Your Guide to Non-Traditional OT Jobs
There probably isn’t an occupational therapy practitioner out there who hasn’t thought about taking a break from patient care. Life happens—you may have an injury or health condition forcing you to step away from something you love, or you may simply be feeling tired of being a traditional occupational therapist, and longing for a change. Family or community commitments can also change over the years, which can impact your desire and ability to work in clinical care.
Sometimes, though, you just want to learn something new.
The point is that the desire to change to a non-traditional occupational therapy career—whether temporary or permanent—is normal.
Luckily, there are tons of non-clinical jobs that you can land with your occupational therapy degree. While it’s still considered a bit unusual to make the leap into non-traditional OT work, it’s not unheard of. The more people successfully make the leap, the easier it gets for others to do the same! That’s why we’ve included some spotlights at the end of this article—be sure to take a look at some of the many non-clinical OTs out there!
We need OTs out there representing our profession in unconventional ways. It helps both the general public and medical community understand who we are, what we are capable of doing, and how our extensive educations prepare us for all sorts of leadership roles!
So, the good news is that the jobs are out there! The not-so-good news is that you need to be a bit more strategic about how you find these jobs, at least compared to searching for clinical OT jobs. We’ve created this guide to get you started and help you find the top resources for what you need to go non-clinical.
This article walks you through the self-assessment of your situation, lists specific jobs that are available around the country, and showcases OTs who have made the leap.
What is Non-Traditional OT work?
For the purposes of this article, “non-traditional” refers to anything outside of conventional hands-on patient care roles. Office jobs, sales jobs, ergonomics/workplace evaluator jobs, and assistive technology jobs are all considered non-traditional (or “non-clinical” or “unconventional”) in this article. Cash-based OT, early intervention, and other types of niche roles are not considered non-traditional for the purposes of this article.
Self-Assess Your Situation
A career change is not something that affects you alone. Family members, significant others, or even friends might feel the impact of your change. It’s vital to consider how much of a change makes sense for you. Some of these roles require additional education or training, while others require self-discipline or the willingness to take a steep pay cut to enter the field.
Answering “no” to these questions certainly does not mean all non-traditional OT jobs are closed to you, but answering “yes” to one or more broadens your options.
Do You Actually Want to Leave Patient Care?
Some people think they want to leave patient care, but they really want to leave bad managers, shady corporations, or unrealistic productivity expectations. Do some self-reflection on your own, or work with a career or life coach to get a better understanding of what makes you tick.
It’s definitely advisable for new grads (or people who have only worked in one setting) to consider whether they should spend a little more time in patient care before switching gears. It’s not necessary, but it’s helps you feel committed psychologically when you feel you’ve truly exhausted all options in clinical care before trying something new.
Can You Move?
Not all unconventional OT jobs require relocation, but many do. For example, sales and business development jobs often require you to cover a particular territory, which might be far from where you live. Some roles with tech companies may enable remote work (if you’re lucky), but in most cases, they’ll require you to relocate to cities that are far from where you are (or much more expensive).
Can You Earn Less Money?
Many non-clinical OT roles aren’t as lucrative as clinical roles, at least not at the beginning. After you’ve spent a few years getting your feet wet, you are more likely to catch up to what you were making as a clinician. This is not always the case; sales roles often pay much more than clinical roles do, but this is a question to consider when you plan your move.
Can You Absorb the Risk of Having a Gap in Pay?
As noted above, financial considerations are real. If you’re making a “career ombre”—where you gradually transition to a new role, rather than making a sudden leap—you may be able to make some money as a registry or per diem OT while you make the transition. If you’re making a sudden jump to a non-traditional role, be aware that you might have a gap in pay while you return to school, job hunt, etc.
Do You Have Upfront Time and Money You Could Invest in a Certification or New Skillset?
This is an important question. If you’d like to switch to a user interface/user experience (UI/UE) role, for example, you’ll need to learn the tech that UI/UE professionals use. You can take coursework online or explore community college programs near you, but both will require an investment of your money and your time.
