Hey readers! For those of you who are thinking about applying to OT school, observation hours are probably at the top of your list of things to do. It can be daunting to reach out to an occupational therapy practice or a major hospital as an undergraduate student looking for observation hours. However, many places are happy to have undergraduate observers. Here are a few of my tips for how to get the most out of your pre-OT observation hours:
Ask if you are allowed to bring a small notebook and a pen with you during observation. Never write down any identifying information about patients/clients, but it is okay to write about general things you see an OT doing. What interventions do they do for certain conditions? What questions do you have during a session that you want to remember to ask later? What is interesting to you that you would like to learn or see more of? Write it all down!
While you are debriefing with the OT after a session, feel free to ask questions. Why did the OT choose a specific intervention? What is the evidence behind that intervention? What other interventions might she/he choose for a specific patient/client? Refrain from asking questions during sessions (unless the OT invites you to do so). It is best to ask questions after the session is over in order not to distract the OT or the patient/client during the session.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to your dream setting(s) for observation hours. Any setting that has OT knows that observation is required to get into graduate school. It is always worth taking a chance and reaching out to a competitive setting. The worst they can say is no!
Share Your Interests
If you have a specific area of interest or you have experience in a certain area, tell the OT that you are observing! You will likely begin to build a rapport with the OT throughout your observation and she/he may ask what you are interested in. Then, she/he may set you up to observe that specific area of practice for a day or two. There were many times during my undergraduate internships and observations that I was able to observe things that I expressed interest in!
If you are observing for a full day, be sure to bring lunch. If you are only observing for a few hours, I would pack a snack or two. You may get hungry just by walking around the hospital/clinic or standing for long periods of time. You also want to be sure to bring water. Beforehand, I would also confirm what the dress code is for student observers. Always be sure to dress appropriately (e.g. scrubs or professional dress) with comfy, practical shoes.
Ask for Letters of Recommendation
If you are able to build a professional relationship with any of the OTs that you observe, you may want to ask them if they would mind writing a letter of recommendation for you. If they say yes, take down their email address and give them an estimate of when you will need the letter of recommendation to be submitted by. Then, follow up with an email thanking them for agreeing to write a letter of recommendation for you, telling them where and how to submit the letter of recommendation, and the date that you need it submitted by. When I applied to OT school, I had two letters of recommendation from undergraduate professors and one letter of recommendation from an OT that I observed.