Mentorship in Occupational Therapy

Mentorship in Occupational Therapy: From Learning the Ropes to Finding your Passion

Whether you are a new grad or seasoned therapist, mentorship in your occupational therapy career will have a meaningful and lasting impact.

Making connections with other OTs throughout your professional lifespan sets the stage for best practice and can ignite career driving passion. 

If finding mentors is a priority for you, there’s no doubt that it will promote positive change for your clients and for your career.  Having the opportunity to be mentored by therapists who are invested in our profession can also be an inspiration for you to become a mentor yourself.  The mentoring relationship is reciprocal, equally rewarding for both, and essential for growth.

Mentors We Find When Exploring OT as a Career: Those who Get You on the Path

Most of us have a story about how we came to know the field of occupational therapy. It could have been a guidance counselor or a career investigations test that directed us. However, in many cases, most of us knew someone in the field. That initial contact, how she or he spoke about the field, was what drew us in and gave us the desire to explore OT as a career.  

I met an occupational therapist who worked in the orthopedic rehab setting and she was working toward earning her PhD in Child Development, while raising a new baby boy. I was an undergrad college student assigned to code her research on parental relationships, and I was in absolute awe of this woman’s passion and stamina. How could one person be able to do so much and so well?  I was struggling to find direction, wanting to find a career with a balance of science and creativity. Before Chris, I had never heard of occupational therapy.

As my first OT mentor, she encouraged me to apply for a tech position at the hospital where she worked to investigate OT as a career.  After earning the position and working for just a few months, I was certain this was what I wanted to do. Through this job, I met another experienced OT who became yet another mentor.  I distinctly recall her patience in guiding me, and in retrospect, I feel her ability to see my desire to learn was validation for the work she put in. 

Mentors We Find While In OT School: Navigating The First Part of the Journey

mentorship occupational therapy

During your OT program, you are surrounded by potential mentors. Because typically the environment is saturated with experience in and excitement of the field, finding a mentor often happens organically. If it does not seem to be happening with ease, making connections with professors who inspire you by asking more in-depth questions of them on topics of interest or on those that are unclear can help you determine if a mentoring relationship is possible.  

Professors can be mentors who begin to help you identify your learning style (which is important throughout your career as an OT) as well as highlight your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing our weaknesses is the best seed for growth. Often having others to facilitate self-reflection to identify our own areas for growth is a gift. 

Mentors We Meet in Fieldwork: Helping Us See Who We Can Be as OTs

No matter if you get the fieldwork assignment you’d hoped for or not, there is always mentorship potential.  The therapist in the setting that accepted you to come to learn is willing to spend time and energy on shaping you as a therapist.  All you must do is be “available” for learning and absorbing whatever it is they have to teach you. 

Whether it ends up being the specific area of practice that you end up working in or not, there is always something to learn about who you want to be professionally.  I have learned that mentorship can take on many shapes and forms and if you take the time to see that, you could gain more than you even thought possible.

If you happen to have a fieldwork in the practice area of your dreams, then all the more reason to soak up all of the mentoring you can.  Not only are you building skills to help your clients and honing your craft, but you could be making potential job connections. 

I was fortunate enough to be influenced by three amazing businesswomen who took their love of helping children with special needs to new levels.  I observed them developing community programs and building relationships with local pediatricians to help families. I was inspired by them to always work harder and look outside of the box.  

Mentors We NEED in Our First Jobs: Our Professional Lifelines

So, you have found your first job and you think it is where you want to be.  There are so many procedural details to learn among the overwhelm of feeling you basically “know what you are doing.”  Hopefully you find a job initially in a setting with supervision and mentoring built in. 

Regardless of if this is true or not, finding the go-to colleagues for procedural questions, for clinical reasoning, and for moral support is critical. You are lucky if you find all of that in one mentor, but most of us seek it out constantly and grow a supportive network of more experienced therapists to guide us. And the mentors you have collected to this point can also be anchors for you during this part of the journey.