Are You OK Starting Small?
One of the biggest challenges of switching to a non-traditional OT job is the feeling that you’re a small fish in a big pond. As clinicians, we are usually pretty comfortable with our clinical skills, even if we don’t know everything. But it can be humbling to be brand-new at a company and using a brand-new skillset. It can be a strange feeling to start to self-identify as something other than an OT.
Are You Prepared for Lots of Questions?
Your coworkers will ask you, your future employers will ask you, and you will ask yourself:
- Why are you doing this?
- How will you afford this?
- Why did you go to OT school, just to leave patient care?
It can hurt to have what is already a stressful decision be questioned like that. Be confident in yourself. You’re doing this because you’re excited to try something new.
Even if an illness or injury is the impetus for this move, explain that to yourself, and to others, with confidence and eagerness for what lies ahead. Once you’ve made your move, those same people will often come around, asking for your help to do the same.
Explore Different Options/Gain Experience Before Leaving Your Day Job
One of the hardest parts of leaving patient care is figuring out what to do next. Here’s where working with a career coach or life coach can be very helpful. A career coach will help you unearth the right roles that fit your personality type and values. A life coach will help you stay on track with your decision.
Other Things to Do Include Taking as Many Quizzes and Assessments as Possible:
Download this free values assessment offered in partnership with The Non-Clinical PT. It will help you identify the values that matter to you the most in your current role, and help you ensure you’ll find a new role that embodies your top values.
Take some online quizzes to determine your personality type. Here are a few good ones:
You don’t need to plan everything you do around your results, but what you learn will help you avoid jumping from the frying pan and into the fire. Once you have a better idea of what you want to do next, you can explore some of the careers below to see if any are a good match.
You can also create your own non-clinical career path and reach out to us in the comments to tell us how you got there!
Go to a Healthcare Hackathon:
If you can afford the time and cost, and can make the trip to attend one, you must try out a healthcare hackathon. “Healthcare hackathons are like speed networking,” explains Leah Bellman, OT. She is eager to start working in a role where she can apply her clinical expertise to larger problems in the rehab and overall healthcare world. “By attending healthcare hackathons, I get to work with people with all sorts of backgrounds, with the added bonus of attacking real-life problems in a measurable way,” she says.
Here’s Hacking Medicine’s schedule of upcoming events.
Network with Other Non-Clinical Professionals:
Until it becomes more mainstream, landing a non-clinical job as an OT is really all about networking. Here are some ways to start putting yourself out there in the community.
Create an account at The Non-Clinical PT.
The site was created to provide pathways to non-traditional career opportunities for all rehab professionals (not just PTs) and it enables you to connect with and directly message other non-clinical therapists. Plus, you can get all sorts of discounts for courses!
Print some business cards.
You’ll want to have your title and a personal email address on hand for anytime you meet folks at networking events, hackathons, or even happy hours!
Get a professional headshot.
A headshot is an easy way to start establishing your personal brand. Use it on your LinkedIn page, in your bylines, and for your online profile in professional networking groups. I (Sarah) got one done in the early stages of my website and, honestly, it has just made life easier. It feels like every company I work with requests my headshot at some point.
Join Facebook groups
- Alternative Careers for Rehabilitation Professionals is a great one that’s growing really quickly!
- Occupational Therapy Entrepreneurs is moderated by Sarah Lyon.
- Non-Clinical PT Connections is moderated by Meredith Castin and open to all rehab professionals!
- Holistic Occupational Therapy is a group of OTs with a passion for finding ways to integrate their OT skills and complementary medicine. This has led to several venturing into non-traditional OT work.
Identify Problems that You Would Love to Solve:
If you develop a skill set that solves a specific problem that people are having—and a problem that you enjoy solving—you will become extremely marketable. For example, most OTs and PTs have a very difficult time selling themselves and their services, and very few are savvy with social media and digital marketing. If you make yourself an expert salesperson, or you learn the ins and outs of online sales strategies, you will easily excel in a role where you’re marketing (selling) rehab practitioners’ services.
