A Typical Day in the Life of an Occupational Therapist

April 1st, 2015 by

Occupational TherapyWhat’s a day of work like for an occupational therapist? I’ve laid out my workday timeline for a closer look.

7:00-8:00am Wake up. Coffee. Dress in stretchy pants and layers since I’ll be active. Review client appointments for the day on Google calendar. Pack the paperwork – 1 folder for each school I visit. Throw in therapeutic supplies, and I’m off!

8:10am Leave my apartment and take a 15-minutes bus ride to my first preschool. In nice weather, I bike – a perk of being an urban OT!

8:30-9:15am First client, a 4-year-old. I take him out of class to a quiet reading room with a carpet, bean bags chairs, and desk area. He was referred to me several months ago for fine motor delays and upper body weakness.

We start with yoga poses on the carpet to warm up muscles, focusing on his weak areas through downward dog and cat/cow pose. Next, it’s play doh or Theraputty to warm-up his hand muscles before drawing. I tape a coloring activity to the wall at his eye level (working on a vertical surface strengthens his arm/shoulder muscles).

He uses his left, dominant hand but after several minutes switches hands – typically a sign of left-hand fatigue. I prompt him to keep using his left hand a little longer to build strength, sometimes having him put his right hand in his pocket or behind his back.

I write my session note, sign it and place it back in my appropriate folder. Organization is key, especially for progress reports, billing or the forever-dreaded audit!

9:30am Next, I see a child at a preschool across the street. He’s 5, and has sensory processing issues which affect his ability to pay attention. I set up an obstacle course with different ways for him to receive proprioceptive sensory input (sensations from joints and muscles that tell us where our body is in space). With an efficient sensory system, one can better attend. He loves obstacles like crawling through tunnels and jumping on cushions!

I consult with his teacher about his poor focus during circle time. I recommend he completes wall-pushes, animal walks, and takes on classroom jobs such as lifting books, toy bins, door holding, and setting up chairs – all of which provide that proprioceptive sensory input in functional ways.

11:00am. 10-minute walk to another school. I consult with his teacher about his eating habits, as he typically refuses most food served (another form of sensory processing, yet this child is hypersensitive to certain stimuli). He engages in various sensory processing activities for most of the session.

12:00-1:30 Lunch break at a local cafe. I catch up on phone calls, email administrators/parents. If there’s time, I’ll work on reports or look up a therapy technique. I sign-up for a continuing education course I’ve been wanting to try (required to maintain licensure).

On lighter days, I schedule personal appointments at this time, which I have the liberty of doing as a contractor. Technically, I only get paid for my time with the client, so I’m free to do what I need when I’m not in a session.  The downside? I don’t get paid for my time making phone calls, emailing, paperwork, etc.

2:00-4:00pm I see 2-3 kids at their home- all within 1 block from each other.

5:00pm I stop by the outpatient clinic for a 45-minute session. Pack up and head home after.

My day can be stark different from another OT’s. Even my own workday can look completely different depending on the day!


About the Author:

Laina Karosic, OTR/L, graduated from Penn State University with a B.S. in Rehabilitation and Human Services. She then completed her Master’s Degree in Occupational Therapy at Ithaca College. She has worked with children and adults in clinics, homes, schools and community-based settings. Laina presented at American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA’s) national conference in 2014 discussing the role of Occupational Therapy in Sustainability. The emerging practice area of ergonomics is a particular niche of hers, and she is continuing competency and certifications within this area.

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