Maintaining your OT lens in an emerging area of OT practice

As an Occupational Therapy Student, it can be easy to slip into the rut of following what your practice placement supervisor is doing. Between the concerns of trying to do things “right” and impress, stress about everything else you are responsible for, and the general feeling of not wanting to fail, it can feel overwhelming and foster the desire to follow suit and not re-invent the wheel. However, when a student is in a non-traditional or emerging practice setting, this can add a layer of complexity of whether or not to follow the typical ways of practice. Whilst all students are required to have an experienced OT as a primary supervisor or educator, a few may experience fieldwork where the on-site supervisor is from another discipline. From my experience, in a non-traditional site surrounded by non-OT personnel, I quickly realised that I would have to be my own advocate for my profession. Fortunately for me, I have been a practicing Occupational Therapy Assistant for the past five years, thus I have developed a solid foundation of OT practice to fall back on, but here are my five tips to maintaining an OT perspective when faced with other disciplines in a role-emerging area of practice. 


This is absolutely vital! Maintaining appropriate and consistent communication with my OT supervisors helps me bring situations back to an occupation-based, client-centered perspective. Good communication with my on-site supervisor is also crucial to keeping everyone informed of the plans, goals, and focus. We are all working towards the same end, but the process we use to obtain it may differ. The only way we can work together is through these communications.


Setting aside time each week to reflect on what you have seen, how your on-site supervisor addressed something, and how you might address it differently is important. Everyone may choose a different method of reflection that works for them. Some may like to discuss with a supervisor/mentor to process and receive feedback. Some may choose to keep a daily journal to reflect on weekly, or a weekly journal to write their thoughts on paper. Others may spend time meditating on specific moments. Personally, I do a little of all three. I have weekly conversations with one of my OT supervisors and my non-OT supervisor, I write in a journal weekly, and I spend a good amount of time meditating on a specific situation I saw addressed and how I might have handled it differently.

Be creative

This is your chance to try out things you might not try otherwise. If the site has accepted you as a student, they are interested in seeing what OT might have to offer in their setting. This is your time to shine and show what OT is really about. Many people have put OT in a box based on their understanding or experience. This is an opportunity to show that we are nearly limitless if only allowed to spread our wings. 

Return to your OT roots

In a traditional site, you will be limited by what will be reimbursed. In a non-traditional site, the sky is your limit! The ability to return to our OT roots, to really pull from what the founding members’ envisioned OT to be is one of the greatest opportunities a non-traditional site may offer, take full advantage of it. When I return to work at my clinic, I will once again feel bogged down by the restrictions of payer sources, setting rules, and any other legislation that may influence OT. I plan to take full advantage of the openness of this last rotation and see how far I can go with it.

Research, research, research

In case I did not get my point across, I will say research one more time! Because of the openness of this setting, it is important to know your evidence-based practice. As the ‘lone ranger,’ the other staff members are looking at you to represent your OT profession appropriately. This may come in many forms; sometimes, it is as simple as educating staff and clients on all the spheres OTs operate in. Other times, you may need to know specifics about a mental health diagnosis, the best approach to interacting with the person exhibiting the mental illness, and how an OT may approach it differently than a Social Worker or Psychologist. Take the time to research the population you are working with. Take the time to research the OT approach, as well as other disciplines’ methods. Take the time to research what is unknown. However, do not forget the greatest phrase, “I am not sure, I will look into it and get back to you.” Admitting that you do not know everything, but are willing to learn, is not a sign of failure; it is a sign that you are honest with yourself and with others and willing to grow into a better person.

Author: Kelcie Oney, The University of Texas at Tyler

  1. Darrell says:

    Great insight and guidance!


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