With almost three years of occupational therapy experience under my belt, I have a diverse set of clinical skills. I have sought out additional certifications, leadership opportunities, and experiences apart from the norm. OT inspires me and makes me realize genuine progress can come from hard work and kindness. However, the realities of service delivery admittedly came as a challenge after graduation. That's when I started looking at alternative occupational therapy jobs.
Healthcare overall is a difficult paradigm to adjust to. OT school provides you with the encouragement and tools you will need to be successful and lights the fire within most therapists to make an impact. However, for some, this fire may dim once entering a typical clinical job. Ever-increasing, opportunities for career development may be few and far in between, insurance forces your focus to be on the quantity of therapy provided rather than the quality of interactions, and facility restrictions may limit the type of therapy you implement. Sometimes these restrictions even limit the breadth of a creative and adaptive OT’s mind.
If you are currently battling with these thoughts, don't feel discouraged! There are many non-clinical roles that use an OT’s expertise in different ways and are good options if you are looking to avoid standard clinical work while still making an impact in the OT world.
Some examples of alternative occupational therapy roles include contract therapy, teletherapy, and utilization review, allowing you to leverage your OT degree in unconventional ways. And luckily, these jobs can serve as a springboard into non-clinical career paths. Long story short, if a return to standard patient care is not in the cards for you, there is a stable future elsewhere.
Contract work, or travel therapy, is an exceptional way to maintain your expertise in clinical work while gaining experience in a variety of settings. With contracts lasting a minimum of 13 weeks, you can easily maintain focus on your day-to-day duties without them ever seeming mundane. Job seekers can typically find positions in each practice area, along with contracts for roles such as program development for a new OT department. It is also a great way to see new geographical areas, as you are able to take contracts local to your desired area or pick a different state for each placement you take.
If you need any other perks aside from cross-country travel, companies also offer incentives such as free continuing education, fully furnished company housing or a housing stipend to find your own accommodations, a stipend for meals and incidentals, health insurance with vision and dental, and 401k programs. Cumulatively, this makes contract work one of the most lucrative areas for therapists.
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There are expected cons — some practitioners caution against contract work as a new graduate due to the roles being largely independent. However, if you excel at fieldwork sites and prove the ability to work independently, you may see this as a positive! Aside from a supportive travel company, there is often little clinical support at facilities where you are contracted, so you want to be confident in your clinical role. Contract therapists also warn doing contract work for extended periods of time can cause a negative impact on your social life, making it important to network. However, this can be avoided by taking contracts in cities where you have friends or family and can begin forming a network from there.
It is important to do your research to find a travel company that fits both your personal and professional goals, as each offers slightly different benefits and programs. It often comes down to the connection you make with your recruiter and the agency itself, rather than the pay packages.
An emerging niche, telehealth is on the cutting edge of healthcare, with expansion now including therapies. With being so new, many therapists don’t know that this is a readily available opportunity. As a result, this is a chance a lot of other therapists often won’t take, possibly due to fear of the unknown. With as little as a reliable internet connection and webcam, you are able to see clients!
Most teletherapy companies prefer therapists with school-based OT work experience; however, they are open to accepting therapists without it. Most companies look for therapists who are willing to do after-school sessions and are available for weekend patients.
If you’re wondering how therapists can treat entirely virtually, teletherapy companies have programs with access to games, activities, instructions, writing guides, and more. This is an especially good way to flex your creative muscles by stepping out of your comfort zone. If you can’t imagine therapy any way other than sitting on a stool treating a patient on a plinth, this is a good way to experience something entirely different.
As with contract therapy, it all comes down to finding a company that makes you comfortable enough to do your best work. Benefits vary slightly from place to place, but adequate research of companies only proves advantageous.
This is a role growing in popularity, as many insurance companies strive to achieve a better method of managing claims for reimbursement. In turn, large and small insurance companies are seeking to hire utilization management clinicians or utilization reviewers. These roles are filled by physical therapists, occupational therapists, and registered nurses who complete reviews of clinical documentation from members of their insurance companies. Such clinicians use their on-the-job expertise to determine whether therapy services should continue or even begin.
This job is vastly different from the well-known positions that therapists hold. It involves sitting in an office for much of the day, with little to no patient interaction. However, this role still involves frequent collaboration with fellow clinicians, use of clinical judgment and skills, and knowledge of how therapy is carried out, both in the clinic and in terms of regulations and standards. There is a large opportunity to make a big difference, allowing you access to be part of a group of practitioners who ensure therapy is used in the necessary means. Guaranteeing proper use of therapy services helps make therapy available to all those who need it most.
With paid holidays off, continuing education reimbursement, and a salary comparable to that of practicing therapists, this role brings more perks than some clinical jobs and can provide a new range of experiences to therapists looking for additional responsibilities.
Alternative occupational therapy jobs can make an impact
If you feel your passion and skills would be better used in another area of OT, go for it. Do your homework, and know where to channel your energy based on your interests. It is even possible to get involved in non-clinical duties in your current role before deciding if that route is for you.
Do you have any other non-clinical areas you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!