Career Story: Occupational Therapist For A Large School District

Occupational Therapist For A Large School District

Job Title: Occupational Therapist

Education: Teaching certificate, Mazatlan, Mexico •• BS in Psychology, University of Arizona •• MS in Occupational Therapy, Colorado State University •• Became a Certified Infant Massage Instructor through International Association of Infant Massage.

Previous Experience: Taught English (as a second language) in Mexico at the elementary and college level. Under contract with the state of Arizona I worked as an early interventionist for an agency in Arizona that served special needs population,

Job Tasks: I work for a large school district with a department of 22 Occupational Therapists (OT) providing services primarily to students identified as special needs -- this includes students with learning disablities, cerebral palsy, Down Syndrome, and autism. I see students in grades preschool through high school, traveling to different schools throughout the week.

Primary responsibilities are treatment, evaluations and developing educationally relevant goals. All services are geared towards supporting the students in accessing their education. The treatment I do varies according to the caseload I have each school year, but on a given day I may conduct a preschool group in an activity designed to improve hand function for school tool use, then work with students that have handwriting issues. I next might see a student that has feeding issues during his/her lunch, later I may consult with a teacher on ways to improve attention for a student in the class or co-treat with physical therapy or speech therapy for students that have multiple disabilities. Many weeks there may be a team meeting to attend to develop new goals for a student or present evaluation results.

This job involves a lot of team work. In our school district, Occupational Therapists are assigned to co-practice groups, which means you have one or more other OTs working with you whom you share a caseload with and it is nice to have a close partner to bounce ideas off of and even run treatment groups with. As a therapist I am also part of a larger team serving each student, including the teacher(s), the school psychologist, parents and, possibly, a speech and language pathologist and a physical therapist.

Best practice in our profession is to see the student in his/her classroom, but in some cases a student may be best served pulled out of the classroom one-on-one, in a group or co-treating with another therapist. Determining how to treat a student can be like detective work, determining for each student what is interferring with their learning process and what research is available to address that; it is a blend of informed decision making and art of practice. Treament generally involves child-friendly activities and allows for creativity in designing these activities.

I enjoy interacting with people (students, staff, families), being creative and resourceful and keeping up with research. It is very rewarding to see students make progress and know that I've made a difference.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: The best part of the job is working directly with the students and their teachers and watching progress being made. Being up on the research is important and fun for me, as well as having the opportunity to be creative in designing treatment activities to fit each students needs.

The worst part for me is all the paperwork required to document treatment, write up evaluations and treatment plans, do billling and submit monthly reports - this is mainly because I feel it could all be done more efficiently than the way it is set up. The limited budgets of school districts is also a source of frustration.

Job Tips:
1. Occupational Therapy has a lot of different practice settings (pediatrics, schools, rehab, geriatrics, hands, acute care, ergonomics, work hardening, etc.), invest some time in checking a variety of them out and find what best suits you.

2. When you first start out or if you are changing practice settings, consider having a mentor relationship with another OT -- it benefits your growth as a therapist and the clients you serve.

3. Be a good communicator on your team, it can save you a lot of trouble and document, document, document.

4. Become familiar with a variety of software that can support your creativity in treatement and make your documentation more efficient.

5. Join your local, state and national Occupational Therapy associations. It is a good investment.

Additional Thoughts: The blend of science and art in this profession drew me into it, as well as the inspirational therapists that I observed working before I decided on this career. I generally find that the profession is full of diverse, creative, caring people passionate about what we do and that is very satisfying.

You will spend a lot of time explaining what you do to those outside of the profession as Occupational Therapy is not well known.

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