OT Chronicles Chapter 3: Observation Hours

OT Chronicles Chapter 3: Observation Hours

Observation hours are a typical requirement for applying to OT grad school.  Observations are beneficial for several reasons!  This is a great time to explore the field of occupational therapy.  It is a great time to learn if the career is a right fit for you.  Lastly, it is a wonderful time to start making connections with occupational therapists in your area.  You might find it overwhelming at first to lock down observation sites, but, with persistence, you can succeed!  I’ve organized this post into before, during, and after segments.. enjoy!

Preparing for Observations

I Googled occupational therapy services in a variety of settings and populations.  I Googled nearby schools, rehab centers, hospitals, assisted living communities, and nursing facilities.  I made an organized list of locations and contact information to start reaching out to occupational therapists.

My list was quite long; however, some sites didn’t have availability for observations and some sites required you to become a volunteer before attending observations (which included orientations, medical protocol, and the occasional fees).

It is probably in your best interest, especially if you are working part-time or are a current student, to avoid locations that require you to become a volunteer first.  This can be time-consuming and unnecessarily stressful.  I am not discouraging sites that require this particular protocol; however, personally, knowing that I would only be logging a few hours at such sites wasn’t worth the reward.  Instead, I found sites that welcomed me as I was – someone simply interested in becoming an occupational therapy student!

Plan to do more observation hours than what is required by the school you are applying to.  I personally logged over 60 hours at 7 different sites.  This provided me with so much time to learn and experience what each setting/population had to offer in the field of OT.  Added bonus: schools love seeing that you put in more time than you were required to complete!

When in contact with the OT you will be shadowing, there are several things you should verify prior to the observation date(s):

  • Observation Hour Totals:  Make sure to tell the OT you contacted how many hours you are interested in logging with them so they can provide appropriate dates/times for you to observe.
  • Dates/time: Some places offered full-day observations, some offered half-day observations.  Write down which day(s) you’re observing, when to arrive, and when you’ll be leaving so you know if you need to bring lunch/snacks.
  • Contact Person upon Arrival:  Some OTs you contact will be the OT you observe.  Some OTs you contact will send you off with a fellow colleague to observe them.  Make sure you know who to ask for when you get to your observation site.
  • Dress code: Most of the places I observed at wanted me to dress in business casual attire.  Make sure you ask what the dress code is because every site is different!

Always plan to arrive early to the observation site.  This gives you time to find parking, locate the entrance, and relax before heading inside.

During Observations

You’ve walked into the observation site.  Now what?!

Remember this: You are there to observe.  You are there to learn.  You are there to experience what OTs do everyday.

Allow the OT to do their job while they are with a patient.  Some OTs will walk you through each step of what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Other OTs will let you observe and then debrief you later.  Save your inquiries until treatment is over, unless the OT is providing an environment of open-communication.

I really enjoyed asking OTs about their educational background, their experiences in various OT settings, their experiences in the OT setting they are currently working in, and why they chose OT as their life-long profession.  Doing so created a relationship for broader learning.

In some settings, you will also get to interact with patients.  Some patients will tell you their stories openly.  If the OT opens this gate of communication for you, dive in!  Ask them what they’ve experienced so far through their OT treatment.  Observations are a great opportunity to experience therapy with both the OT and the patient.

If the opportunity arises, observe other colleagues who are therapists too.  I learned a lot about speech therapists and PTs while I was with OTs.  It was really eye-opening to see how all the therapists worked together.  Feel free to ask them therapy-related questions too!  Remember, you’re there to learn – soak it all in!

Before departing from the observation site, make sure to thank the OT or verify future dates/times you will be observing them.  This affirms the relationship you built with them and establishes gratitude in allowing you to be their shadow all day long.

After Observations

When your time at each observation site is complete, I found it very useful to take notes on my experiences.  I wrote down the name(s) of the OT(s) that I observed.  I wrote down what I observed in great detail.  I explained some of the challenges patients were facing and how the OT was striving to improve their success.

I also wrote down what I enjoyed about the setting and what I was unsure about.  Some settings I enjoyed way more than others!  Some settings were so educational that I can still remember what I learned from each OT.  Some settings I felt were limited by the OT’s enthusiasm to provide me with a strong educational experience.  However, some OTs made a lasting impact on my personal professional goals.

Below, I’ve created a list of the types of settings I observed at, the population I observed, how many hours I observed there, and a brief summary of what I experienced.  My observation journal is very detailed so I will do my best to provide a brief synopsis.

