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6 Signs that I Found My Pediatric Occupational Therapy Dream Job

by Zuzanna Congalton, MS, OTR/L

young-woman-doctor-older-man-patient-smilingI haven’t always worked at my pediatric occupational therapy dream job; the journey to get here was windy and had its fair share of speed bumps along the way. However, I finally found a place that encompasses all the attributes I have been looking for during my occupational therapy career!

How did I get here?

It definitely took some time, experiences (both good and bad), a great deal of patience, and taking some chances.

Becoming a Registered Pediatric Occupational Therapist has always been my goal; it’s what I could see myself doing for the rest of my life. After 7 years of undergraduate and passing my NBCOT (national board exam) I was finally able to begin my journey in pursuing my passion.

Finally being able to put into practice everything I have learned over the years in classrooms and clinical rotations was somewhat intoxicating; it honestly blindsided me a bit when I was applying for my first job.

As a New Jersey native, I moved to San Diego shortly after I finished school and my goal was simple: start my career, a.k.a. get a job!

Although I had done research about locations and average pay for new grads in those respected areas, I had a one track mind at that time, and that was to accept a job and start earning a steady income. I'll admit that I wasn't focused on career growth, satisfaction, or anything else. I certainly wasn't thinking about finding my pediatric occupational therapy dream job.

Moving to a new state is intimidating, starting a new career is intimidating, and for me, not having a job lined up was intimidating. I was in a bit of a rush.

I wound up accepting my first 2 job offers; both were part-time positions and both were over an hour drive(!!) from where I lived. At first, the thrill of having a secure job made me blind to the other factors that would later start to hit me...HARD.

The commute, the pay and the caseloads started to fizzle my drive and passion. I found myself wondering how that was even possible!

I wasn’t tired of the work I was doing, I was tired from all of the external factors that accumulated to lead to my dissatisfaction:

  • The income that I knew was lower than average for new grad OTs
  • The ever-growing caseload and responsibilities that piled up
  • My hour-long commute twice per day

Due to those reasons, I jumped from job to job during my first year as an occupational therapist, and didn’t quite find that feeling of “ahh, I can stay here awhile.”

On the bright side, I was lucky enough to meet some amazing therapists along the way and network in ways that have ultimately led me to my current position. Along my journey to finding my dream job, I was fortunate to have been able to experience working in a variety of pediatric settings, including early intervention home health, private pediatric outpatient clinics, various school districts with very different occupational therapy departments and become an independent contractor!

These jobs also helped me figure out what I did - and did not - find enjoyable as an employed occupational therapist.

After a year of working in schools, clinics and early intervention, my goals had changed, and I was no longer looking for “just a job.” Instead, I was actually looking for a place that felt like “home,” since that’s where I would be spending so much of my time on a daily basis.

One day, I responded to a recruiter's LinkedIn message on a whim, and decided to interview at a non-profit pediatric outpatient clinic...15 minutes from where I lived! The next thing I knew, I accepted a new part-time position because it felt right.

The company was Easterseals Southern California.

The contract was thorough, fair, and exactly what I was looking for from the beginning of my job hunt.

After only a few months of working at my new job part-time, I realized that I wanted to work there full-time because the environment, the people, the company and a number of other factors that I continued to learn about gave me that feeling of, “ahh I can stay here a while,” without jumping from job to job.

Here I am a year and a half later, with no intentions of leaving and let me tell you why:

1. Interdisciplinary team

The team at this non-profit clinic is exceptional. I have the privilege of working with occupational therapists, speech therapists, speech therapy assistants, a physical therapist, and ABA therapists.

Having the opportunity to problem solve with other professionals right in the same office has been such a powerful tool for my personal growth and my professional growth as an occupational therapist.

2. Professional development opportunities

Professional development is an area that I personally seek out with my employers, and I have been provided opportunities to grow as a pediatric therapist at Easterseals in many ways.

As a pediatric occupational therapist, I want to make sure I provide the most up-to-date evidence-based treatment approaches. For this reason, being immersed in learning opportunities is helping me to better serve the kids and families I work with. Being able to be informed and providing the most evidence-based care makes me feel incredibly happy in my role.

3. Manageable caseloads and time for documentation

Manageable caseloads are every occupational therapist’s dream, and at Easterseals, I can say that I am living that dream! My caseload is manageable and has set guidelines to make sure that occupational therapists have ample time for documentation, report writing, and administrative time.

With the amazing system that Easterseals possesses, I find myself with time to do these things that provide my families and kiddos quality care.

4. Employee appreciation

I never thought I would be so happy to receive a reusable water bottle, a bag with an Easterseals logo on it, or a short - but powerful - email from the CEO of the company thanking the employees for our hard work.

After a long day of applesauce being flung into your hair, crying tantrums, triumphs, and occasionally being completely wiped out, it’s nice to read a little something that makes you feel appreciated; it really keeps you going.

5. Location

Personally, this is one of the most important pieces to my puzzle, and I only learned its importance through experience.

Not only did I want a great environment to work in on a daily basis, but I also wanted to work relatively close to home. It was a simple solution and added to the reasons why working at Easterseals works so well for me.

6. Compensation

Money is not a topic that is discussed very openly, but is a very important part of everyone's life, especially in an expensive city like San Diego.

Without money, how could we afford to live in our homes, get to/from work, and maintain our work-life balance? My experience with working at variety of different companies has shown me that the pay rates are drastically different for new grad occupational therapists, depending on location, setting, and the overall priorities of management.

Ultimately, I have learned from each and every therapist and professional that I have worked with. I have had unique experiences in every setting I tried out, and have built great relationships along the way.

I am extremely fortunate to have reached a place in my career where I can grow as a professional, in an environment that makes me happy. I definitely feel as though I don’t work a day in my life, because I get to do what I love every single day. I hope this helps you reach for what you truly want and deserve in pursuing your passions; don’t stop till you get there because it’s closer than you may think!


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