Q: Please tell us a little bit about yourself! What’s your favorite food? Favorite season? Do you have pets? Best place you’ve ever visited? Tell us what makes you sparkle!
A: My favorite food is a tie between Colombian and Mexican food! Do not have any
pets at the moment, I lost my dog a few years ago and have not been able to bring myself around to getting another pet because I am dreading that grief! But I will for sure get a doggie in the future. I love traveling in general and all the places I’ve been to have their own charm, but the best views I’ve ever seen are definitely in Colombia! (I may be biased)
Q: What degree(s) do you have (any specialties you hold if applicable) what made you interested in pursuing OT, what have you been up to since graduation?
A: I have a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and an associate’s in occupational
therapy. I am also early steps certified and an infant toddler developmental
specialist. I was originally going to pursue a master’s in applied behavior analysis
but on my last semester, a friend of mine introduced me to OT and I fell in love.
Since I graduated in 2014 I have been working as a COTA in an outpatient pediatric
clinic and in early intervention as an ITDS.
Q: What practice settings are you sharing about today?
A: Outpatient pediatric clinic and home health early intervention.
Q: How long have you worked in each of these practice settings?
A: In the clinic setting 5 and a half years and in early intervention 3 years.
Q: Please describe a typical day/work week? How do you balance life with both jobs?
A: Currently, I only have one child in EI so I go to their house once a week and the
rest of my patients I treat via teletherapy. Before covid, I used to see my EI children
in the morning and the clinic patients in the afternoon.
Q: Do you have set days that you work at each location or do you work at one in the morning and one at night?
A: One morning and one afternoon.
Q: What time do you typically arrive/take break(s)/leave work?
A: Pre-Covid I used to work 9:00 A.M.-6:30 PM with lunch break around 1:00 or
when any patient cancelled. Currently, I work throughout the day with many breaks; Caseload has decreased.
Q: Do you formally clock in and clock out, if so, how is on the computer or via sheet, etc.?
A: I do not have to clock in. Just be there for the session
Q: Who provides you with your schedule? Do you typically stay on this schedule or does it fluctuate depending on patients’ availability?
A: At my clinic setting we have a coordinator who typically assigns each therapist a child, however I am very fortunate to be in a very open and collaborative environment where we have a lot of freedom to modify times and schedules as long as we communicate them. For my EI patients, I have full control of my schedule so I coordinate directly with the parents.
Q: How many patients do you typically see? How long do you work with them for?
A: Pre-covid I was treating about 30-35 hours per week, now that has significantly
decreased to about 20. Some children I see 3x per week for one hour, some 2x per
week, some once, it all depends. I sometimes see half hour patients but not often; it
all depends on insurance and what patient is approved for.
Q:What is the productivity expectation at your job? How do you find meeting it?
A: No productivity expectation really.
Q: What type of diagnoses do your clients typically have? Can you please provide 1-2 activities you would do in a standard treatment session with one of these clients/families?
A: ASD, Down syndrome, developmental delays, cerebral palsy…. It all depends on the goals really, but typically I work a lot on sensory integration via platform swings, trampoline, and textures. Gross motor work via obstacle course activities, yoga, animal walks. Fine motor work (depending on their age and skill set) so a lot of intrinsic hand muscle strength tasks, bilateral coordination, eye hand coordination and finger dissociation activities for development and improvement of ADLs and IADLs. I also love to incorporate arts and crafts into my sessions as I find that these types of activities are not just fun, but work on multiple skills at once.
Q: Do you have meetings to attend throughout the day/week? If so, what do they typically entail and who attends these meetings with you?
A: For my clinical setting we do not formally meet, unless there are changes within the company or when a patient of mine is reevaluated by the OTR. In my EI setting, there are monthly meetings via telephone where all providers connect and receive information about any changes to insurance or policies.
Q: What type of documentation do you complete? (i.e. how long does it take, how frequent are your notes due, etc.)
A: For my clinical setting we use a system called Clinicsource, which is in a SOAP note format. They have to be done daily and it usually takes me 3-5 minutes per note. For my EI setting the documentation needs to be done after every visit, however we keep them and we do not turn them in, unless we are asked to or being audited.
Q: What does a typical evaluation look like? How long does it take? What assessment tools do you use?
A: Since I am a COTA I do not conduct evaluations.
Q: What is a ball-park range of what an OT can expect to earn in your practice area (please also include approximate geographical location - rural South Carolina, suburb in Connecticut, etc.) Please also include if this rate is for per diem, with benefits, per visit, etc.
A: Ok, so… here in South Florida the range for COTAs in an outpatient pediatric clinic is from $25-40 and for ITDS providers $60. These are per hour as independent contractors so no benefits, insurance, paid vacation time etc. (This is based off of my personal experience, other places could be different).
Q: How did you get your “foot in the door” to work in this setting?