  • developmental center for children with developmental disorders:
    • Population: children with autism, Down Syndrome, and other learning disabilities
    • OT’s role in treatment: improvements on fine motor skills (i.e writing, use of scissors, learning shapes, working zippers) and gross motor skills (i.e coordination)
    • Priorities in this setting: classroom function, improving social skills, improving communication, improvements on age-appropriate independent activities
    • Total Observation Hours: 6.5 hours (one day)
  • hand therapy in out-patient rehab & adult day care:
    • Population: adults, geriatrics
    • OT’s role in treatment: fine motor skills via hand therapy, care for chronic pain, coordination
    • Priorities in this setting: ease symptoms of chronic pain via stretching & massage, improve ability to complete tasks independently
    • Total Observation Hours: 8.5 hours (2 days)
  • adult day care:
    • Population: geriatrics
    • OT’s role in treatment: pain management, memory testing/function
    • Priorities in this setting: ease symptoms of chronic pain via heat, massage, and stretching; evaluate memory function for potential return-to-home patients
    • Total Observation Hours: 9 hours (3 days)
  • skilled nursing facility (SNF):
    • Population: geriatrics, adults with psychological disorders
    • OT’s role in treatment: teaching ADL safety, memory/cognition treatments, fine & gross motor skills
    • Priorities in this setting: promote independence, maintain current memory/cognition functions, develop social skills
    • Total Observation Hours: 7.25 hours (1 day)
    • Special note: I observed a traveling therapist at this location who had ample experience in a variety of settings/populations.  Traveling therapy was intriguing to me and her past OT experiences were very informative.  I also observed a COTA who taught me that “everything is OT”.  I couldn’t agree more with her!
  • hand therapy in out-patient rehab:
    • Population: adults of various ages
    • OT’s role in treatment: fine motor skills, return-to-work skills, pain management
    • Priorities in this setting: strengthen fingers, wrist, and lower arm post-surgery/injury so that patients can return to work or their day-to-day activities
    • Total Observation Hours: 10 hours (2 days)
  • acute rehab
    • Population: adults of various ages
    • OT’s role in treatment: ADLs, use of adaptive equipment
    • Priorities in this setting: promote independence, transition from hospital to rehab to home
    • Total Observation Hours: 12 hours (2 days)
    • Special note:  This was actually my favorite setting because each patient was different; the OTs used different treatment plans for every patient because every patient needed something different before (hopefully) going home!
  • school/developmental center:
    • Population: children & young adults (with cerebral palsy and and other physical or developmental disorders)
    • OT’s role in treatment: adaptive classroom learning, promote communication with or without adaptive equipment, fine motor skills, gross motor skills, enhance appropriate social skills
    • Priorities in this setting: promote communication, teach play, teach classroom skills, teach behavioral skills
    • Total Observation Hours: 9 hours (2 days)

There you go!  Observation sites 101!  I hope that wherever you go or wherever you’ve been to observe has been a positive experience for you.  I am grateful for the locations I observed at and the OTs that took the time out of their hectic schedules to teach me what OT is all about!  Observing them just affirmed that this is indeed the right profession for me!

15 Things I learned in 2015 (part 1 of 3)

15 Things I learned in 2015 (part 1 of 3)

Simply put, 2015 was a year of limit testing, adventure finding, friendship making, friendship keeping, mileage logging, destination seeking, stress managing, misty-eye limiting, knowledge learning, wisdom gaining, belief persevering, goal setting, goal reaching, and love enduring.

In the last few weeks of 2015, I will be writing three separate blog posts that total fifteen (of the many) things I learned in the past 365 days (I don’t want to bore you with an extremely long list of 15 things; therefore, I’ll break it into groups of five!).  Here’s part 1 of 3 – let’s jump right in!

#1:  Don’t be afraid to fight for something you think you deserve:  I learned this in the beginning of this past fall semester.  I had already secured an internship in Delaware over the summer and was merely one step away from having it approved by my university.  To my surprise (and to the entire exercise science department’s surprise), I was not permitted to do an internship in the state of Delaware.  Instantly, an overwhelming amount of stress weighed down on my shoulders.  Upon being informed of this by the registrar’s office, I met with my advisor and our department chairperson.  They were equally baffled by this new “rule” that nobody had been informed of.  I scheduled a one-on-one meeting with the dean of the college of science and technology.  He informed me of this new “rule” which had not been formally announced to the rest of the university yet.  I was basically being punished for being a prepared and responsible student which I didn’t find to be very fair.  I exhausted every option I could possibly get my hands into.  My professors allowed me to exhaust every option even though they probably knew it was a lost cause.  I wasn’t about to give up on something I had earned.  I needed this internship in order to graduate.  In the end, even though I had to find a new internship because my university refused to implement a grandfather clause for me and a few of my fellow classmates, I learned that sometimes things in life are going to be unfair. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself and fight for something you worked hard for.

#2:  Trust God.  He has a plan for you:  When things don’t work out the way you want them to or detours re-route your life plan, trust God.  Things may seem unfair in the present moment.  You probably ask yourself over and over again, “why me?  Why is this happening to me?”.  In the past year there have been many detours that have left me feeling uneasy, stressed, and overwhelmed.  The doubts and fears in my mind played on repeat for weeks on end.  But then, things got better.  The things I was worried about worked out on their own.  Yes, I had to find a new internship but maybe this is where I was supposed to intern all along.  Yes, my housing plans for the fall semester got screwed over but perhaps it made me a better person for learning how to deal with difficult situations.  Yes, one of my best friends moved away but maybe God did this to prove that there is no distance apart that limits the bond between two friends.  Yes, my dad quit his job to pursue opening a small business but maybe this was God’s way of bringing a new purpose and new friendships into our lives.  In life, there will always be obstacles that will set you back.  Don’t let them keep you from moving forward.  No matter how stressful it may seem in the present moment, things will get better.  God has a plan and I’ve learned to trust His plan because there’s a bigger picture in life than what we’re seeing right in front of us.  If it’s not meant to be, it’s simply not meant to be.  Likewise, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.  Trust God.  He knows what He’s doing.

