When I interviewed for my first job as an occupational therapist just after I had graduated from college, I was introduced to an OT who worked at the facility where I was hoping to land a position. "She has 20 years of experience in the field of OT," the rehab director told me as the OT and I shook hands.
I remember being awed by that number and by the expertise and mastery I felt certain she must have developed in that amount of time. From my perspective as a brand-new graduate, she seemed like a rock star, a clinician at the top of her profession with everything figured out in her career.
In what has seemed like the blink of an eye, I am that OT practitioner now, the one with over two decades of clinical experience under my belt. I've learned so much in my years as an occupational therapist, including - contrarily to what I thought back at the beginning of my career - that I'm not ever going to have everything in my career figured out. There will always be more to learn, other paths I can take, further professional development to pursue.
Looking back at the path of my career from this vantage point, there's not much I would change. I loved working as a school-based OT and feel that it was a natural development for me to move into the speciality area of assistive technology and, more recently, academia. One thing I would do differently, though, is to be more strategic in my approach to professional development. In the position I work in now, professional development is handled in a very organized manner, one that is tedious in nature but very beneficial, and I wish I had had that sense of direction much earlier in my career. I'm curious to know if other experienced OTs feel the same way. This is a topic I want to talk with the OT students I teach more about: How can an OT practitioner whose job doesn't require the development of an annual plan that includes goals and objectives for professional growth go about devising a strategy that can be implemented and monitored so as to direct the trajectory of the learning path? AOTA's Professional Development Tool is one way, and I'm sure there are others too. I keep thinking about this quote that comes from the title of a book on mindfulness by Jon Kabat-Zinn and wondering (mostly tongue-in-cheek) how that relates to having a well thought out game plan for where one wants to end up.
Stephanie Lancaster, MS, OTR/L, ATP, CAPS is an occupational therapist with 25+ years of clinical experience. As an assistant professor, Stephanie trumpets the value of teaching and practicing in the field of OT in an "out loud" manner.