Crafting Your Perfect Occupational Therapy Elevator Pitch

No matter where you are in the occupational therapy career process, you’ve probably been told 100 times that OT is a relatively unknown field and that not many people know what it is. While we make a huge difference in the lives of individuals with disabilities across the lifespan, it’s also true that we need to assert our role in almost every setting we enter.

For this reason, a solid occupational therapy elevator pitch is one of the first things an OT or OTA student must develop. This exercise is also a really helpful way for you to gain a deeper understanding of the OT profession as a whole.

What is an Occupational Therapy Elevator Pitch?

An elevator pitch is a brief but descriptive way to summarize a company, idea, or product. It’s traditionally used in the business world so that entrepreneurs can quickly catch the attention of potential investors. A good pitch will be about 30 seconds in length and gives someone the basics they need so they can decide if they want to learn more or proceed in another way.

In regards to occupational therapy, we often hear the question, “What is occupational therapy?” or “What does an occupational therapist do?” so it’s super helpful to have a quick answer prepared in the form of an OT elevator speech.

This not only helps you look knowledgeable but it helps promote our profession accurately and succinctly. It can be redundant answering these questions, so if you’re able to react with an effective answer without thinking too much, it will also make it much easier on you.

You may have guessed there are several ways that an occupational therapy elevator speech can go. There is no right or wrong way to do it, so your reply may reflect your own perception of the field or the experiences you’ve had so far.

Either way, it should help someone understand the basics of a therapist’s job and how they can help others succeed. Here are some options you can use as a springboard for making your OT elevator pitch:

OTs Work Across the Lifespan 

Formulating an elevator pitch for occupational therapy can be difficult because we are a diverse and multi-talented field. It can be tempting to include all the things we can do instead of focusing on the core of the profession.

Some people may prefer to emphasize the wide range of people we can work with by saying that OTs can work in a hospital or nursing homes with older adults or in the school system with children. If you decide to go this route, that’s great!

occupational therapy elevator pitch

But be sure to include information on how we help these people. It all comes down to independence, so here are some ways to craft your response:

  • “Occupational therapists help people of all ages become more independent. We can work with babies, children, adults, and the elderly to make them stronger and more self-sufficient despite an injury, illness, or disability.”
  • “Occupational therapists work with people from birth to death to ensure they are functioning as independently as possible within the places they frequent most often.”

Don’t be afraid to use an example to emphasize the versatility. You can even draw from your own experience by saying: “Occupational therapy has a wide reach. During my training, I’ve had the opportunity to educate and build the recovery skills of patients in a mental health unit. Then another role took me directly into the homes of older patients where I made them more independent and their environment safer to live in.”

Avoid using terms they may not know (like home health or fieldwork rotations) and focus on the crux of our profession.

Compare OT to Something They Already Know

Occupational therapists consistently strive for the notoriety that physical therapists get. But, the reality is, that it’s sort of fun doing something so unique and meaningful at the same time.

Despite getting mistaken for PTs quite often, we can use this to our advantage when crafting our OT elevator pitch. If people are more familiar with PTs, then add this to your pitch to address the elephant in the room:

  • “We are in the rehab field like physical therapists are. But while PTs focus on the basics of strength, motion, and coordination, occupational therapists focus on using those skills to perform tasks like getting dressed and cooking.”
  • “PTs are more focused on posture, how the body moves, and it’s endurance for tasks. OTs instead help someone incorporate those abilities to participate in activities that are meaningful to them.”

Get to the Root of Their Confusion

In many cases, people’s hesitancy and misunderstanding about our field comes from the basics: our title. It’s not surprising that many people take one look at the term occupational therapy and assume that we are career counselors or trying to get someone job modifications.

While we can focus on gainful employment in some settings (such as mental health or work hardening), this barely scratches the surface of what we do. Defining the terminology right off the bat can help clear some of the smoke:

  • “I’m an occupational therapist. The term occupation refers to an activity or task that someone finds meaningful. So our work can really range based on a person’s priorities and the limitations they experience as a result of a disability or illness.”
  • “Occupation is at the heart of what we do. We focus on modifying tasks, strengthening skills, and using specific strategies to help someone do what they love to do – whatever that may be.”

Focus on Activity Analysis

Another big part of our jobs is activity analysis. This is embedded within an occupational therapist’s role in almost every setting, so it’s worth using this as a conversation piece as well.

