Why I Chose to be an Occupational Therapist
A collection of interviews to encourage others to join the occupational therapy community.
We interviewed several OTs from around the United States to give you a personal look into why some occupational therapists have chosen this exciting and emerging field. Could you be choosing this field for the same reasons? Scroll down to find out.
Emily Jo Kyburz, MS, OTR, a pediatric occupational therapist for Motor Milestones, Inc. in Boulder, Colorado, says she chose occupational therapy because she knew she wanted to work with people. “I was very excited about a field that uses the activities that are most important to people as the basis and end goal of therapy. OT has many diverse opportunities, so there are many great options for careers within the field of OT. It is a field that encourages creativity and lets me do what I love.”
Sarah Tucker, MS, OTR/L, the OTA Program Director at Brown Mackie College – Birmingham and member of the Alabama State Licensing Board, had this to say when asked why she decided to become an occupational therapist: “My grandmother was an OT and graduated from OT school in 1946. In junior high I learned about OT and asked my grandmother about it. I started reading professional OT journals at twelve years old and never wavered [in my belief] that I was going to become an OT. I always knew I wanted to work with children and families and was able to find… a five-year combined BS/MS program. I graduated from Ithaca College and worked at Children’s Hospital doing many different things [before] becoming a Program Director. I always loved helping people and empowering others to help themselves… discover their strengths and confidence in themselves to succeed. OT is a profession that has never felt like a “job.” It has always been a part of who I am.”
Cindy Clark MS, OTR, BCP, CIMI/L, from Amaryllis Therapy Network in Denver, Colorado, says, “It allows me to follow my passions of science and art and work with children.” She goes on to say, “I play every day and learn something new every day.”
Jennifer Olenwine MOT,OTR/L, the clinical coordinator and clinician at Amaryllis Therapy Network, says, “After college I tried entering several business models. Nothing was a fit for me. I then did some volunteer hours at an OT clinic and right than I knew that OT was the fit for me. I applied two rounds to get into grad school. Never gave up. Grad school for OT was life changing.”
Joshua Springer, OTS, the Founder of brOT Movement Inc. gave us a different perspective. He explains, “What if there was a job that allowed someone to have endless flexibility and creativity; a profession that is respected and is in overwhelming demand. A job where you aren’t “stuck in the office” and get the opportunity to work with individuals from all walks of life. What if there was a profession that allowed freedom of choice and gave you the ability to connect with patients on an individual level. Most importantly, wouldn’t it be nice to find a job in which you could make an impact, big or small, on the lives of each individual person you worked with? I found this job and that is why I decided to pursue a degree in occupational therapy. I wanted a job where I could think out of the box, and create individual specific treatments based upon their interests and needs. Job security and availability was a top priority, and found that occupational therapy is on the rise and will continue to be in demand for many years to come. Lastly and most importantly, I wanted to pursue a career which I could make an impact on each individual person I worked with, regardless if it was big or small. No money or gift will ever replace the feeling I get when I see/help someone succeed and smile after accomplishing an activity or task they couldn’t do before.”
Susan Coppola, the AOTA delegate for the WFOT, says, “When I discovered the importance of occupation in people’s lives, including my own, I knew OT was for me. I am fascinated [with] how people function physically, mentally, and emotionally. These are all parts of Occupation, and therefore part of our clinical reasoning process that I am drawn to. OT embraces the mind-body connection more than any other field, and actually uses that understanding systematically to help people achieve their goals.”
Mindy Wolff MA, OTR/L, who works at both Amaryllis Therapy Network and Tennyson Center for Children, didn’t want to be an occupational therapist at first. “I chose to be an OT because I was interested in helping people and originally wanted to be a psychologist. But then I realized I wanted a field [in which I could see] more tangible results. I was interested in development, neurology, and psychology, and OT seemed to be a great fit! The field is such that you can never get bored. The scope of practice is so big!”
Dave Bockhorn, a COTA from Mountainview Care Center in Las Vegas, said he chose to become an occupational therapist assistant “as a result of taking the Myers Briggs Personality Type indicator.” According to the Myers Briggs Foundation, the purpose of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®) personality inventory is to make the theory of psychological types described by C. G. Jung understandable and useful in people’s lives. The Foundation goes on to say, “Type is more than just the sum of the four preferences. The four-letter MBTI® type formula is a shorthand way of telling you about the interaction of your four mental functions and which ones you prefer to use first.” It’s a great way to see whether or not you are up for the challenges of occupational therapy, and it’s available online or it can be administered by a certified practitioner.
Christina M Toohill, MOT, OTR/L, an occupational therapist at Easter Seals Peoria-Bloomington, chose occupational therapy as a career because of her brother. “I am one of five children, and my youngest brother has cerebral palsy. I can remember being told he had cerebral palsy and my parents trying to explain that to all of us kids—we were in early grade school—riding with my family to his therapy appointments or getting in the way when his OT came to the house for his sessions, playing therapy with my sisters. And yes, Brian was our only client. We loved the fact that everyone in our family was involved in helping him achieve new milestones! I told my fifth-grade class I was going to become an OT when we went around the classroom to say what we wanted to be when we grew up. I decided on OT before I fully understood what this meant. I may have decided in grade school, but my decision never changed as I learned what an occupational therapist does and the variety of settings they can work in. I wanted to work with not only children, but their families. From my own experience I learned that when a child has special needs, not only the child receives therapy—the whole family is involved. Brian is now 27, and I can still picture him with his therapist. I hope that I can have as positive an impact on a family as his therapists did on our family.”
Like her colleague Christina, Angie K DeLost, MOT,OTR/L, ATP from Easter Seals Peoria-Bloomington, also chose OT because of someone close to her. When asked why she chose occupational therapy as a career she said, “One of my friends experienced a traumatic brain injury from a three-wheeler accident when I was a sophomore in high school. She was in a coma for months, and at times not expected to live. I participated in many of her therapy sessions and really liked the holistic and functional approach provided by the OT. My friend now lives in an assisted-living environment and does quite well given the extent of her injuries. I saw how all the therapists were so passionate about helping her, and what a significant impact they made in my friend’s life and her family’s. I wanted to have a career that had the potential to change lives in a positive way!”
Heather McKay, MS, OTR/L, a nationally recognized Dementia Care Specialist and team member of Hospice Palliative Care of Alamance and Caswell Counties in North Carolina, says, “Like many OTs, I remember learning about the principles of occupational therapy and feeling an immediate match with my own values and personal goals. In my own life, I experience the wide range of occupations in work, self-care, and leisure. I believe those occupations support who I am and what I want to accomplish in my life. I appreciate the healing power of occupation and one’s ability to maintain wellness through occupational engagement. So applying those principles to help people has always excited me.”
Becoming an occupational therapist will not only change your life; it will make a positive impact on others’ lives too. According to the Bureau of Labor & Statistics, OT is one of the fastest growing careers, and it is almost recession-proof. All the occupational therapists interviewed above have unique situations that helped them choose OT as a career. Do you see yourself in these scenarios? Are you ready to take the next step toward becoming an OT? If so, look into occupational therapy schools in your state to see which one is best for you.