Shadowing a School-Based Occupational Therapist

by Howard Gerber on April 19, 2018

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shadow occupational therapistFor students considering a career as an occupational therapist, shadowing is one of the best ways to get an idea of what an OT does. Along with shadowing in settings, such as a hospital or clinic, it’s also beneficial to see OTs at work in other areas. Shadowing a school-based occupational therapist is one option to consider.

Why Shadow an OT in a School Setting?

Even if you have a good idea of what an occupational therapist does, clinical practice can look different in different settings. Observing a school-based OT provides you with insight on how best practices and treatment approaches may vary.

Working one on one with students over the school year is different than treating patients briefly in an acute care hospital. Seeing firsthand what a therapist does day to day may help you decide which setting or specialty feels right for you.

Setting up Your Shadowing Job

Some colleges and high schools may help their student arrange job shadowing. If you are in high school, check with your school guidance counselor. For those already in college, talk with an advisor or your career placement center.

You can also try to find a job shadowing OT experience on your own. Once you identify a school where you would like to do your job shadowing, call the office. Introduce yourself and explain your goals for observation. The school will likely point you in the right direction. You may have to write a letter or talk with an administrator or the therapist directly.

OT Shadowing Tips

Although you are only an “observer” it is still important to be courteous and respectful by doing the following:

Be professional: Treat your shadowing experience as a real job. That means you should always arrive on time, dress professionally, and respect client privacy. Don’t talk about the students you observe to your family, friends, or classmates.

Offer to help: Depending on how long your shadowing job is, you may have opportunities to help out. You can offer to organize supplies, make copies, or clean equipment. Going the extra mile to help out, makes a good impression.

Ask questions: Although you should avoid interrupting a therapy session, you can ask questions when it is over. After all, you are job shadowing to learn more about the profession.

Express thanks: Remember your manners and be sure to thank the therapist that you are shadowing at the end of the day. Also, when your shadowing job is over, send a brief thank you note to the therapist and school for allowing you to observe.

Keep track of your hours: Write down all the hours you spend shadowing an occupational therapist is a school-setting or anywhere else you observe an OT. The school may have a log sheet. If not, make your own. If you decide to apply to OT school, you may need to have a certain number of observation hours completed.

Job shadowing is one way to learn more about what an OT does. If you are already an occupational therapist, how else can students learn more about the profession?


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