By: Nick Sidwell OTR/L
Community SIS chair
We have an amazing opportunity in occupational therapy because no one outside of our profession quite knows what we do. Especially in the Western states, like Utah, we get confused looks and questions about what we do. Maybe they compare us to other therapies or they just think they know what we do- like getting people a job. Maybe they met one out of the hundreds of OT professionals in the state or one from another place and they base the whole profession on one small encounter. Even the doctors that refer to us have trouble wrapping their heads around what we do and what we are able to do. The fact of the matter is, this ambiguity is an amazing opportunity that can bring more referrals, greater understanding, and allows us to advocate for our profession!
Every time somebody asks “What is occupational therapy?”, it is our chance to build up the OT profession and your role in it. In business, you pitch your business to potential customers, investors, and other business professionals through an “elevator pitch”. If you had an elevator ride between two or three floors, would you be able to explain to the person standing next to you, what you do and how you hope to do it… in an inspiring way that would make somebody to want to learn more or to give you money? Our elevator pitch comes every day as we tell people what we do for a living, or why they are coming to OT, or when we (hopefully seize the golden opportunity and actually) ask the follow-up question “Do you know what occupational therapy is?” The sheer fact that not many people know about us gives us perfect set up for an elevator pitch every day, and sometimes repeatedly all day long.
I used to be nervous about telling people what I do for a living. In OT school I used to frustratedly roll my eyes every time somebody from another medical program asked “What is occupational therapy?“ because I thought they should just know if they are a medically-based professional! I used to be scared of trying to awkwardly explain to people in a way that encompasses our whole profession… all before they get bored and their eyes glaze over.
Now that I have a few years under my belt I have realized it’s not just the opportunity but that there are many ways to peak people’s interest about OT and I jump at the chance to do so. Often times my explanation changes based on who I’m talking to (I.e.- A child versus a medical professional versus my mother-in-law). However, I have found one great way to explain it to most people. The best part is, that it all starts with the name “Occupational therapy“- it actually says what we do in our name- with a little bit of extra understanding about the word “occupation”. I say something like “Most people think of an occupation as a profession but we know the word “occupation“ can mean any activity that occupies a person’s daily life, especially activities that are meaningful and purposeful.” I follow up with a question, “What do you do each and every day that is meaningful and purposeful to you?“
Some other explanations out there deal with what you as the OT professional will personally do with the client. For example…
“My role in your care is to help you become as independent, efficient, and safe as possible with your daily living tasks using functional activities to improve your ability to perform your occupations of life.” -Suzanne G.
Others use the occupational therapy slogan while saying something like “OT professionals help people to “Live life to its fullest!” They may follow up that statement with a question or another clarifying explanation.
However we choose to explain our profession, whatever we do to enhance our elevator pitch about occupational therapy or about what we personally do, I honestly hope that we see it as an opportunity to advocate and build up our profession. We have the chance every time we meet a new person, with every doctor or referring physician, with every new client that we receive, and anytime that we go to a new place and have to introduce ourselves. Don’t be scared or frustrated anymore! Use the question “Do you know what “occupational therapy” is?” after you introduce yourself, to inspire others and leave them wanting to know more.