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6 Awesome Tips for Your First OT Job

by Shannen Marie Coley OTR/L


After one month into the game, the nerves of your first OT job will settle. There’s a lot to be nervous about when starting your first job but give yourself credit because you know a lot!

You survived your Fieldwork and yet, there is more responsibility now that you have your first OT job. Here is NGOT’s guide of 6 awesome tips to help you crush your first month at your new job!

Still looking for a job? Download the Ultimate Guide To Jobs After Occupational Therapy School! 👇🏻

1) The studying isn’t over. Not even close

You have spent hours studying the Glasgow Coma Scale and you have memorized all the pediatric reflexes (though your heart is sent on geriatrics). You may have even used some NBCOT guides to get you there. Finally, you pass!

Then you’ll go to work the next day feeling like a million bucks until you silently and nervously laugh when you look at the new admit’s medical history/chart. It might as well be a foreign language. And you have no idea what their rehab potential could be. So, don't be shy of Google or a dusty textbook, and keep reading to my second and third points.

2) Nonmaleficence

Do No Harm. Quite simply if your gut feels funny, you should probably reevaluate your next choice. Whether it's stepping out briefly to check if a patient is on NPO status. Or maybe grade an activity down until you feel confident enough that your patient won't pass out while you readjust the O2!

You learn to ask questions during your Fieldwork, but let’s be real you will have days where you feel like a lost puppy even as a registered therapist. However, as long as you place your patient’s safety first, and actively seek mentorship, your future will shine brightly.

3) Senior therapists are your friends

And nurses. And social workers. And physicians. They want to see you succeed! (And so do other disciplines depending on your area of practice).

Well, most of them anyways...

The best part of any job is having other occupational therapists around so that you can humor them with your many questions a day.

The same holds true with the physical therapists and speech therapists. They are the "phone a friend" aspect of Who Wants to be a Millionaire for your first OT job. Only more reliable. Just remember. It’s an asset to be a new grad! Frankly, when you think about it, new grads have the most up to date research brewing in our brains.

“"The only way to do great work is to love what you do.” - Steve Jobs”

4) Your patients will question your credibility

This can occur in two primary scenarios.

Exhibit A: You've been working as a baby OT for over a month now and a handful patients and family members will ask you, "have you graduated from high school"?

Be kind. Be happy. Be grateful that in five years they might ask if you have graduated college yet!

Exhibit B: The physician writes a referral for occupational therapy. Except all it says is, "eval and treat". And it certainly doesn't explain to the patient all the awesome stuff we can do to help improve their functional independence!

Don’t be alarmed when a patient tells you he is not interested in getting help finding a job. Just be ready to have a stellar, client-centered answer in an effort to inform/educate your patient on what skilled OT services can offer him.

5) You feel what your patients feel

If your patients are sad, you’ll find yourself feeling down; nonetheless, build rapport and help them find the silver lining no matter their situation. Remind them to give grace to you as their therapist, but also to themselves on their journey. Encourage them to be their own advocate.

6) You must put your own self-care first

Taking consistent action to refill your energy, motivation, and purpose requires you to take responsibility for your personal mental and physical wellbeing. Life is a balance. And if you are lucky enough to get through OT school, you of all people must model and seek occupational balance.

This could be a post in itself, but to put it briefly ensure your wellbeing through tackling some of these activities:

  • Define your purpose
  • Create a list of STGs and a few LTGs (psi no need to write your personal goals in RUMBA or COAST format)
  • Take time for personal growth and development
  • Learn to say one word (Hint: opposite of yes)
  • Exercise (Our job involves a pretty strong physical component whether you’re engaging in floor play or Max A transfers. Get those gains in!)
  • Eat better and more consistently. After all, we are the masterminds behind the IADL task of meal prep/cleanup, right?!
  • Sleep. This is one of our seven areas of occupation listed in our dear Practice Framework so let's all hold each other accountable.
  • Kill them with kindness ☺. Got a noncompliant patient, that’s okay! Smile and choose to revisit that patient later that day. Be empathetic and move on.

There is still a lot to learn after only working your first OT job for a month, but cheers to utilizing these tips and continuing to grow professionally and clinically along the way!

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