For me (Sarah), my hobby of writing an OT blog became a career when I switched my mindset. Rather than seeing my website as a fun pastime, I realized that I was serving fellow OTs—I was solving a problem by filling in gaps in the information about OT careers that was available online.
I made solving this problem my focus and went after the skills I would need to solve it:
- I read about copywriting.
- I learned about website building.
- I studied how I could make my articles align with the questions people are asking.
Start Making Some Money:
Unless you get really lucky and land the first non-traditional job you apply to, you’ll probably wind up slowly easing out of your day job and into non-clinical work. If you’re a writer, designer, usability expert or anything else, once you have your basic skills established, a great place to start is by picking up freelance work.
- Upwork.com is great for finding freelance work.
- Creative Circle and Aquent offer contract work (similar to registry or per diem work) for creatives.
9 Specific Non-Clinical OT Jobs You Can Look Into:
OTs make great OT recruiters, but few actually make that professional move, and it’s unclear why. Recruiting often pays well and is very fulfilling. It does require being on the phone and email for much of your day, and the hours aren’t as clear-cut as those in patient care (some of you who take your paperwork home at night might be chuckling at that)!
Basically, as a recruiter, you spend your days trying to find the right OTs and COTAs to fill occupational therapy and COTA roles in a number of facilities.
How to get there:
The quickest and easiest way to make the leap is by signing up with Relode. You can become an agent with them, which helps you match great therapists with great jobs.
Once you have a few successful placements under your belt, you can opt to shoot for a bigger recruiting role with an organization that has an office near you. Recruiting, as a profession, involves quite a bit of outreach. Be bold and reach out directly to recruitment companies in your area, and them know you’re interested in becoming a recruiter!
Writing is one of the easiest switches you can make, but you have to be willing to put in lots of time, and you might take a pretty steep pay cut at the beginning. Writing is awesome, though. It’s flexible, you can do it from anywhere, and it’s really easy if it comes naturally to you. You’ll know if you’re one of those people pretty quickly :)
Even if you love writing, but have some questions about grammar or how to make money doing it, here are courses you can take that will expedite the process! That said, you don’t need any additional training to write for your next career!
- Breaking into Health Writing - The definitive beginners’ course for clinicians launching careers in copywriting. [Get 10% off this course! Enter this code at checkout: TNPT]
- Getting Started With Freelance Writing – This course is not specific to clinicians, but is a great quick start to freelance writing.
- The Complete Freelance Writing Course – This is a great comprehensive overview covering what it takes to be successful as a freelance writer.
How to get there:
The first thing you’ll need as a writer is to get published online. You can start your own blog really easily (here is an excellent course on how to use WordPress, which is what many bloggers use). You can also reach out to websites to get bylines. A byline is an attribution for authorship of an article. Sometimes it’s accompanied by a picture and short bio. Your first byline is most difficult to attain.
Here are some examples (Meredith's is cooler):
Consider reaching out to write a guest post for your favorite publication. Here are some sites that sometimes accept high-quality guest posts from occupational therapists:
Once you have a published article under your name, you can start using sites like Upwork to start getting freelance and contract work.
If you want more info, here’s a comprehensive guide to transitioning from clinician to copywriter.
The world of education is filled with opportunities for OTs. You can become a professor, an adjunct instructor, a tutor, a subject matter expert, or a con-ed instructor.
How to get there:
Given the number of paths you can take within education, there’s really no one set path to get there. Definitely contact your school’s alumni association to see if there’s anything you can do to network or put your name out there.
You’ll also want to beef up your resume to reflect any research, tutoring, lab assisting, or clinical instructor roles you’ve held since your student years. If you were a career changer, any previous leadership or instructing roles are relevant, too!
Also, check out Arameh's interview on her career path into OT academia and what she has found fulfilling and challenging about it.
OTs are usability experts, and we’re perfectly positioned to take on consulting roles involving workplace safety, design challenges, and the removal of barriers in parks, office buildings, and residential complexes.