#3:  Don’t be afraid to try new things:  I’ve always been the kind of person that is 100% content with staying within my comfort zone.  I know what I like and what I don’t like.  I will use the same things over and over again if they work they way I need them to work.  But this year I made decisions that broke some of my norms.  One of the changes I made (which took a lot of persuasion from others and personal courage) is that I decided to switch to wearing Altras when running.  For my entire 7 years of running, I’ve always worn Asics.  Every pair of running shoes that I ever trained in were Asics.  I believed in Asics because I never dealt with injuries wearing these shoes and because I knew the exact tread and shoe model I needed for training purposes.  After talking to a few running friends who also made the transition to Altras, I talked myself into trying a pair for myself.  My dad, as a running/biking store owner, switched me into Altra Torins and I’m happy to say that I’ll probably never wear another brand of running shoes ever again.  My toes have space to move around, my feet lay more naturally in the shoe, and my running form has probably become more efficient (I say “probably” because I’ve never actually analyzed myself running so I don’t know what “efficient” and “unefficient” running actually looks like).  There’s no way I’ll ever switch back to Asics!  This was a huge step for me because I always avoid stepping outside my comfort zone.  Now, Altras are my new comfort zone.  #EmbracetheSpace

#4: Hard work will pay off in the long run:  I’m not just saying this because I’m a runner and I appreciate the pun, but to everyone who has ever worked hard to achieve their goals and aspirations.  For the past 17 years of my life, I’ve been attending school (this includes two years of pre-school because I guess one year wasn’t enough for me to learn how to count to 10).  Just a few weeks ago I officially finished all my college classes required to earn my Bachelor’s degree.  The only requirement I have left to complete is my internship which I will be completing in the spring.  I received my semester grades just last night and I couldn’t be happier with them!  I earned four A’s, one A-, and one B+.  For a semester of stress, chaos, six classes (5 of which were core classes for my major), and 18 credits I was ecstatic about the result of hours upon hours at the library and re-reading over and over again lecture notes.  Honestly, I expected maybe one or two A’s and the rest of my grades to be B’s. I never expected such a good outcome for a semester of hard work.  (And I apologize to anyone who thinks I’m bragging but I worked hard for 17 years of my life so I think I deserve to brag a little). But this just proves that when you put every ounce of energy into something you want so badly to achieve that you’ll reach your desired outcome.  I put 17 years of education into earning the ever-so-desired college degree and I am now only one internship away from having that degree.  If you want something so badly that you’re willing to put continuous effort into it, I promise that’ll it will pay off in the long run.  No pun intended.

#5:  Make your own path in life:  There are no written rules that require you to start at a four-year college or university.  There are no written rules that require you to stay at one college for your entire secondary education.  There aren’t even written rules that say you HAVE to go to college.  I will happily say that I started my college education at a community college.  All my high school friends went off to their respective 4-year colleges and I stayed home.  I don’t regret this decision one bit because I was able to figure out what I actually wanted to do with my life, I found a part-time job and made some money, and I met a few of my closest friends who will be there for me through all the ups and downs of life (and who still today are my best friends).  Actually, these are the friends that inspired me to make my own path in life.  They might not even realize how much they’ve influenced my life but they have.  These people have taught me that it’s okay to take the path less traveled.  These people have taught me that you have to pursue that dream job you’ve always aspired to have or to cross that item off of a life bucket list.  After realizing that I can indeed follow my own path, I think that I’ve come to the conclusion that I will not be attending graduate school after I earn my Bachelor’s degree.  People might view this negatively because young people these days are expected to get their Master’s degree to make themselves “more appealing” to employers.  Yes, I realize that this is a potential benefit of attending grad school but I feel at this moment in my life that I have other things to achieve and pursue than a Master’s degree.  I feel that the classroom limits how much you can learn and I’m excited to learn things in an applied setting.  This may be breaking the norm that society has created but there is a huge world out there that needs to be explored and fixed and I don’t feel that I can explore nor fix this world sitting in a classroom.  It’s all too common for people to fall into the “supposed-to” trap.  They might say “well now I’m supposed to find a job” or “now I’m supposed to get married” or “now I’m supposed to have kids”.  There is no “supposed to” for any of these things. I know plenty of people who haven’t followed such norms and these people are some of the happiest people I’ve ever met!  You don’t have to follow the norm of society.  Don’t let this crazy world determine what comes next in life just because “everyone else is doing it this way” – make your own path!

To be continued…