Transitioning from Clinical to School-Based OT

Transitioning from Clinical to School-Based OT
Cross Country Education
November 04, 2022 02:55 AM (GMT-05:00)
Educator Resources

Essential Tips for Occupational Therapists Moving from Clinical to Educational Settings

So, you’ve made the leap from clinical to school-based occupational therapy. Congratulations! Being a school OT is an exciting and gratifying career with an outstanding schedule!

As you make this transition, you may be wondering…

  • How different is school-based OT from clinical OT?
  • How will my work day differ as a school OT?
  • What are the benefits of being a school-based OT?
  • What can I do to prepare for my transition to being a school-based occupational therapist?

Read on…we’ve got answers from school OTs who know the ropes!

Clinical OT versus School OT

While there’s a great deal of overlap between occupational therapy services delivered in clinical and educational settings, there are also many differences.

Pediatric clinical OT and school-based OT both help children and teens participate as fully as possible in everyday “occupations” of living. However, clinical OT uses the medical model and school-based OT uses the educational model. Here’s how they differ (note: these are typical situations; exceptions do occur):

Clinical OT School-Based OT
Based on the medical model Based on the educational model
Focused on any of the occupations of children/teens, which may include eating, resting, sleeping, communicating needs, participating in a family, playing, getting dressed, brushing teeth, toileting, practicing self-care, regulating emotions, participating in school, etc. Focused on any of the occupations of children/teens specifically related to education, which may include eating, communicating needs, playing, practicing self, care, reading, writing, organizing, paying attention, interacting with others, following directions, holding a pencil, writing, typing, etc.
Delivered in outpatient clinics, hospitals, NICUs or private practices Delivered in schools (hospitals or homes for students who are considered hospital/home-bound)
Paid for by private health insurance, public payers, caregivers/parents, etc. Federally mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and provided by school districts
Referred/prescribed by a physician Referred for OT evaluation by teachers, parents or other IEP team members
Most often delivered as one-on-one services Delivered one-on-one or in small groups either in or out of the classroom

Your Work Day as a School OT

Clinical OTs and school-based OTs perform many of the same functions. The focus, however, is very different. This has a lot to do with switching mindsets from medical to educational models. The environment is also quite different since you’ll work in a school versus a clinic or hospital.

As a school-based OT, your day might involve:

  • Responding to email messages and reviewing your calendar
  • Planning for sessions and gathering OT supplies
  • Screening/evaluating students for services
  • Setting and reviewing students’ occupational therapy goals
  • “Pushing in” to classrooms to work with students in the general education environment
  • “Pulling out” students for one-on-one services
  • Working with students in small group special education classrooms
  • Recording data while working with students
  • Collaborating with speech-language pathologists, physical therapists and other education professionals
  • Showing classroom teachers strategies to help students who receive OT
  • Attending IEP meetings
  • Coming up with creative ways to help students and teachers with challenges

Benefits of Being a School-Based OT

We think being a school-based OT is amazing (we’ll admit we’re biased)! Here are just 10 of the many reasons why:

  1. You get to work with kids, so you get to laugh and play a lot!
  2. You’ll have wonderful coworkers who care about improving lives.
  3. The schedule is fantastic: short work days and a school calendar with lots of time off.
  4. It’s the perfect job if you have kids or want plenty of leisure time to enjoy an outstanding work-life balance.
  5. Your work day won’t ever be boring. The day will be full of adventure and will fly by.
  6. You get to use your creativity and problem-solving skills to help kids thrive.
  7. You’ll have the opportunity to work closely with therapists and expand your knowledge base.
  8. You get to help teachers learn ways to support their students.
  9. You’ll help concerned parents know their children have an advocate on their side.
  10. You see measurable changes in students that will improve their lives forever.

Tips for Transitioning to School OT

If you want to feel confident transitioning into the school environment, you can take these steps:

  • Visit the school in advance. Find out where you’ll park. Get familiar with the school layout. Check out your workspace. See what equipment and tools are available.
  • Get the bell schedule. Find out the schedule so you can plan your days around the bells and navigate class changes.
  • Learn the terminology. Become familiar with terms like tier 1, 2 and 3 supports, response to interventions (RTI), individualized education program (IEP), 504, student support teams (SST), eligibility, data collection, goals, direct services, integrated services, pull-out services, program supports and present levels of performance (PRP).
  • Make some friends. Spend some time connecting with other therapists, teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, front office staff, janitors, cafeteria employees, bus attendants and others.
  • Remember why you’re here. Put on your OT hat, but shift your mindset to education. Your primary goal is to support your clients’ educational needs in school and beyond.

School Occupational Therapy Jobs

Find your next school-based occupational therapy opportunity here.

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