We can also move into roles where we consult with practices to help them improve their billing and workflow practices. The sky is the limit with consulting, so think about where your unique skill set can serve others’ needs best! Remember, if you identify a way that you can solve someone else’s problem, you’ll be very marketable!
How to get there:
This is one of those times when you’ll have to get out and volunteer and network as much as possible. When there is new construction in your area (especially smaller projects like parks or municipal buildings), reach out and offer your services for free. Then list those experiences on your resume.
If you’re lucky enough to live near any of the 10 ADA centers in the U.S., you can also offer to volunteer. Once you’ve made contacts with key players in the contracting and architecture/design industries, you can really beef up your resume (or maybe even your references, if you make nice)!
Director of Rehab and OT Supervisor probably sound familiar to you. They are probably some of the few non-traditional roles you’ve considered, because they’re the only ones with real visibility for OTs.
These roles are great when they’re great, but if you’re not a manager type—or if you want to avoid getting sucked back into patient care from time to time—you might wind up miserable.
How to get there:
When you’re a staff OT, ask to help out in as many unique and unconventional ways as possible. Organize lunches and in-services. Offer to cover the scheduling board or take point on busy days.
When you show that you can stay calm under pressure, you’ll stand out as a logical next-in-line for the managerial roles. Even if you don’t move up in your existing company, you can list those roles on your resume and start applying for lead roles at other facilities!
6. Rehab Liaison
If you love patient care, but hate the physical and emotional toll it takes, definitely look into becoming a rehab liaison. Rehab liaisons, also known as intake coordinators or intake liaisons, are responsible for finding the right patients for inpatient rehab facilities/inpatient rehab units (IRFs, IRUs).
You’ll spend much of your days seeking out and/or addressing patient referrals, then meeting, interviewing, and running insurance on the cases that come your way. Liaisons face quotas, so if you hated productivity requirements, you might not enjoy this role. That said, the quotas are usually very reasonable, unlike productivity expectations these days!
How to get there:
Try to work in multiple acute care hospitals within your region and get to know the case managers in those facilities. This might mean picking up 2-3 per diem OT jobs for a year and networking as much as possible with case management during that time. Then, when you apply for the rehab liaison roles, play up your connections big time—you’ll need them! Also, note any experience you have with running insurance or auditing charts. It’ll help your case!
7. User Experience/User Interface (UX/UI)
Usability is what we know as OTs! There are tons of software and tech companies that need help with usability. The main issue is that, even though we have the perfect background for these roles, we are not landing them. This is a real issue that we OTs need to address as soon as possible.
Tameika McLean, MS, OTR/L, explains that the transferable skills include data collection and user testing. “As OTs, we act as usability professionals every day. We interview clients to identify their live, in-person user experiences, and we analyze their home environments, prior levels of functioning, and goals,” she explains. In addition to testing, OTs are extremely solution-oriented. “Not only do we conduct in-person usability tests to assess the need for specialized techniques or equipment, we continually reassess and retest to ensure the user’s end goals are met,” she adds.
It’s not just young, tech savvy OTs going into usability design, either—check out this inspiring story about a 90-year-old occupational therapist who’s helping design products for older adults at IDEO.
How to get there:
You’re going to need to network as much as possible. Set up informational interviews. Go to usability meetups. Join online forums. Also, you’ll definitely want to take few courses on usability and user experience to legitimize yourself as a candidate. The initial leap into a non-traditional role will be the most challenging, but once you’re there, you’ll rock it!
Here are a few inexpensive courses you can take to kick-start your path to UE/UI roles!
- UX Design and User Experience Design for Beginners
- User Experience Design Fundamentals
- Become a UX Designer - Learn the Skills and Get the Job
If these courses seem a bit daunting (even though they’re designed for relative beginners), consider taking a basic course in Adobe Photoshop, like this one!
