#118 Occupational Therapy Career Close-Up with Chris Robbins Transcript


Lisa Marker Robbins 00:56

We’re diving into the world of occupational therapy, OT, a career that takes passion and proficiency for science to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. Our guest, Chris Robbins brings firsthand experience from her journey into the field of OT, sharing insights that illuminate the path for those considering this fulfilling caretaking profession. Chris will walk us through where an occupational therapist focuses their work with patients. She’ll delve into the essential skills and qualities that are pivotal for success and OT and recount her process of choosing this career over similar healthcare professions like speech and physical therapy. Through Chris’s story, we’ll learn about the rigorous education and licensing process for occupational therapist and the realities of finding a job in this in demand field. Additionally, Chris will share her reflections on achieving work life balance the new O T, providing valuable advice for future professionals on managing the emotional aspects of this job. Whether you’re a student fascinated by the prospect of a career in health care, or a parent supporting your team’s exploration of their future, this episode offers a comprehensive look. I’m Lisa marker Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right into a great conversation.

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:28

Chris Robins dream guest Welcome to the show. Thank you. In full disclosure, we will tell everybody, it is not a coincidence that we have the same last name. You are my knees my marriage. And so just so everybody knows how this came about. We were at a family gathering back in I think it was October maybe when you guys were in town or Yeah, October. And I was just asking you how is your new job and occupational therapy going because you’re a recent ot grad. So proud of you. That was a haul to get there. And your set is going well. And you were telling me about it. And then you hit on some stuff that you said, I wish somebody had told me and I don’t even remember exactly what it was at this moment. But you’re like, I wish somebody would have told me on my path about this and this. And it wouldn’t have necessarily changed your decision to go into occupational therapy. But you wish you would have been aware. And I thought, oh my goodness, the world needs to know that from my sweet niece. So that’s how this episode was born. So we’re going to talk about occupational therapy.

Chris Robbins 03:48

My favorite.

Lisa Marker Robbins 03:52

So, before we dive in, like how you got here and all the things like for somebody, I think people are very familiar with physical therapy because particularly like teen athletes, or somebody gets a physical injury, and they have to go in and they have to get PT. So that’s much more people can think of what it is much more concrete than ot occupational therapy. But this is a really great field. So in a nutshell, what is occupational therapy, what does an occupational therapist do for their patients?

Chris Robbins 04:31

So you’re right, most people do know physical therapy a lot better than occupational therapy. So occupational therapy is healing through engagement and occupation. So we call those activities of daily living. So things like getting dressed, going to the bathroom, taking a shower. The things that we engage in every single day is essentially what Occupational Therapy is so it’s facilitating that after something like a stroke, or a traumatic brain injury, and kind of helping people get back to a level of engagement each day, and help people do the things that they want to do and need to do every day. And that’s kind of part of the reason why I love it so much, because it’s very, it’s a holistic profession. And it’s also very specific to the person you’re working with.

Lisa Marker Robbins 05:30

was a fantastic nutshell. So really, it’s somebody who perhaps had been self sufficient. At one point, something has happened to take away that self sufficiency, and you’re helping them get as self sufficient as possible in the future. So I have a question. As I think about that job, and you say things like a stroke or traumatic brain injury? Like what age groups are you working with, like, right away? When I hear stroke? I’m like, Oh, are you just working with the elderly? But so what is that gamut? I mean, are there times when there’s pediatric occupational therapy, what does that look like?

Chris Robbins 06:16

Yeah, so another good question. Another beautiful thing about OT is it spans the entire spectrum of life. So there are many, many pediatric OTS. In fact, most of my cohort was interested in peds. And there’s early intervention OTs, so literally, when you’re born like one two week old, one month old, like you can work with those kinds of patients and population. I have only ever worked with adults. So that’s kind of where my brain goes post stroke, post TBI, but there’s occupational therapists and schools, there’s pediatric clinics specifically for PT ot speech just for kids. So that’s another cool thing about the job. You can work with anybody anywhere. And down the future. If I wanted to work in a school, I could, if I wanted to work in a pediatric hospital like Dayton, children’s Cincinnati Children’s, they have occupational therapists there as well.

