How to Make the Most of Your Shadowing Experience

We all know what shadowing is (also known as observing), and we all know that we need lots of hours of shadowing to be eligible to apply to OT school. After reflecting on my shadowing experiences while in undergrad, I realize now that I had no idea what I was observing and I didn’t quite know how to make the most of my shadowing experiences. In fact, I really didn’t know much about occupational therapy beyond the fact that it was a rehab profession different from physical therapy.

After making my way through OT school, getting through both of my level 2 fieldworks, and even getting to talk to some students shadowing, I have a much better idea of how I should have gone about making the most of my observing experiences. So here are some tips for you!

How to Find an OT to Shadow:

Times may be hard during the pandemic, facilities are limiting the number of people allowed in the building, and that includes students looking to job shadow. But not to worry, there are still facilities allowing students to shadow (usually smaller, private clinics), you just have to find them!

  • Don’t be afraid to reach out to all kinds of clinics
  • Wait for a response before contacting another clinic (you wouldn’t want to have three clinics say you can come shadow and now you’re trying to figure out how to juggle all of those contacts and working the hours into your schedule)
  • Reach out through OT Facebook groups and personal connections
  • Don’t be afraid to shadow through tele-health

How To Prepare:

  • Before starting, research the clinic! Go through their website and checkout what the clinic has to offer.
  • Then research the setting and what OT’s role is in that setting
  • Gather any questions you may want to ask the OT you are shadowing (I’ve provided some sample questions below)
  • Research common diagnoses and conditions seen at the facility you will be shadowing (these are usually found on the facility’s website)

What To Bring:

  • A small notebook and pen
  • A list of questions to ask the OT
  • Curiosity! No one wants to have someone sit there and stare blankly, so be engaged and interact with the therapist (unless they are in the middle of talking to a client)

What To Wear:

  • Business casual is always a safe bet if the OT has not given you a specific dress code
  • When in doubt, it is better to be over-dressed than under-dressed!
  • Women’s Do’s:
    • Wear business pants or skirts
    • Wear a blouse or button down
    • Wear a knee length dress
    • Bring a simple cardigan in case it gets cold
    • Wear closed toed flats
    • Keep your nails clean, and if they are painted, keep it a neutral color
  • Women’s Dont’s:
    • Don’t wear a skirt or dress that is too short – you may need to crouch, bend over or squat
    • Don’t wear a shirt with a low neckline or that is too loose unless you wear a camisole underneath – you don’t want to reveal yourself if you bend over!
    • Don’t wear flashy, large, or bulky jewelry – keep it understated and simple
    • Don’t wear open toed shoes, flip flops, or shoes that are visibly dirty or falling apart
    • Don’t wear a strong perfume
  • Men’s Do’s:
    • Wear a button down or polo
    • Wear khaki’s or other business pants
    • Make sure you are cleanly shaved, and if you have facial hair make sure it is neatly trimmed
    • Wear a belt
    • Wear dress shoes
  • Men’s Dont’s:
    • Don’t wear strong cologne
    • Don’t wear shorts
    • Don’t wear boots or open-toed shoes
    • Don’t wear loud or busy prints
    • Don’t wear large logos

Questions to Ask:

  1. How would you define occupational therapy?
  2. How is occupational therapy distinct from physical therapy?
  3. What would you do if…?
  4. When you did _____, what were you working on?
  5. How do you prioritize goals?
  6. Have you worked in other settings? How were they different from this setting?
  7. Did you feel prepared to treat clients after school?
  8. Do you have a mentor?
  9. What is your favorite part about the job?
  10. What do you find most challenging?
  11. How has the field changed since you started practicing?
  12. Why did you choose occupational therapy?
  13. How can I learn more about OT in this setting?
  14. How do you keep up the research for interventions in this setting?
  15. How do you come up with new and creative ideas?

Extra Tips:

  • Show interest and ask questions
  • Ask the therapist if there is anything you can do to help (you won’t be able to work with the patients, but you are allowed to organize materials and do simple tasks like laminating papers and filing)
  • Never show up late!
  • Don’t bring food or drink with you (a water bottle in your bag is fine)
  • Do not interrupt during treatment sessions unless the therapist opens the floor for questions, you can also ask the therapist if you can ask a question in that moment
  • Do not try to help during a treatment session unless the therapist explicitly asks you to (if it looks like the patient is making a mistake or struggling, the therapist is probably doing that with a purpose)
  • Ask if there are any unique cases that would be beneficial to observe, even if it means you would need to come in at a different time or different day

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