10 things you should know before studying occupational therapy

Having recently completed my occupational therapy degree, I have taken some time to reflect on my time at university and I wonder if there anything that I could have done differently?

Prior to beginning university and discovering the world of occupational therapy, I had very little to no experience in the health care field. I was only 17 when I started studying. I had limited life experience. None of my family members had worked in the health care field, and thankfully none of my family ever needed any services such as support work or occupational therapy. My young age alongside several other factors resulted in me not being prepared for my degree in the way I wish I had been, and therefore I personally do not feel that I got the most out of my occupational therapy/health care degree.

The points that I will share with you today may seem obvious for some. However, in a way this post is me writing to my younger self. I hope that someone who is in the same position as I was five years ago reads this and finds some of these points useful.

My 10 Tips

  1. Support work – finding some casual/part-time support work will give you experience and will help to get your foot in the door. I found that many employers/individuals seeking a support worker look for someone who can commit for at least one year, so try starting early. Practical experience is invaluable, and providing practical support to someone can help to break up all the theory and keep you motivated.
  2. Volunteering – this is a great way to give back to the community and as a bonus, it looks great on resumes. Volunteer work can be as little as one hour per week. It helps to put theory into practice and can remind you why you chose to study occupational therapy/your particular health care course.
  3. Your study environment – dedicate specific times for studying, and when you do, make sure it is in a controlled environment where all your attention can be focused on the task at hand. Experiment and find your most efficient study environment early on as this can maximise your studies.
  4. Back up all your work, often! – I didn’t start backing up my files until about my third year of the course. Start this early. You may never need it but believe me, if you do lose everything, it will be such a relief to know that all your hard work has been stored on a hard drive or Dropbox.
  5. Collect things for your portfolio from the beginning – your portfolio is essentially a culmination of everything you have done throughout your course. Most portfolios are electronic now, so have a folder on your computer, scan things as you go, back up this folder regularly. You will thank yourself when it gets to the end of your final year and it is all there waiting for you!
  6. Attend seminars/complete free online courses – this is a nice way to build up your resume in preparation for graduating and to get some specific and targeted training suited to your interests. These can be expensive, but there are options that are cheap or free, and many online courses may be subsidised for students (e.g. Mental Health First Aid).
  7. Make and sustain connections with your educators and supervisors – They truly want you to succeed and love watching your growth. Who knows they might even ask you to come back and teach or be that referee you need for a job!
  8. Get to know your university – There are so many resources and clubs that can support you academically, emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually. This can help you to get to know students in other cohorts who can give you amazing advice. Also, consider applying for disability support services if you need and early! This process can be really stressful if you wait until fourth year to register! The support is available. It’s a strength to recognise and ask for help when you need it instead of struggling through.
  9. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, have a go and show your enthusiasm it will support your learning and confidence.
  10. Use your gap year wisely. Whether that’s travelling, getting world experience, perhaps taking a short course in anatomy and physiology or working. This can often be your “first year” of gaining experience for your allied health degree.

Hope these tips help!

Take care of yourselves, and until next time

Occupational Therapist and Author


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