Lisa Marker Robbins 07:19

Okay, so that makes sense. So like somebody could think about like, well, I maybe want to do kids, and there wouldn’t be plenty of opportunity. And we’ll get to, as you know, you were doing figuring this out how you kind of landed there. But let’s, let’s go back to high school, Chris. Yeah. Before I even knew you how we were related. Did you like what did you think you were going to do in What did you study in undergrad? Like, how did this begin to play out for you? Yeah,

Chris Robbins 07:52

in high school, I went to Mount Notre Dame High School in Cincinnati, I absolutely loved it. And while I was there, I had the opportunity to take a lot of really cool science classes. And so through that, I kind of learned how much I loved science and math. And so that’s kind of where the bulb started. I realized, okay, I know I want to spend my life helping people. I know now that I love, math and science, like what? How could I combine these two things. So going into college, I really didn’t know where that route would take me. I studied biology and neuroscience, because I knew that I would probably be going to graduate school afterwards. And with a bio and neuro undergrad that would allow me to kind of do a variety of things like I could go to OT school, I could go to PT school, I could go to PA school, I could become a physician.

Lisa Marker Robbins 08:59

So let me ask you something about that. Like, what was the first time you ever thought about like, oh, t p t, because there’s some people that don’t have that. And I know you are a helper, you’re a caretaker. That is who you are by nature. So you weren’t going to go the pure science route you needed to kind of merge these two, you have an aptitude in science and math, you have a motivation for helping and understanding things like that. So when was the first time that you thought like your menu, you just kind of took me through a menu of options that those undergraduate degrees could set you up for success in grad school. Obviously, from a pretty early age, you were okay with grad school. Not everybody is fewer than 20% of Americans hold an advanced degree. So it’s not for everybody. Yeah. When were you first aware of like ot PT some of those options?

Chris Robbins 09:56

I so I went to my Me University for my undergrad. And I knew somebody at Miami who was actually a speech therapist. And so she was studying speech pathology at Miami. And so initially, I was like, Well, that sounds super cool. I’m going to pursue speech therapy because I had a lot of respect for this person who was going through the program. And I took the intro class my first semester, and I did not realize how much speech therapy dealt with swallowing, I thought it was more of like speaking and cognition. And so I took that intro class, and I actually took it with a friend who sat there and like, loved it, she was like, This is great. And I’m like, I don’t think I

Lisa Marker Robbins 10:44

can do you’re like, I’m out. That’s enough for me.

Chris Robbins 10:46

So through that I kind of learned, okay, so their speech therapy, and there’s also occupational therapy and physical therapy. So maybe, I’ll shadow OT, and I’ll shadow a PT, and kind of see what I think. And so I shadowed both of them. And I really loved my time shadowing a OT, I just felt like okay, these, this group, these are my people, this is what I think I would really love and enjoy doing. So,

Lisa Marker Robbins 11:17

first of all, I want to highlight the job shadow. I mean, I just yesterday, and this will be an episode that’ll drop previous to yours. I talked to somebody who’s an optometrist, who’s my age, but he’s an optometrist, and he has a son, your age who is in optometry school right now. And he also talked about the power of job shadows. And this is something I preach all the time for students as young as 16. Like, inside my college major and career coaching course launch Career Clarity module for all the lessons are about how to curate up close and personal experiences to help you roll in and roll out. And it sounds like I want my listeners to hear like had you not actually gone to see those two in in motion? Get up close and personal and talk to the people that are doing it, you would not have actually like on paper, there wasn’t enough information to really decide between OT and PT,

Chris Robbins 12:14

definitely, yeah. Is

Lisa Marker Robbins 12:16

there something like? So you went to school with probably undergrad with people who were preparing for a PT path? And as you already said, like speech language pathology? What would you say? Are there certain characteristics that would set apart like what might make ot a better fit for a path for someone rather than PT?

Chris Robbins 12:37

That’s a great question. So PT is more focused on like the biomechanical piece, I feel like they are more focused on like, the walking and the ambulation. And OT is more focused on the activities of daily living kind of like what I said before. And so I think, you know, like, I right now I work with a bunch of different OTs, PT, speech therapists, and everybody kind of has a similar mindset. Like we all want to help people. We are all you know, people, pleasers, people, like helpers,

Lisa Marker Robbins 13:18

social service oriented people.

