There’s never been a better time to become an occupational therapy assistant. With the job market stacked in your favor and the potential for excellent pay, many people aspiring to join the medical field are looking into becoming OTAs. They’re also looking for ways to boost their resumes so they stand out among other program candidates, and volunteering is a great way to gain experience on the first steps of the OTA path. Here are five volunteer ideas for future OTAs to pursue:
The majority of OTAs find their career path leads them to geriatric care in one form or another, and nursing homes are a great place to test the waters as a volunteer. Contact nursing homes and other elderly care facilities in your area and let them know your plans to become an OTA. You’re likely to find a professional at one of these local OTA sites who will be happy to bring on an enthusiastic learner for a few hours here and there. Who knows, you may even find a mentor who’ll stick with you throughout your OTA career!
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With pediatrics being another main focus of the field, children’s hospitals offer a range of volunteer opportunities where you can both learn more about the day-in, day-out life of an occupational therapy assistant and brighten someone’s day at the same time. While this option will certainly appeal most to those with a plan to specialize in pediatrics, volunteering is all about testing the waters with different types of work environments. You never know when you might surprise yourself by finding the career of your dreams where you didn’t expect to find it.
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Special needs day programs are often run by hardworking, can-do staff members who are glad to have a helping hand on deck. These types of volunteer placements often allow volunteers to focus in on some of the more holistic aspects of occupational therapy, such as social skills, success in work environments, and practice with daily tasks in patients’ familiar environment. Working with special needs people can often be an enlightening and uplifting experience, because it’s all about helping those you aid attain more happiness and satisfaction in their day-to-day lives. It’s a great learning opportunity, and one that will help you build your skills as a future OTA.
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You might choose to tread — or trot as it were — a bit off the beaten path by seeking volunteer placement at an equine-assisted therapy program. Working with animals has proven to be a huge asset to many patients with physical, developmental, or psychiatric differences, and many centers depend heavily on the work of enthusiastic volunteers. A brief training course is usually required, after which you will often be right in the thick of things alongside your assigned therapy horses and riders. This type of volunteer work will help you get experience with a variety of patients while honing in on improved communication skills — a cornerstone of successful OTA practice.
Most volunteer opportunities will be with organizations in which you have direct contact with the practice of caregiving. But you can also look into volunteering for organizations more focused on policy and big-picture changes within the industry. For example, the American Occupational Therapy Association is one such group that shifts the course of the OTA field as time goes by. While large advocacy groups like AOTA might not be in your area, you can research similar organizations working on a smaller scale within your commuting range.
Related Resource: How OTAs Work With Other Professionals