If you are an experienced therapist and are making a change to a new practice area, mentoring will also be critical in navigating the nuances of a new area of the profession. 

mentorship occupational therapy

Mentors We Seek Ongoing: Challenging Us to Up Our Game

Once we feel mastery in a specific setting, often a sense of comfort and “knowing” can cloud our desire to learn more.  This is another time in which ongoing co-mentoring can support us.  It is literally impossible to know everything, but being an active learner throughout the course of our careers is similar to exercise.  Engaging in mentorship is like having a workout partner to keep you motivated.  

Mid-career I was taught by an icon in the field of pediatric OT to always ask questions, invoking the tenet that ongoing brainstorming, self-reflection and mentorship is our duty to our clients and to ourselves. There were no therapy sessions without questions regarding what we could do better, what could help more. I also had mentors who relentlessly sought research to support our treatment methodology and who prioritized individual strengths and relationships above prewritten protocols. These mentors helped shape my desire to constantly seek more education and perspectives.

As occupational therapists, we have the responsibility to consider each individual client, holistically. No matter what area of practice we are in, we can always strive to do this better, as there is no one recipe for people.  We need multiple sets of eyes to see things from a variety of perspectives to serve each individual best. Having an openness to the ideas of others and the desire to always do better for those we serve is the way we keep our professional passion alive and provide the best quality of care.  

Mentors We Become Through Being Mentored: The End Game

I could list every mentor who has taken the time to influence me, from pre-grad school through those I seek guidance from today. The impact has been significant in different ways throughout my journey as an OT. 

At a certain point in my career, when I began the role of mentor in some professional relationships, I began to see how mutually beneficial this relationship was. Previously, I had thought I was only taking from my mentors to grow and learn. I always felt such a sense of gratitude but also almost a sense of owing. 

We are told it is our professional responsibility to have students and to guide the new generation of OTs. The secret is though….once I began mentoring others, I saw I learned just as much on that side of the relationship, if not more. If you haven’t yet, try it for yourself and you’ll see!

OT Mentorship Benefits Throughout Your Career

The Most Obvious Benefits:

  • Building professional relationships and connections for future opportunities
  • Gaining procedural knowledge from an experienced therapist
  • Having multiple perspectives to inform best practice.
  • Developing your craft
  • Reflecting with others on your areas of strength and areas of need to support professional growth
  • Exposing yourself to a variety of therapeutic styles that appeal to you and that you may want to emulate in your own practice

Additional Unique Benefits:

  • Observing passion and grit of a respected therapist can inspire work ethic and growth from within.
  • Witnessing the demeanor and drive of influential figures in the field or in your workplace inspires us to do the same.
  • Learning the art of self-reflection, an essential element of higher-level clinical reasoning
  • Joining a learning lifestyle versus capping your knowledge supports best practice and offers leadership opportunities, thus also opening more professional doors
  • Feeling the deeper impact you can have on client/ patient lives when you strive to learn more, despite years of experience
  • Gaining the desire to mentor others to find the next level of professionalism pushes our field forward and can be even more gratifying than being mentored yourself.

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In summary, mentorship in occupational therapy is at the most basic level essential to finding volunteer opportunities, the “right” schools, the “best” jobs, etc. 

But if cultivated and appreciated, mentorship can be the difference maker between doing a job and loving your job while making a true impact. Seek mentorship relationships throughout your OT journey. You won’t regret it!

 

Additional OT Mentorship Resources:

 How to Find an Occupational Therapy Mentor (Inspired Treehouse)

How Mentorship Can Change Your Occupational Therapy Career (Core Medical)

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One comment

  • Enock kipngetich June 3, 2023   Reply →

    OT mentorship would be of great important to me at this stage where am still learning occupational therapy since it will equip me with some skills from experience occupational therapist. Am also happy to have learn some benefits of having OT mentor who will be able to guide me throughout our my career as an OT. Am looking forward to get one mentor

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