Crafting Your Perfect Occupational Therapy Elevator Pitch

No matter where you are in the occupational therapy degree process, you’ve probably been told 100 times that OT is a relatively unknown field. 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 a therapy student must develop. This exercise is also a really helpful way for you to gain a deeper understanding of the 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 an answer prepared.

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 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: “OT 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 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 an 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 as 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 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!

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