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How To Take On Research as an Occupational Therapist

Maybe you are searching for a change in your job? Perhaps you are looking to advance your career? Maybe you want to contribute to the knowledge base?

Most occupational therapists chose the career because of the patient care aspect and working one-on-one with clients, but just because an OT decides to conduct research does not mean they need to lose the satisfaction of improving the lives of others.

There are many different reasons why occupational therapists choose to begin a career in research, and there are just as many variations to entering the field.

Former Classmates & Colleagues in OT

Social media plays an integral part in our lives and offers a valuable tool into networking with other OTs.

If you are interested in research, follow up with some former classmates or colleagues to see if they are working on any projects you could assist with.

If you have an original idea you want to explore, using social media can help you identify practitioners who have they same interest or specialty who may be able to assist with your research.

Tip: Your research does not have to be performed with other OT’s. Occupational therapy overlaps with many healthcare professions and other members of the interdisciplinary team may offer valuable skill and insight.

Former Occupational Therapy University

Now that you have graduated and aren’t swamped with papers, presentations, and case studies, you may have free time to explore the research world.

Oftentimes professors are required to have scholarly work outside of teaching as a part of their job description. Connect with your former professors and inquire what projects they are working on.

There is a chance they might have a project you can assist them on. A benefit of working with a former professor is that you already know each other and rapport has been created. A good relationship with a university will help the research process along the way.

Occupational Therapy Universities in the Area

After you graduate, it is possible you may move to a different part of the country to for your first OT job.

Colleges and universities are hubs for research. If there is an OT school or similarly related field, read about the faculty online and network with them. Reaching out to them is an excellent way to get involved with their projects.

If those professors do not have an opportunity for you, the OT community is small enough that they connect you with someone who does.

It may be intimidating, but remember there are not many OT researchers in the country, and so there are lots of opportunities available.

It may be intimidating, but remember there are not many OT researchers out there, and those who are doing research will appreciate your enthusiasm.

The AOTA Annual Conference & Expo

The AOTA Annual Conference is the ultimate place to network and begin your research career. There are speakers on every topic imaginable and many opportunities to meet therapists from across the country.

Also, your OT specialty will be represented by the leaders in that field who are excited to talk to others. They may even have specific sessions specifically for researchers.

Be sure to walk around the poster sessions. It is almost certain you will see something of interest!

State Occupational Therapy Conferences

Most state occupational therapy associations hold an annual conference in additional the National Conference. These smaller conferences will offer a more intimate feel and facilitate conversations with leaders in the field much closer to your home. Participate and talk to other OTs. Ask them about their research or if they would be interested in working with you.

Post-Professional OTD or Ph.D.

If you are serious, going back to school may be the most efficient way to enter the research field.

Going back to school may be the most efficient way to enter the research field. Click to Tweet

Along with the post-professional OTD and a Ph.D., there are many other avenues for furthering your education. AOTA has a great resource for helping practitioners decide whether or not to go back to school.

Hospitals and Fellowships in OT

Similar to college and universities, many major hospital networks have research programs of their own.

When looking for a new job, inquire about their evidence-based practice and if there are research opportunities. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be a large company. Many small outpatient clinics hold on to information of past clients. This could mean years of unused data for research purposes.

Tip: It is important to disseminate your work afterward, but that doesn’t mean yours has to be published in an occupational therapy journal. Try publishing in journals of other disciplines or aspects of healthcare. You could even submit it your work to a magazine or give a poster presentation at a conference. You could even post it here on www.newgradoccupationaltherapy.com!

Throughout school, we are taught the essentials of evidence-based practice, and yet in almost every aspect of OT, more research is needed.

It is important we all contribute to the knowledge base. Reimbursement systems are becoming stricter, and we need to show how our interventions are effective. And as the lines blur between rehabilitation professionals, we need to be able to demonstrate OT’s distinct value.

About Dominic Lloyd-Randolfi

Dominic Lloyd-Randolfi
Dominic Lloyd-Randolfi is the Publication Director of NewGradOccupationalTherapy.com. He recently graduated from MGH Institute of Health Professions with his doctorate in occupational therapy and works as an acute care OT.

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