Chris Robbins 13:22

Yeah, we we all like to help people. And I think that is like a huge essential quality to become a OT or PT. In terms of, like, the qualities that differ between occupational and physical therapists, I have had some people say like, the PTS tend to push a little bit harder,

Lisa Marker Robbins 13:46

and push the patient a little bit harder. Yeah, yeah. So you’ve got to be okay with being like, Nope, you’re gonna be in pain doing this. We’re gonna do it. I just had, as you already know, rotator cuff surgery last summer. And yeah, I did lots of PT, and you have to do it even when it hurts. Yeah,

Chris Robbins 14:03

yeah. And OT is a very similar way. But it feels like to me, sometimes. The, you know, we’re not necessarily pushing people to that level of physical pain, because we are more focused on just like the basic self care and the tasks, the activities of daily living. Yeah,

Lisa Marker Robbins 14:23

that makes sense. So you would have to be okay with that. So, okay, so you’re, you’re in undergrad, you decide through job shadows, that is going to be OT, what comes next? I know what comes next because I watched you do this, and it was a gauntlet it was a marathon to apply to get in, pay for all the things so yeah, let’s discuss post graduating undergrad like what is the education look like and what does it take to get in and all the things that you learn through that process? Yeah.

Chris Robbins 14:59

So so my pathway was a little bit different. So like I said, I studied biology and neuroscience. And most of my peers were actually pursuing, like medical school, PA school, not necessarily like OT and PT. And so a lot of universities have like a pre ot pathway. And Miami University did not have that. And so I really had to make sure that I had all of these prerequisite courses accomplished before I could even apply to go to graduate school. And each graduate school had different prerequisite courses that were required.

Lisa Marker Robbins 15:37

i How did you even keep track of that? Like, how did you find out and keep track of it? Yeah, so

Chris Robbins 15:42

I knew I applied to three different occupational therapy schools, I knew I wanted to go ahead and pursue my doctorate because there was rumor that by a, you know, in a few years, everybody will need their doctorate to practice occupational therapy. So there are master’s programs as well for OT. And that absolutely would have been an option for me, but I kind of thought, you know, I may as well just go get it all done with. So I knew I was going to be looking at schools that were doctoral programs. And I knew I wanted to be close to home. So in Ohio, or nearby to Ohio. And so as

Lisa Marker Robbins 16:24

your aunt, I was like, yeah,

Chris Robbins 16:25

yes. So essentially, I just kind of googled the different programs, they have, like, a list of prerequisites. Another big thing that you have to look for is, is the program accredited. So there were a few programs that were not yet accredited that I was pretty interested in. But it does, you have to get your degree from an accredited program, and like they were close to becoming accredited, and they likely would have been accredited by the time I would have left the college. But those are kind of, well,

Lisa Marker Robbins 17:02

there’s no guarantee in that and then right? If you know, you want to be an OT, that’s a that’s a risk. I mean, the university or the program could screw something up and not earn it by the time you’re graduating, and now you can’t go be an OT, correct? Yeah. So I was like, we talk about this a lot like anything that requires a license, sitting for an exam, I remember when you’re gonna write a test, yes. And licensed by the state has to be accredited, like, people need to be aware of that. I want to know a student who wanted to be a nurse. And she was really interested in a school who said by the end of her freshman year that they would be accredited for nursing. And I was like, I would not go, I would choose somewhere else. And that school ended up not being accredited in time. Yeah.

Chris Robbins 17:54

So and so that’s why I my criteria, I was like, Okay, I want to pursue a doctoral degree in the school needs to be accredited. So there really aren’t many ot graduate programs in Ohio and nearby states. So I ended up applying to three and I just looked through the website and looked at the prerequisite courses to make sure I had them. And this was probably like junior year at Miami because I knew, Okay, if I need, you know, if I need to take XY and Z courses in order to even apply to this school, then I need to make sure that I have all those covered. And like I said, it is kind of challenging, because each school grossly has the same courses like anatomy, right? Physiology, all that kind of stuff. But then some courses required, or some graduate programs required physics and others did not. And some, you know, so you really just kind of have to be thorough? Well, I

Lisa Marker Robbins 18:55

think too, it’s like, this drives home and I hear this a lot. And I think parents and college students underestimate this. Like, once you’re an undergrad, you are treated as an adult, and it is up to the student to go out and get this information. Nobody at Miami University was spoon feeding you like, Hey, Chris, you’re sure you have physics, if you want to go to this school? Right? You have to be mature enough and create the time and the space to figure that out on your own or it’s Yeah, or you’re gonna have missed opportunities and closed doors.

Chris Robbins 19:30

Yeah. And at Miami, they did have like a pre ot PT club, and they did have like a pre ot PT advisor. But at the same time, like you really have to put in the groundwork yourself to make sure that you are pursuing the route you want to go.

