Alondra Ammon is the face of occupational therapy (OT) on YouTube. She speaks about a wide range of topics relating to OT on her channel, so we spoke with her about what it means to work in occupational therapy, and the roles of OTAs.
I initially did my undergrad in kinesiology with intentions of pursuing an advanced degree in physical therapy, but something was still missing from physical therapy that I wasn’t connecting to.
There was an incident with a family member who became very ill. And when I went to visit them in the ICU, I recognized that she was going to need a lot of rehab. So I started to look at the other disciplines that make up the rehab team. I found out about occupational therapy, and the more I read about it the more I thought, “This is what I’m looking for.” The next thing I knew I was applying to a few programs.
We work in so many different settings, but the most important thing about occupational therapy is that we help people engage in things that occupy their time. So for children that could be playing or being a student. For someone in the military, their service duties. For a person who is older, it could be being a grandparent and being able to fulfill those roles. Whatever it is that occupies your time.
So, whenever there’s an incident or maybe someone’s born with a disability or condition or something happens in their life that changes their ability to participate in those things that occupy their time, that’s where we come in. We help them to see what they are capable of, and we work to get them back to participating in those things they need to do and love to do.
Related resource: What is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?
Be flexible. Be open to changes and working with people in different settings. Also—and I think this a thing that people naturally have when they enter this field—a desire to want to help people. Carrying that with you and remembering even in those hard times that the reason why you’re there is to help them and just having that in the back of your mind.
When the times get tough and when you’re going through school and seeing that difficult situation, just carry that with you—you’re doing this for a bigger purpose. That, and continuously learning from all of your experiences. Taking a step back and reflecting is a huge thing that I think all of us practitioners can carry, even as entry-level practitioners.
One of the occupational therapy assistants I’ve worked with is my mentor, and he sits on the board of American Occupational Therapy Association, so in my mind OTAs are unstoppable. They can do anything! In a work setting, the relationship between the OT and OTA takes on a collaborative approach, working toward the same goal. It’s all about having open-minded communication and working toward a common goal.
In my mind, it doesn’t really matter what position you hold, whether you’re an assistant or a therapist or have a master’s versus a doctorate. You make what you want out of your education.
People are surprised when I tell them that we work across the whole lifespan, from neonatal all the way through age 99 or more. I think when people hear “therapy” they’re thinking of rehab, outpatient work, or clinics. But then they hear we’re also in schools, nursing homes, and the NICU. I think when people learn that we work with a huge range of lifespans and also the different settings, it’s really surprising.
Related resource: Where do Occupational Therapy Assistants Work?
Last year I applied to the Emerging Leaders Development Program through the American Occupational Therapy Association, and I was accepted. That was my focus in terms of my vision for the AOTA—having a culturally diverse workforce. When you look at the demographics for occupational therapy, men represent low percentages. I feel like there’s room to increase those numbers. I also like to think about not just people of color and men, but also specific groups that are considered underrepresented, whether it’s veterans (which I am myself) or the LGBT community. That’s my passion, and I love getting perspectives from people who represent that.
Related resource: 10 Reasons Why Men Should Become OTAs
Continue to explore it. See if you can find other occupational therapists or occupational therapy assistants. Go to settings that have practitioners and see if you can shadow. If you can see it in motion, it will give you a better sense of whether it’s something you really want to do.
And don’t just shadow one setting. Occupational therapy in a nursing home is going to look different from occupational therapy in a school, and it’s also going to look different in a hospital or in mental health. Immerse yourself in the profession! Even going to the AOTA website is good. Find out as much as you can.
We’re needed. And the fact that we’re in the medical field means there are always opportunities available. Hearing from OTAs who have recently graduated and seeing what they have to say on social media, I learned some places are more saturated than others. One thing to keep in mind when considering a profession is where you see yourself working.
But, as far as the profession goes, it’s amazing.