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I Was Almost Suspended From OT School. Here's What Happened Next.

by Grant Mitchell MOT, OTR/L

I was nearly suspended from OT school. I am glad I choose to stay, but it took a change of heart to know why it was worth it.

Walking into that faculty meeting

There I was sitting alone in a room of over a dozen faculty. It was me versus the world. I was there due to many reasons, including:

  • Inability to follow feedback and take responsibility
  • Falling asleep in class
  • Showing up late
  • Poor participation in group projects

The worst part was, I felt like the accusations weren't true.

My internal dialogue was focused on how I was being prosecuted with inaccurate information. If any of those accusations were true, I couldn’t recognize it because I was feeling completely on the defense.

I wanted to quit and wondered if it was worth fighting to remain in the program.

Before I walked into that room, I knew there was one choice that would have the greatest impact on the outcome. I could argue how they were wrong about my group work effort and how I had actually only shown up to class late once - ever.

But if I argued and went on the defense, what they were accusing me of would ultimately prove true: that I could not take responsibility. Or, I could shut up, apologize, and put my ego under a steamroller.

It was the hardest choice I ever made.

Changing my mindset

While I was sitting there, I had a moment of maturity and insight. That moment was sparked by the hardest question I was asked by one of the faculty in the room. The question the faculty asked me remains crystallized in my mind. It felt like that moment when you forget the due date of an assignment, but then realize there is a syllabus and all excuses are nullified.

I was going through the motions of verbally taking responsibility. However, the following question caused me to begin internally take responsibility.

The faculty professor asked me, "Do you feel like you deserve this?"

I answered honestly and said, "Yes, and I can see how this was my fault, and I think I can turn this around without the suspension."

The insight that led me to answer yes was simple. The reason I was there and the reason they didn't have all the facts right, was because I had never taken the initiative to build a relationship with them; not with any of them.

My professors were not the enemy

My professors were friends, or at least they could have been if I let them.

I was later informed that the moment I explained why I thought it was my fault and could turn it around, was possibly the most influential moment that changed the outcome of that faculty meeting.

I was not suspended from OT school.

For me however, the moment I took responsibility was a personal victory. Not a victory over my professors, but rather a victory over myself. The simple change I made was to show up in their offices and say, "Hi."

That changed everything for the rest of my time in the graduate occupational therapy program and especially how I relate to managers in the workplace today.

Learning from failure

When I was taking my lab exam to demonstrate assisted patient transfers, I forgot to lock one brake on the wheelchair, which is critical for patient safety to prevent falls. I felt like a complete failure even though I passed the overall exam. However, I have not once forgotten to lock the brakes on the job. In fact, I regularly teach my clients to be aware of checking their own wheelchair brakes before transferring.

If the purpose of school is to prepare students for the workplace, the learning process should have room for failure.

Military boot camp is designed to test and expand a person's limits before the battle happens. Similarly, It’s important to discover personal weaknesses in graduate school, otherwise weaknesses will inevitably be discovered in the workplace. It’s not that there won’t continue to be personal weaknesses post-graduation, but graduate school is an opportunity to learn how to confront them with maturity, insight, and a professional attitude.

I wish I had learned the value of building relationships prior to and without having nearly been suspended from OT school. However, Just like forgetting to lock the wheelchair brake during that lab exam; I am so glad I learned those lessons in graduate school rather than the work environment.

The experience made me a better employee

I have approached my supervisors with questions about incorporating OT research projects and program development for equipment. I am sure I wouldn’t have done these things if I still held the notion I was just “doing my time.” If I had not learned the value of building relationships, I certainly wouldn't be writing on websites like this.

I also wouldn't be:

  • On social media
  • A member of my state association
  • Meeting with my supervisors voluntarily

My change in perspective has led me to take initiative in connecting with professional peers. I have taken an active effort to network, not because I am forced to, but because I want to. I now recognize the value of workplace professional relationships. I’ve also attended two profession specific national conferences; an experience I believe exponentially pays for itself in professional growth and highly recommend.

After all, it’s a privilege to be a healthcare professional.

Now that I'm working, I am so grateful I didn't leave the occupational therapy graduate program. I've been able to see my professors as passionate resources in their area of study. Best of all, I've been able to see them as friends.

Being almost suspended was a crucible experience. If you are in your crucible, don't give up yet. Professors are not the enemy, they are your best friends, future colleagues, and one of the best resources for growing professionally and getting that first job.

When you get to that first job, your boss, supervisor, or manager is not the enemy either. It's immensely worth it to walk into their office and say “hi.”

Start developing that relationship now.



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