Lisa Marker Robbins 19:50

So that’s a great suggestion, though. That pre like a club, just a club at the university a lot of times to students and who are applying to college. They have to write this. Why the school essay for the University. And I’m always like you’re looking for alignment between who you are and what you want and what they offer, right? You’re not talking about their beautiful campus or right or their narrow Ohio, as you said, you wanted to be somewhat close to Cincinnati, and fortunately you did for those years, and you got to stay close to home, even though you’ve left us now, for the great State of Colorado for a short period of time. But that would be one of them, like look forward to they have clubs and advising, that’s important. But at the end of the day, it’s up to you to take advantage of those things. Definitely. So you get to PT OT, how long is the program?

Chris Robbins 20:43

So I I applied to all the schools and then you have to go through a bunch of different interviews. And then I ended up accepting an offer from Kettering College, and that was a doctorate program. So it’s three years straight through,

Lisa Marker Robbins 21:03

which just, you didn’t have summers off. Yeah, let’s be very clear. When you say strap through, it is straight through his three solid years, like that’s your full time job. Yes.

Chris Robbins 21:14

100%. And like, I got married, in the middle of graduate school, we had like, two two choices. It was like, either gonna be over Christmas break, or like, we had a few weeks in the summer. And so we were like, Oh, we could get married? Um, yeah. So it is very, it’s a very, very intensive program and process. How far

Lisa Marker Robbins 21:38

into the three year program? Was it that you started these clinical rotations that you would share with me about as you were doing them?

Chris Robbins 21:45

That’s a good question. So the first two years essentially, were pretty much didactic coursework. And then

Lisa Marker Robbins 21:55

that was just being in school in classrooms like, yeah,

Chris Robbins 21:59

oh, and we would have like, one week shadow opportunities. So those were called, like, our level one field works. But during this field works, you didn’t necessarily get hands on experience, it was more of just like observation. And then once you go through all the coursework, then you go to your level two field works, which are to 12 week clinical rotation. And during that time, you are, you are kind of the therapist, like you’re, you don’t have a license, you’re working under a licensed therapist, but you are taking the caseload, you know, you’re you’re learning essentially how to be an OT. And so you have two of those. And then I had a rotation in a skilled nursing setting, so a nursing home for 12 weeks. And then my other 12 week rotation was outpatient neuro, and so essentially, we ranked the different settings we wanted to be in. So like I said, you know, most of my peers wanted to do pediatrics, you could do a mental health rotation. So

Lisa Marker Robbins 23:08

you kind of knew, like, I don’t want to go the pediatric route. So you ranked that you wanted to be an adult settings. Yeah. While your peers were ranking paediatric.

Chris Robbins 23:19

Mm hmm. Yeah. And so um, the I, you know, you really learn a ton and those settings because you are getting to use everything you’ve learned in the classroom and apply it to real life and get a feel of like, okay, this is what it’s like to actually be occupational therapists. Yeah. So

Lisa Marker Robbins 23:39

we’re, you’re, so you were graduating, and then you had to sit for a licensing exam. Yes.

Chris Robbins 23:46

And so one thing to add to, after those 212 week rotations, then our final thing before we graduated, was what we call a capstone experience. And most of the doctorate programs have these. And ours was essentially 12 weeks where we got to pick a site, and we got to identify any need at the site. And then it was a completely different kind of feel them that fieldwork because when you’re on field work, it’s very much like go go go like you are working with the with the patients with the clients. And then the last little task before you graduate is this capstone. And that’s really where you get to be creative, and use the skills that you have gained and basically create a project that fulfills a need at a site. And so that’s something else to be aware of, if you’re looking into ot school is that capstone experience to that’s

Lisa Marker Robbins 24:40

pretty cool. So how quickly after graduation, because it wasn’t immediate, you were then studying and preparing. Did you take that exam? Yes,

Chris Robbins 24:50

I I took the exam, I think like three or four weeks after I graduated, which is a Pretty quick turnaround. So some

Lisa Marker Robbins 25:02

people would study longer and wait longer. You’re such a smarty pants are able to do that. Yeah.

Chris Robbins 25:08

So I took the exam a few weeks after I graduated, and I pretty much studied for probably six hours a day, went through a program and then sat for my boards. And you

Lisa Marker Robbins 25:21

passed first try? I did. Is that common writing?

Chris Robbins 25:24

Um, I would say most people do.

Lisa Marker Robbins 25:30

Yeah, they most people do pass the first time. So you Was it hard to find jobs? Like or do you feel like jobs are plentiful? Like were your friends that you’re graduating with? Easily finding positions?

