You worked hard in OT school. You landed your first job. Now you’re discovering how much more there is to learn. Many therapists quickly see the potential for growth beyond entry-level competence. They wonder how to advance their careers.
It can be difficult to know where to start. There are many options for pursuing best practices and developing an area of expertise.
For new grads, I recommend starting career advancement by laying the foundation of a strong network and by pursuing best practices through new learning. These are the best ways of setting the stage for new opportunity.
Career advancement starts with networking. The process can be as simple as staying in touch with faculty and classmates. Plugging into a network allows you to ask questions, receive support, and learn more about best practices.
Your classmates and professors are a huge asset to your network in your first years of practice – and throughout your career. My class has a Facebook page where we ask questions and keep each other posted on career changes. Five years after graduation, my classmates are often my first call when I need to connect with another OT.
Maintaining a relationship with your former professors can open up new opportunities for career advancement as well. They can help connect you with a colleague or mentor in your specific field, and are a source of job recommendations.
Online communities and forums leverage the knowledge of therapists from around the globe. Such communities exist for almost every area of practice. Joining one is a great way to keep a pulse on the conversations happening in your area of practice.
- Facebook Groups (the OT4OT Group offers a comprehensive list of all 4OT groups in its description)
- Occupational Therapy Jobs Forum on Indeed
- Occupational Therapy on Reddit
- LinkedIn Occupational Therapist Networking Group
Joining a professional group such as AOTA and your state or local association can open up avenues for networking and provide you with ideas for pursuing continuing education.
Local Social Events
Many major cities have therapy networking events. Keep your ear to the ground for opportunities in your area. Initiating a time to get together outside of work with your coworkers can be great for building professional relationships.
Ideally your network expands to include OTs who are more advanced in their careers. The one-on-one relationship is a great way to learn from an experienced professional.
There are structured mentoring programs out there, some through employers, others through programs like the AOTA Emerging Leaders Development Program.
If there is not an established mentorship program available, do not fret. This can be an important growth opportunity. Mentorship can take on many forms if you stay open.
3. Continuing Education
After having completed years of school to obtain your initial occupational therapy license, it can feel daunting to launch into continuing education.
Pursuing continuing education early is a great way to find answers to the slew of questions you have as a new grad. Being a lifelong learner will serve your career and your patients well.
NBCOT Competency Tool
If you are registered with NBCOT, I highly recommend the continued competency resources in The Navigator. These ensure you are up to speed in your area of practice. One of my favorite features is that it will generate a reading list for you of research relevant to your practice.
Conferences are the best way to simultaneously network, grow your knowledge set, and start crafting a vision for what route your career may take. Unfortunately, these are also the most expensive options on the list.
Online courses are a more affordable option. You can choose from a larger library of topics and a wider range of leading experts than at a conference. I started my continuing education here at MedBridge and wish I had done so sooner as a new grad.
Putting it All Together
The best part about these pursuits is that not only can they help shape your career, they also deliver immediate impact on your day-to-day patient care. Each provides an avenue to answer the questions you will have as a new grad and learn from other therapists’ work.
Whatever route you choose, I hope you enjoy building your career. The first years in the field can be particularly exciting as you continue to grow as a therapist and seek that sweet spot where your passion meets your clients’ needs.
Advance Your Career with MedBridge
Gain unlimited access to AOTA-approved courses for a variety of specialties taught by top instructors, including Teepa Snow, Jan Davis, and more. An annual subscription also includes patient engagement tools – offered in the form of educational videos/handouts and home exercise programs – to help you educate your clients and their caregivers on the condition, safe transfers, wheelchair management, and more.