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Should I become an OT?
I’m a grade 11 student and my mother says I need to start thinking about careers now because it’s so hard to find a job these days. Not only that, my mother’s best friend, who is an occupational therapist at a hospital, says that I should think about becoming an OT because I get good marks in science and I’m good with people. I feel kind of pressured: it took my mother’s friend more than six years to get her degree and I don’t know if I want to go to school that long. What do you think?
I understand where your mother is coming from — it does make a lot of sense to plan your career ahead of time instead of falling into a job, as so many of us do. Still, at your age, it’s really hard to know what you want to be when you “grow up.” I think you’re wise to question taking the path of occupational therapist (OT), not that it’s a bad field, it’s a great career — for the right person. I’d encourage you to explore many options before deciding on one career path. If you have a guidance counsellor at your school book an appointment with him or her. You can also do some career assessments on your own. The Alberta Learning Information Site has great resources including a number of self-assessment tools. As well, take a look at the career planning section of the NextSteps website. In addition to sections on career exploration and choosing a career, NextSteps has a lot of career profiles based on interviews with people in various fields. So does the Saskatchewan website Jobs People Love.
If you are keen to do something in the science/health area the Science Buddies website would be an excellent site for you. You could also check out the health and wellness career profiles on the poss.ca site.
As we don’t have anything on the poss.ca site specifically about OTs, I thought I’d do a little research to get you started. In a nutshell, occupational therapists help people affected by illness, injury, aging, developmental disorders, or mental health problems become more independent. Ontario Job Futures says that OTs may specialize in working with specific populations such as children or adults or those with problems such as dementia, traumatic brain injury and chronic pain. The job varies a lot depending on the setting. The Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists (CAOT) gives some specific examples of how an occupational therapist can help clients:
- OTs may teach a client how to dress or cook with one arm after a stroke.
- They may adapt materials or equipment such as seating so that a child can attend school.
- They may negotiate with an employer for a worker’s gradual return-to-work plan following a motor vehicle accident.
These days you do have to hold a master’s degree in occupational therapy to practice in the field so, as with your mother’s friend, anyone entering the field would have to do a lot of schooling.
Occupational therapist assistants
If the OT field interests you but you don’t want to spend years in school, consider the role of occupational therapist assistant, where you would work under the direction of an occupational therapist, helping clients learn skills needed for daily living and assisting them in improving performance in moving, thinking and in social-emotional areas. This projection of job market trends says that job prospects should be very good for occupational therapist assistants until at least 2015. Quite a few colleges in Ontario offer diploma programs in this field.
One last piece of advice — to get a sense of whether you would like a career see if you can job shadow someone who does that type of work for a day. Alternately, try to volunteer in an organization that interests you.