Sep 20 / Kimberly Breeden, MS, OTR/L, Founding Partner

Everyday OT Practitioners Are the Real Rock Stars!

photo of a silhouette playing guitar and you can see a microphone in front of them
In our society we are bombarded with messages indicating that success is measured by our professional accomplishments. In our own profession I feel that success is often defined by promotions to management, entrepreneurship, scholarly contributions, post-graduate education and advanced credentials. I have to say that for the first 13 years of my practice, I shared these beliefs and worked to be promoted into management and climb the corporate ladder. At that time my thought was that clinical practice was the starting point and to be successful I would ultimately transition out of daily treatment. I looked at OT, PT, and ST entrepreneurs as the rock stars of the rehabilitation world. I viewed those in academia as the most significant contributors to our profession. I think the title of this blog indicates that my beliefs have changed significantly. 
Now I want to stop for a moment and say that our profession absolutely needs successful OT and OTA entrepreneurs, managers, professors, and researchers. A tremendous amount of effort and sacrifice is required to achieve these accomplishments and I thank those in these roles for what they have done to grow and strengthen our profession. I would not have the privilege of writing this blog without those who have contributed to the recognition and growth of our profession. But I think as a profession we do not discuss enough that every entry level practitioner has already earned the credentials needed to be truly successful. If you passed the NBCOT boards to achieve the credentials of OTR or COTA you have accomplished an amazing feat and one that definitely earns the title of successful. I have come to these conclusions based on my own professional experience.
I became a certified occupational therapy assistant in 1994 and worked in inpatient adult rehabilitation for my first year then transitioned to skilled nursing my second year of practice. At the end of my 2nd year of practice, I was promoted to rehab department manager, then regional director of operations and ultimately to corporate director of operations. In those years I felt I had achieved the ultimate success and worked to be the best CDO I could be, but for some reason I did not feel fulfilled. I assumed that it had to be the organization that I was dissatisfied with because being in management had to be fulfilling, right? Being a manager meant I was successful and success was fulfilling, right? (FYI, the organization was amazing and I am so grateful for the opportunities they provided me.) So I decided to start a family and stop traveling so I transitioned to another organization as a rehab manager. I was later promoted to regional rehab services manager. Still I felt that something was missing. I was asked to take on an additional responsibility of being the marketing and admissions coordinator with general oversight of the rehabilitation department. In this role the rehab manager was directly responsible for productivity, staffing and documentation compliance reported to me. Sweet, right? Still something was missing. It was at this time that the organization I was working for decided to create a health services line leader for rehabilitation services for the entire health system, I was asked by the vice president in charge of this position to apply. I almost did. This would be an opportunity of a lifetime right? I would finally be fulfilled right? I did not apply.
So what did I do? I left management altogether and returned to clinical practice. I took a position splitting my time in SNF and home health. Why? I came to the realization that I kept taking the same types of positions over and over again thinking somehow I would have a different result. I asked myself why I kept taking management positions and I realized that I believed that if I was good at being a manager than I would eventually be happy as a manager. How crazy is that? Now I have to say I was not miserable as a manager, I absolutely enjoyed everyone I worked with and I am so grateful for the opportunity and trust that was given to me. There just always seemed to be something missing. The turning point and lightbulb moment for me was when I realized that I did not switch my major from accounting and apply to OTA school so I could have a corporate position. I switched my major because I finally found a profession that would allow me to work with individuals on a daily basis to do the things that were meaningful to them. My years in high school of being a literacy tutor for adults had allowed me to experience a joy and fulfillment that I could not explain. Occupational therapy was the perfect profession to allow me to have similar experiences and work with individuals 1 on 1 and help them achieve their goals. I had not considered a clinical position before this time because in my mind I somehow thought this was “going backwards”, that was then. Now I feel that transitioning back to a traditional OTA role was the best professional decision I have ever made.
As an OTA and now an OT, I feel that I have made a far greater impact in the world than I ever did in my administrative roles. Every day I go to work, I have the amazing privilege to walk alongside someone who may be experiencing the hardest, worst moments of their lives. My training has provided me tools and skills to actually help them through this time, to reach their goals and most of all to do the things that bring meaning and purpose to their lives. I realize that helping someone to be able to go to the bathroom and bathe themselves with dignity is an amazing gift to give them. Does society or even our profession recognize the value of this contribution? Probably not. I have found that popularity does not always reflect something's true value.  
So right now you may be confused. As many of you know I am an entrepreneur, coach, and instructor. Isn't this a little hypocritical for me to say that those in clinical practice are the real rockstars? I think that may be a fair assumption, let me explain. First, I am still in clinical practice in home health. For me that is my primary professional role and identity. The other roles I have center around my belief that everyday occupational therapy practitioners lack the support and recognition they need and deserve. Niccole and I saw so many OTAs, OTs, and even students who were discouraged and burned out, so we founded Aspire OT based on the mission to empower passionate OT practitioners. We wanted other OT practitioners to have the support, tools, and information that they need to feel powerful in their clinical practice as well as in promoting and advocating for themselves, their clients, and the profession. We also made the commitment that no matter what the demands of Aspire OT become, we will always remain in some form of clinical practice. We both know that neither of us can remain fulfilled in our professional roles if we are not working as OT practitioners.  
Niccole and I have entry level clinical degrees, just like most occupational therapists and occupational therapy assistants in clinical practice. We were able to not only become fulfilled and passionate about our practice, but we have had the opportunity to contribute to our profession, all with our entry level degrees. If we could speak directly to every OT, OTA and student who is in clinical practice I think our message would be: 
"we know that your jobs are tough. Meeting the care needs of your clients while trying to meet documentation and productivity guidelines is really challenging, and at times frustrating. If your goals are to become an entrepreneur, manager, professor or consultant we support you and hope you achieve your goals. If you are struggling with burnout, feel overwhelmed or unappreciated, we get you! Please know that you are the real rock stars of our profession. You are doing the really important stuff, the meaningful stuff. You are touching and changing lives on a daily basis, even if you don't realize it. You are already doing great things. You don't need additional titles or degrees to make an impact. What you do everyday not only impacts your clients, you are representing our profession. You are showing others the value of what occupational therapy can provide. You are promoting the distinct value of OT to your coworkers, the community, regulators and payors. We recognize and celebrate you and all you do! If no one has told you lately, you rock!" 

Written by Kimberly Breeden, MS, OTR/L
Founding Partner, Aspire OT

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