Occupational Therapy Professional Development Committee

Purpose in Occupational Therapy

What do you want to be when you grow up? As children, we were probably all asked this question from time to time. Depending on when asked, we might have answered: A veterinarian, a firefighter, an astronaut, a musician, a basketball player, or any other archetype of career aspiration.

These ideas of who we might become were often influenced by our parents and other important people in our lives. However, the reasons for our answers were likely related to the qualities these people embodied, instead of mere job descriptions. We might have aspired to become a teacher because ours made us feel smart and important in class. We may have pursued becoming an athlete because we noticed how powerful and strong professional athletes are in action. Or we could have dreamed of becoming a scientist or inventor because the depictions of these careers sparked a curiosity and creativity within us. We might have always wanted to be the Mom, Dad, or caregiver because we loved the idea of making others feel safe and secure.

Whatever our reasons, these ideas about our futures were shaped by our core values. These are the values at the deepest level of importance for individuals, commonly associated with our life’s purpose. As occupational therapy is concerned with the utility AND meaning of our pattern of activities, this is of importance in our education and everyday lives. As we enter a new year, a fresh start in our education, it is an opportunity to reflect on the sense of purpose we envision for our future careers. What life experiences and aspirations brought you to this place? What inspires you to pursue a career in occupational therapy?

For much of my life I have been deeply connected with my life’s purpose. I could verbalize this to others as such: I want to help people do the things that bring meaning to their life and help nurture connections of support between individuals and communities. For many years I tried to select a career path that would align with my purpose, while at the same time allowing me to find security and opportunities for continuous personal growth. At the time I did not know that there was a profession which quite perfectly fit with this vision. So, when I found out about occupational therapy, I was inspired by how the values of the profession seemed to reflect my own values.

Committing to grad school was perhaps the most daunting thing I’ve ever done in my life. I had never considered myself an “academic” and struggled to find the confidence to believe I’d be a good candidate for the program. I was urged, by a friend from a former volunteer program, to consider applying to the OT program at the University of Alberta. She was currently going through the program and was incredibly excited about the profession. She helped me confirm that a career in OT would align perfectly with my goals and life purpose.

Upon meeting my classmates, just one year ago, I was struck by their vast range of previous experiences and inspirations for becoming occupational therapists. Some had volunteered with certain populations: adults with spinal cord injury, children with autism, individuals with mental illness. Others had grown up with an OT in the family and were encouraged by the job satisfaction they witnessed in their family member. There were even a few, like myself, who felt motivated by a career that could take so many forms, in so many settings. Some of us define ourselves by our wide range of interests and occasional indecisiveness. We come from such different backgrounds, but are parallel in our desire to help others. It is certainly the diversity in our previous experiences and each person’s unique inspiration that makes learning together so fulfilling.

Whatever the reason for entering into this educational path, we will need to constantly redefine our interests and drive within this profession. In a time of research driving evidence based practice and the widespread commitment to client-centred care, we are not simply cogs in the machine – we will become the force that defines our profession and influences the engagement of our clients.

We might all have times when we come up against a doubt or struggle during the course of our education or career. During these times we will need to remind ourselves WHY we chose OT. At times it might be helpful to reflect on the following questions: What drives you? What do you represent? How can you harness your interests and inspiration to shape your future? What kind of OT do you want to be?

The amazing thing about occupational therapy is the immense variation in practice areas. While this program will prepare us with core competencies of occupational therapy, it is a personal responsibility to continually learn throughout our careers. We will have the choice to specialize and develop expert knowledge in an area that fits with our interests. I have no doubt that with continued dedication, we will all find meaningful employment in a speciality that is aligned with our purpose and personal qualities.

– Written by: Katie Metz

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