Chris Robbins 25:41

Yes. Yeah. So that’s kind of the beauty of working in healthcare is like people need help all the time. Especially that’s not going on. Yeah. And especially as people are aging. And so they’re really most of my classmates have jobs pretty for

Lisa Marker Robbins 26:00

graduation even? Yeah, yeah. Like you did. Okay. So, as we’re wrapping it up, like what you had mentioned, like, there are things that you wish you had known or when you reflect on your experience and where you are now and you’re in a hospital setting, and helping people. What, what last nuggets of wisdom do you want to leave our parents and students with?

Chris Robbins 26:26

Yeah, I think the first thing is, when you’re in college, you really take advantage of every opportunity that you can, shadowing different professionals, I was really involved in a program called Best Buddies. And that also kind of helps me find occupational therapy because it was a program for disabled adults, and I got matched with a peer, and we just got to hang out. And I got to learn so much more about that community. So I think just like jumping in, and just joining different clubs and doing things that spark, your interest will really allow you to find, okay, this is what I have a passion for, this is what I want to do. And then in terms of the working world, I think the biggest struggle that I have had is separating work from life. And I didn’t necessarily anticipate that to be a struggle, because, you know, like I said, when you’re in those clinical rotations, you if you kind of mess up like it’s okay, because you’re working underneath someone, you’re not licensed, you’re still a student. And so now I have my own license. And it makes things a little bit more. Not scary, but just more real,

Lisa Marker Robbins 27:55

I guess you feel like a responsibility. Yeah, increased

Chris Robbins 27:59

responsibility. And so I think, kind of with that increased responsibility, I have really like, I absolutely love my job, I absolutely love my work. And I love working with the patients, and a lot of times they bring that home with me. And so kind of learning to separate work from home has been a challenge for me. I’ve been working about eight months. And I think I’m kind of starting to figure out how to do that. But when you do have, like such a caring view, you care for people, and you want to take care of these people and you just like, a lot of times, it’s not a great situation. And you’re you’re really like being a light to them, and you’re helping them and then you have to figure out a way to be like, Okay, I’m going to leave that at the hospital, I’m going to leave that at work, I’m not going to come home and think about it, which I often do. And so that’s kind of something that I feel like school just can’t necessarily prepare you for. So just having coping strategies that work for you, and that allow you to separate work from life, I think is just really, really important. And healthcare. I

Lisa Marker Robbins 29:11

think that I mean, that’s great advice for anybody, not just healthcare and people who are You’re a natural caretaker of I’ve watched you now for many, many years. And but it could even be somebody who has a tendency to this would be myself even be a workaholic, like, it’s hard for me to say no, sometimes I don’t have capacity to help somebody who is asking for coaching or help or and I contend to work too much because I’m saying I’m not saying no enough, you know, and I think that any of that it just takes time and we have to be gentle with ourselves. give ourselves a little bit of grace as we navigate new things and stick to our values and having a whole healthy life. If, but I know you’re I’m glad to hear you’re making progress at that. I mean, that was one of the things that you had shared. And sounds like, as you’ve done with many things in the past, Chris, you’re being very intentional about how you live. And I love that about you. So thank you, my dear niece for coming on and sharing your story.

Chris Robbins 30:18

Yeah, sounds cool, or some happy to I love. You know, some people don’t really know about occupational therapy. So I’m honored that you wanted to chat with me and that I could kind of share

Lisa Marker Robbins 30:30

what OT is. I know. It’ll be a tremendous help to many. Thanks, Chris. Yeah.

Lisa Marker Robbins 30:40

It’s clear that OT is more than a career. It’s a calling to make a meaningful impact on the lives of those in need. From the dedication required in the educational journey to the deeply rewarding connection with patients. Chris has shared invaluable insights for anyone considering this path for students and parents looking to explore further occupational therapy, and a central next step is understanding the Educational Foundation required to enter the profession. By visiting the Accreditation Council for occupational therapy education, you can discover accredited schools offering programs and OT at both the masters and the doctoral levels. This resource is crucial for anyone serious about pursuing a career in OT, providing detailed information on program specifics, prerequisites and the accreditation process. Dive into this resource by visiting the ACO te website link that we’ve put in the show notes. Thank you for joining us on this episode of College and Career Clarity. By sharing this episode and engaging with our content you help us make more families have an informed decision about their educational and career paths. Remember that your student can find a fulfilling career path with the right information and the right resources. If you enjoy our episodes, sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future