Q: If you could go back what would you have done differently during your fieldwork or to prepare for your fieldworks?
A: I really don’t have anything I would have done differently, which isn’t helpful. Maybe I would have tried to enjoy it more? I was really just trying to get through it. Also it is a good idea to network with the people there. You want them to be references for you when you are job hunting in the future. Also, you’re going to make mistakes, forgive yourself for them. I kept beating myself up after seeing a patient on my very last day because I got her R and L mixed up and was so confused when I transferred her. She was totally fine and it was not a big deal but I was so annoyed with myself for doing something so dumb on my last day.
Q: What was the workload like on your fieldwork? What were the requirements/expectations at the placement and what were the requirements for the university?
A: The scary thing about fieldworks is that you have no idea what to expect. I would try and do my research by looking at reviews on typhon (the system my school used for fieldwork placements) as well as asking other classmates about their experiences. Some CIs are really strict and go by the book while others couldn’t care less. We have a list of expectations and so do the FW sites but no one really reads them. I think the thing that gave me anxiety about fieldwork was midterm calls and reading that I was supposed to be entry level at the end of the experience. I think my last fieldwork handled it the best by slowly having me take over. They also didn’t have a lot of patients, like I would see the same five people every single day unless I had to do an eval. When my first inpatient rehab experience was much more intense. My SNF was also much more intense. There was sooo much paperwork and evals took forever. The days that were long were the ones with 7 evals. They also used Optic which requires a lot more typing than Epic in my experience.
Q: Any advice for students who are nervous to get started with fieldwork? Particularly during this time with the pandemic?
A: Just be flexible, show up with a good attitude ready to take on whatever is thrown at you. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know or ask your CI to show you something. Your CI is also just as new to this situation as you are. Also, invest in a comfortable pair of shoes that you only wear at work, I recommend the on-running brand.
Q: How did you prioritize your self-care as you navigated grad school and particularly while searching for jobs during this unprecedented times?
A: Honestly not sure how well I’m doing at it currently! Things are hard right now and that’s ok. I check my email way too often during the day and dream about potential jobs at night. The thing with job hunting is that you always feel like you need to be applying but in reality you have to do a lot of waiting. I take a lot of baths to be honest.
Q: Are there any questions or advice that friends, family, or society are asking or saying to you that you are finding stressful during this?
A: My parents haven’t had to job hunt in 30+ years so they don’t understand how things work nowadays. It's no longer appropriate to show up to the place you’d like to work and hand them your resume. I think that would get me black listed. Everything is done online initially. Places don’t want to be bothered right now. I’m not going to call them up on the phone and ask if they have any openings because they will ask if I have checked the job postings online.
Q: What, if anything, would you rather them do to support you and help you during this time to help you best?
A: Just to be understanding with the process. Which they get it now that we’ve talked about it. My parents and friends are super supportive, they can see that I am trying my best and we are all in the same boat.
Q: What advice would you give to yourself if you could go back in time to when you first began exploring OT/programs?
A: Like I said above, figure out what prerequisites you need for each program early. Get it all organized and plan your class schedule accordingly. And get A’s in your blow off classes you need the GPA boost. You’re gonna be alright.
*also some programs only look at your most recent 60 hours for GPA. food for thought.
FIND A MENTOR IF YOU CAN. Like find someone who went to the same school as you who is a couple of years older who is in the OT program. They can help you so much! They can give insight on which classes to take to fulfill certain credits, which professors to avoid etc etc. That information is invaluable. It’s a smart move that could save you.
Alright friends, Robyn here! A huge, huge thank you to this amazing anonymous OT who so graciously shared so many gems of information and insight. Personally, I learned a lot It as been a while since I've gone through the college admissions process/school and learning about how much has changed (and also what has stayed the same) was really interesting. I hope that you enjoyed all that this lovel indiviusal had to share and I will you all a beautiful week filled with love and excitement! xoxox