Don’t Practice OT in Schools Without Considering These Crucial Factors
Are you looking for a school-based occupational therapy (OT) job?
You’re looking at the right time!
OT jobs should increase by 24% through 2026. The aging U.S. population will drive much of that growth, but plenty of America’s children need OT services, too. In fact, schools are the fourth-largest setting for direct OT client interventions (60.8%), according to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA).
And don’t forget how fulfilling the work can be. When you provide OT in schools, you’re helping students master daily tasks essential to not only their education but also their participation in a community of their peers. School-based OT can really help kids flourish!
At Pediatric Therapeutic Services (PTS), we’ve been helping pediatric therapy practitioners, especially those new to the field, flourish as well. We can do more than just help you find a school therapy job. We can help you create a long and satisfying school therapy career.
Here are three important issues to think about as you look ahead to your next—or your first!—school-based OT position:
1. Understand What Makes School Therapy Jobs Different
Whether you’re a pediatric occupational therapist coming from a medical background (for example, a hospital or rehab facility) or you’re a clinician just getting started, you’ve got to have a healthy appreciation for why school-based OT jobs are unique.
Therapy of any stripe simply isn’t the main focus at schools. Education is.
Sure, it sounds like a statement of the obvious. But we’ve seen too many therapists go through tough transitions to school-based settings because they didn’t understand this fact.
As OT settings, schools bring their own challenges, as well as their own rewards. AOTA offers these tips for making a smooth move into a school therapy job:
- Make connections
Relationships with teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, and parents are essential to your success. Enlist them as team members so students get as much support as possible. PTS clinical directors can advise you on making a great first impression and connections of lasting value.
- Organize in advance
Learning the school building, crafting your schedule, reading up on your caseload—you’ll have a lot on your plate as soon as you start. PTS can help you organize your time effectively once you accept a school-based OT job.
- Evaluate your resources
What assessment forms, activities, and equipment does the school district have, and what do you need to get? Make a plan for filling in any resource gaps you see or anticipate. At PTS, our therapists have fast access to the resources they need.
2. Decide Whether to Work as an Independent Contractor (IC)
Still working on a degree? Need more time for your family? Want to pursue other goals and activities important to you?
Depending on your circumstances, landing a full-time school therapy job may not be your ideal outcome.
Working as a full-time occupational therapist is certainly not your only option. You can get the flexibility you want by practicing OT as an independent contractor (IC).
How does an independent school occupational therapist differ from an employee?
- ICs make money by billing time directly
As an IC, you decide when, where, and how many hours you work. You’re free to say “yes” or “no” to new opportunities. And you get paid for all the work you do outside of therapy sessions, such as reporting and taking notes.
- ICs don’t have employers withholding taxes from paychecks
District employees’ paychecks shrink before they’re ever deposited. Income, Social Security, and Medicare taxes are all taken out. As an IC you’ll still have to pay these taxes (and should consult with a tax professional when doing so), but your initial take-home pay will be larger.
- ICs can deduct work-related expenses
Out-of-pocket costs in school-based occupational therapy jobs can add up. You may need specialized equipment like pencil weights, weighted lap pads, wobble chairs, and more. You’ll also likely pay for transportation, licenses, professional dues, and insurance, among other costs. But ICs can reduce their end-of-year tax burden by documenting and deducting work-related expenses (again, check with a tax professional).
Understand, these points are for your generalized comparison only. You’ll want to think carefully about how they’d apply to your personal situation.
But the bottom line? When you’re an independent contractor, you’re your own business. And that means you’ll be able to make so many more decisions about your money and your time in ways that best suit your personal and professional needs.
3. See Your Work as Part of a Larger System
Most school-based occupational therapists will tell you: The potential for feelings of frustration and isolation is real!
- You might spend hours in “the therapy room” (assuming you’re lucky enough to have one, instead of being relegated to a closet) apart from the rest of the school community.
- You might find yourself explaining, over and over, why a child’s sloppy handwriting doesn’t automatically mean formal occupational therapy is required on his or her IEP.
- You may run up against maddening misconceptions and stereotypes about what you do and the students you serve.
For any number of reasons, times will come when you wonder whether your job as a school-based OT is making a difference.
In those times, working for a company that supports and values you as a partner in transforming school-based related services makes all the difference.
At PTS, we’ve all been in your shoes. Our clinical directors aren’t headhunters or professional recruiters, but practitioners who’ve all worked as school-based therapists and ICs. In fact, we have 115+ years of combined experience!
All that experience led us to forge a new approach to delivering special education and related services in schools. We call it The Therapeutic Ecosystem.
Its three components shape who we are as a company:
At PTS, we offer therapists on- and off-site clinical support, growth opportunities, and professional mentoring. Our team operates within a powerful network of advanced techniques and best practices.
You can’t do your job right without the right equipment! We’re committed to providing in-services and shared therapist resources, including a Lending Library accessible to both therapists and teachers.
PTS has an interactive team website with additional tools and resources for therapists. We also offer online caseload support and have several social media outlets where therapists can share strategies and tactics that really work.
When we place you in a school-based OT job, we do all we can to ensure you’re where you’re supposed to be, and to help you grow into the best school-based therapist you can become.
Let us help you find just the right school therapy job and start shaping your rewarding career. Call us at 610-941-7020 or contact us online today to begin exploring the possibilities!