A: When I was first interested in the field and about to begin my last semester as an undergrad, I called a pediatric clinic and asked if I could do observation hours and I spent a week at the setting and loved it!
Q: What is your favorite part of this practice setting? Can you provide a favorite memory of a patient/client that you know OT positively impacted their life?
A: I love the creativity aspect of being a pediatric COTA; we literally have fun for a living! We are always on our toes and looking for different ways to make our sessions both fulfilling and fun. I also love seeing the improvement in my patients and how that positively impacts their families. Oh Gosh! A really memorable one was one family I was working with, the baby girl has ASD and had a hard time communicating with mom. Being an infant toddler developmental specialist, I get to branch out a little from my OT scope of practice and work on communication skills. So I was able to teach my patient how to use basic signs to express her needs to mom. This took several weeks and mom was so patient, coachable and overall amazing to work with, so when we were able to achieve our goal and form that connection (our girl had poor eye contact and only interacted by crying), it was so exciting to see mom’s reaction and happiness!
Q: What advice do you have for new grads/therapists hoping to transition into one of both of these settings?
A: Do your research and ask to do observation hours!! You may think you want to be in a setting but it is very different once you’re experiencing it first hand. It is very rewarding to work with children, however it can be very challenging as well and not for everyone. You have to really love it and be patient. Ask questions and be attentive and present during sessions!
Q: Do you have any stories (can be funny, sad, real, neutral) or a “big mistake” you’ve made on the job? What happened? How did you correct this mistake (if possible) or what did you learn from it?
A: This is not a story but rather a general word of advice and something I had to
learn the hard way. Tantrums or meltdowns are no fun for the patient or the therapist, so be patient and try to understand where your patient is coming from. I have definitely been bitten, scratched, spat at, hit, my hair has been pulled, you name it! I found that this was most often than not because I tried to get my patients to “Calm down”, when in reality I didn’t know I was overwhelming them with more sensory input by talking. So breathe in, give them some time and space and when they are ready, they will come to you and you can resume session!
Q: How do you personally prioritize your self-care and prevent/manage burnout?
A: Girl, what?!! If you found the solution please share, lol! I am working on that because it is very easy to feel burned out in this job! Traveling is a big one, so before Covid I was always making plans to travel both near and far. I am Colombian so visiting my country several times a year to visit my family helps me to disconnect; needless to say, vacation is non-negotiable for me. Unfortunately, during Covid that has not been possible and I will say it has been a very rough year and I’m trying to find balance the best way I can.
Q: If you’re comfortable sharing, approximately how much money did your OT program cost (including tuition, fees, books, housing if applicable)?
A: I had a scholarship for my undergrad and for my associates in OT it cost
Q: Did you take out loans to help you pay for school? What was that process like?
A: Yes, I took out federal and private loans. The process was simple as my program
was very helpful and walked me through the entire process.
Q: Do you have any advice for pre-OT/OT students who are applying to programs from a financial standpoint?
A: Do your research!!! Compare and contrast programs/schools and make sure that you are going into a field that you love because student loans are not fun and being stuck with a loan for something you don’t enjoy can be very discouraging. Also, research the job market and see if it is worth it to spend X amount of money when you will make X amount as a practitioner.
Q: What is next for you? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
A: Gosh with the way the world is, who knows lol! All jokes aside, I definitely want to solidify and expand my current project which is my OT inspired brand of apparel and accessories! I want to continue to treat and keep making a difference in the lives of the families I work with and to find that life/work balance.
Q: Where would you like to see the OT profession headed in the next 5 years?
A: I would love to see OT more common and practiced in third-world countries. I want it to be more accessible and to be seen as an integral part in the development and well-being of individuals who need it most.
Q: If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself who wants to enter this practice setting as an OT?
A: Be patient, be realistic, be easier and less hard on yourself, learn how to better manage your finances and save money!!
Q: What life motto do you live by?
A: There are so many I’d like to think I live by but that’s not always the case lol. I am going to be completely honest and say that I do not practice what I preach and I am working on that! I am a sometimes emotionally unstable millennial who is navigating adulthood the best way I can, so get back to me in a few years lol!
Q: If you could do it all again would you pursue your same degree and become an OT?
Hi!! My name is Melissa, I am a pediatric COTA and Infant Toddler Developmental
Specialist who lives in sunny south Florida. I was born and raised in Colombia and
moved to the United States when I was 9 years old. I love to travel, I love soccer, and I love food and Netflix a little too much ;) I am a happily married childless millennial, but don’t worry I don’t have baby fever as I get to play with cute babies every day! I am currently creating my own company of OT inspired apparel and accessories that has been delayed due to the pandemic, but I am very excited to launch and share this passion project with all my fellow OT practitioners very soon. In the meantime, you can follow me on instagram: @the.little.otshop where I share resources, my experiences and treatment activities as a current teletherapist!