OT, Diversity, and Applying to OT School!
My name is Sydney Roberts and I am a first year OT student at Midwestern University. As someone who identifies as a POC, I believe that diversity is very important, especially in higher education. It not only enriches the educational experience of others (because you get to hear your colleagues' unique stories), but it can also promote personal growth and a healthy environment. Being on the Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) executive board has given me the opportunity to branch out and take on a leadership role that I never thought I would do. We have a very diverse board, and it is really nice to have that kind of representation.
My name is Courtney Bland and I’m a first-year OTD student at Midwestern University. Prior to attending Midwestern, I obtained my Bachelor of Fine Art (BFA) in dance at a Primarily White Institution (PWI). Following graduation, I went on to pursue a dual-career path in clinical research and professional dance in the NBA. As a woman who is a Black or Indigenous Person of Color (BIPOC) working in both the science and entertainment industries, I witnessed first-hand the lack of representation in both fields. Representation, as well as mentorship, matter. These factors are key in serving as a source of inspiration, opportunity, and self-actualization for those who belong to marginalized groups. Luckily, through community-based work for both industries, I have been able to engage with other BIPOC individuals, and speak about my experiences in each field. Sharing my experiences allowed for me to prove that it is possible to work successfully to develop expertise and recognition in a field despite being woefully underrepresented in that field.
My name is Davey Martin and I’m currently a first year OT student at Midwestern University. Diversity is something that has always been a topic that is important to me, specifically because I’m African American. Whether its diversity in the workplace or in school, it is important to have representation across the board. Diversity brings unique knowledge from different cultures, perspectives, and enhances creativity. Being elected onto the Student Occupational Therapy Association allows me to highlight how important diversity is, and to represent a variety of cultures.
My name is Kelsey Horwath and I’m currently a first year OT student at Midwestern University. Occupational therapy emphasizes being a client-centered profession that focuses on the client’s roles, routines, habits, and of course occupations. Since we work so closely with people, we get to learn what and why things are important to them. One major aspect to this is their cultural and social contexts. These factors vary from person to person, so it is important to learn and understand these aspects of an individual’s life. This is one reason why diversity within the profession and graduate level education is crucial to occupational therapy. Everyone brings a unique background and shares parts of their cultural and social lives that will expand other’s views. From learning more about each other we can develop skill that will help us learn more about out clients. For example, within the first quarter of graduate school we spent a lot of time learning about each other and making connections. We did icebreaker activities where we had to talk to one another and learn something new about our partner. These type of activates were fun and an easy way to get to know the people we were about to spend every day with, but they also gave us an opportunity to start honing the skills of listening and learning to life experiences and why they are important. Without diversity you miss out on so many stories, experiences, and connections. Diversity is important for our education outside of a social context. As I mentioned earlier, we will work with people from a variety of backgrounds and we, as future practitioners, need to have skills that will help us connect with our clients. When we learn about the importance of diversity from diverse professors with a diverse cohort, we are emerged in an environment that allows everyone to be heard. These perspectives will only enhance us as practitioners and people. I feel so lucky to be in a cohort that is diverse, I feel it has truly enhanced my learning. My peers have contributed perspectives and ideas I would not have thought of because of our varying backgrounds. Diversity within the field is also important for our clients. Every client deserves to feel safe, respected, and heard. This may not be the case if they feel they cannot connect with their occupational therapist, or they feel the therapist will not be able to understand aspects of their life.
Exposure to OT and Selecting an OT School
From Kelsey: Many times, when I tell people I am getting a degree in occupational therapy I usually get a response somewhat along the lines of “Oh, that’s awesome! What is that exactly?”. I am also happy to give my elevator speech and explain how it is not just physical therapy for hands or helping people find jobs (although we can work on those things if that is a part of somebody’s goals). I think the confusion around occupational therapy stems from the lack of exposure to the field. I have heard from many classmates that they did not learn of occupational therapy until they were doing observation hours or learned about it during their undergraduate education. Personally, I feel very lucky that I came across the field when I was in high school. My mom is a pediatric nurse who works closely with the occupational therapists in her hospital. My older sister is a speech and language pathologist and meets with occupational therapist often as a part of her multidisciplinary team. As I was exploring what I would want to study they both told me this would be a good fit and something I should explore. So, I did, and I never looked back. Without their input, however, I would not have found the profession I am so passionate about. The more we expose adolescents to what occupational therapy is, the more people would be interested. There are so many different practice settings that no matter what population or setting someone envisions themselves in they have an option. That is one of the beauties of this field. By having immersive career days and opportunities for young people to experience occupational therapy more people will understand what we do and hopefully we will have more future practitioners.
From Courtney: Choosing an OTD program that genuinely values diversity was important to me. The OTD class of 2025 at Midwestern is comprised of over 50% POC, and this statistic shows that our faculty has done the groundwork to diversify our program. True diversification of the occupational therapy field starts with admitting students that come from diverse backgrounds. Admitting diverse students leads to a field of diverse practitioners, and later faculty at universities who are diverse.
Tips and Advice for OT School - From Davey and Sydney
Occupational therapy (OT) tends to get overlooked compared to other healthcare disciplines. OT can be defined in many different ways, but if you were to ask me what is OT, I would say, “OT is a profession that is a form of rehabilitation that treats people with many different injuries and disabilities through the therapeutic use of daily activities”.
Occupational Therapy is not as talked about compared to other disciplines such as Physical Therapy (PT) or Speech Language Pathology (SLP). Occupational therapists help enable people to participate in their activities of everyday life by working with them to enhance their ability in the occupations they need to do, want to do, and/or are expected to do. If that is something that peaks your interest, OT may be the career for you!
If you’re interested in going to OT, here are some pieces of advice that we have:
- Shadow both occupational therapists (OTs) and occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) in a variety of settings.
- Shadow other disciplines like physical therapy (PT), speech language pathology (SLP), or recreational therapy (RT) to learn more about rehabilitation.
- Attend events such as career fairs to learn more about OT.
- Join OT or related health careers student organizations.
- Explore the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) or your state’s OT association website.
- See if you can volunteer or shadow at a company that has occupational therapy practitioners.
- The Midwestern University Student Occupational Therapy Executive Board
Sydney Roberts, Courtney Bland, Davey Martin, Kelsey Horwath