You can give an example to make a bit more transparent to the person you’re talking to. This is helpful since you’ll remember that most people we define OT for aren’t in the medical field!

  • “We focus on breaking down tasks to determine specific areas that a person struggles with. For example, if someone is having trouble brushing their teeth, we will look at their cognition to see if they are possibly forgetting the steps, we will look at the functioning of their hand to see if they lack the strength to hold the toothbrush, we will also test their balance to see if standing at the sink is too difficult for them. If there are no issues with these areas, we will dig a bit deeper and test their ability to complete tasks with multiple steps. We can also view their attention to determine if outside noise or an unsafe environment is preventing them from getting the task done.”

Toothbrushing is one of my favorite examples to use for activity analysis because there is so much to consider for such a simple task that people take for granted or don’t think much of. But there are a lot of other scenarios you can use here:

  • “Occupational therapists take a big look at the details that it takes to make someone successful in a certain task. So something like grocery shopping can be broken down into motor skills needed to retrieve items from shelves, planning to assess inventory and make a list, organization to place them in the right spot once you get them home, attention to stay focused with a lot of other people around, communication to ask for help in the store if you can’t find something, community mobility to locate, enter, and navigate the store appropriately, and much more. Once a therapist identifies the areas that are most difficult for someone, they will know where to focus their treatment.”

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As you can see, there are so many ways to promote occupational therapy while enhancing your creativity in how you view the field. It has long been said that teaching someone about a concept is one of the best ways to reinforce what you already know.

Doing this can even highlight the areas that you don’t know as much about. This can be especially helpful in OT school, since you can explore those areas more and possibly even receive mentoring or additional support as needed.

Once you prepare your own personalized OT elevator pitch, don’t be afraid to get out there and start using it! If you find there are any snags or kinks in it (like someone doesn’t understand part of what you say), you can always make adjustments and simplify it even more.

Start networking and use this information to tell others what you know about OT. Learn about their experiences, too. There’s even a chance you will meet someone who has been treated by an OT before or knows a fellow OT themselves!

What do you like to focus on in your occupational therapy elevator pitch? What else would you add? Let us know in the comments!

This article was originally published on August 4, 2021 and last updated on November 2, 2023.

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6 comments

  • Aileen March 9, 2022   Reply →

    I wanted to let you know how your article inspired us to craft our own OT elevator pitch. It was an advocacy activity we did during our legislative day. Thank you! It reminded me why I am an OT4life and why I love what I do.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L March 9, 2022   Reply →

      I love to hear this and am so glad the article was inspiring for your advocacy activity!

  • Cassie Quinlan June 10, 2023   Reply →

    I find it a challenge, so I appreciate this focus on developing an explanatory speech. Many in society focus on externals, or specific parts of body or world. But I see OT as watching motion, as someone does a task. If it is awkward, keep studying to see exactly where the pause starts, and experiment to see how to improve a safe and steady start. My brother was born with developmental disabilities that affect his competent mobility and he was clumsy, and often failed so he would get afraid to try on his own, since he may not be able to fix things if he fails. But if helped to safely practice the parts of tasks that trip him up, he is often very eager to incorporate success into more complex tasks. It took over a month of repeated accompaniment, but I taught him, step by step, to ride the subway system.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L June 12, 2023   Reply →

      That’s a beautiful analogy and a great way to look at OT. That’s also awesome that you were able to use OT strategies with your brother as well 🙂

  • Ann Troshinsky November 12, 2023   Reply →

    My elevator pitch is for the parents at the time of a pediatric evaluation. I start by asking if they already know what we do. Usually I still tell them a general description then flow into how to help a child “like theirs”. Here is what I say. “OTs help people of all ages return to the things they like to do and need to do after an accident, a stroke or surgery. For example, if someone loses the use of one of their arms or hands, we help them learn new ways to get dressed, take a shower, cook, whatever they say is meaningful to them. ” The next part is when I am just doing this on the fly with whomever I am assessing in the moment…….. “Kids may need help doing things because they have the role of a student, a family member or to play. We will evaluate to find out underlying impairments that may be the cause or that is getting in the way of them learning to self manage and play and make and keep friends.” That is alot, but I have it mostly from my heart and why I got into OT in the first place. I recommend some reflection from fellow OTs. If you reflect on WHY you are here in the first place, explaining it will be natural and from your intuition.

    • Sarah Stromsdorfer, OTR/L November 12, 2023   Reply →

      I love your pitch example and thought process, Ann! Thank you so much for sharing!

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