8. Assistive Technology Professional and/or Seating Mobility Specialist
If you enjoy working with patients, but you hate the time constraints and pressure of traditional settings, you can consider a role as an assistive technology personnel (ATP) or seating mobility specialist (SMS). These terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different in terms of responsibilities and scope.
ATP professionals create accessibility technology for those with disabilities. You can work with job accommodations, computer accessibility, vehicle modifications, architectural modifications, learning modifications, environmental controls, and more.
SMS professionals are actually specialized ATPs! They spend their days creating seating, positioning, and mobility solutions for people with disabilities, and tend to spend quite a bit of their days working with wheelchairs.
How to get there:
You’ll need special certifications from Rehabilitation Engineering and Assistive Technology Society of North America for both ATP and SMS roles. This means a time commitment—and, yes, a money commitment. You’ll also need to take exams to get certified.
9. Home Safety Professional
If you enjoy working with new people all the time, you might really enjoy a job in home modification (also known as home safety). These roles are ideal for OTs who have an eye for noticing potential hazards in people’s homes.
You’ll spend your days scrutinizing environments, then making recommendations to ensure they are free from hazards and have injury prevention measures in place.
How to get there:
If you’re going in this direction, check out Home Modification OT Alliance! Networking is also vital. Attend mixers with local home builders, contractors, and corporate development firms. Get business cards printed with your OT credentials (and any other special certifications you pursue).
Speaking of certification, you can also get certified to add some legitimacy to your training. Sure, the OT license is enough, but those extra letters after your name do a lot for marketing. Here are a few options:
- Age Safe America - Senior Home Safety Specialist ™
- AOTA - Specialty Certification in Environmental Modification
- USC’s Executive Certificate Program in Home Modification
If you’re not sure whether you want to commit to certification, you can explore the niche of ergonomics through your MedBridge subscription.
OTs Who Are Rocking Non-Clinical Work
Seeing is believing, and these six occupational therapists have successfully transitioned into non-clinical roles! Take a look at all the interesting ways you can leverage that OT degree, if you’re ever ready to try something new!
Chris Cowen, OTR/L, CEAS
Chris started her own LLC, Wellness At Work, to provide ergonomic assessment and interventions in the workplace and for individuals looking to return to work. She also provides post-offer testing to employers to test potential employees ability to complete the essential functions of their job. If you have questions about her line of work, you can email her at email@example.com.
Ingrid M. Kanics, OTR/L, FAOTA
Ingrid was able to launch her career right out of OT school in inclusive design. She now owns Kanics Inclusive Design Services, LLC. Read more about her journey in the post Inclusive Design and Starting an OT Consulting Business.
Holly Mitchell, MOT, OTR/L
Lauren Sheehan, OTD, OTR/L
Lauren draws from her experience in several adult rehab settings, including as a department supervisor of a rehab outpatient speciality clinic, to now serve as clinical manager for Neofect, a medical device company using virtual reality for neurological upper extremity rehabilitation. If you are interested in learning more about what changes Lauren is seeing in the rehab tech industry, check out her article, Advances in OT Technology.
It is possible. There are people doing it. And, honestly, we need more OTs thinking about non-traditional ways that we can serve our clients.
Looking creatively at your career and skillset may enable to help more people than ever would have been possible in 1:1 therapy.
Hopefully, within this article you found concrete steps for taking initial steps and found new careers opportunities to explore.
Got more questions for us? Leave them in the comments!
About the Authors
Meredith Castin, PT, DPT - Meredith worked as a physical therapist for 5 years before co-founding NewGradPhysicalTherapy, a website devoted to the success of newly minted PTs. She now works full-time as a senior copywriter at a digital marketing agency, and she created The Non-Clinical PT to help rehab professionals pursue unconventional roles by leveraging their degrees.
Sarah Lyon, OTR/L - Sarah wasn’t looking to leave patient care, but about five years into her career, realized that she could potentially help more patients by serving occupational therapists through her website OT Potential. She now spends her work days creating blog posts, collaborating on digital products, and brainstorming ways she can help more OTs.