By Michelle Newby, Clinical Director Stepping Stones Therapy for Children

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Photo by Claudia Barbosa on

The Australian job market is booming right now! As an early career Occupational Therapist, it can be really tricky to know which is the right workplace for you! Most job advertisements look the same, with promises of fun and supportive workplaces. Guarantees of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) and well-resourced clinics. Unfortunately, the truth is that not all OT practices are created equal, no matter what the job ads say!

As a guide for early career OT’s, the Stepping Stones Therapy for Children team are sharing this list of things that we think OT’s should be on the lookout for when they’re applying for jobs. This list is based on our experience of working in jobs that simply just didn’t live up to the hype of the advertisement!

Excessive caseloads and KPI expectations.

Some practices will require 6 or more billable hours a day, even for new grads who are just finding their feet! Some clinics will even add travel or other ‘unbillable’ expectations on top of this (e.g.: like report writing). Beware! This is a one-way ticket to burnout city for any OT!

New grads should start their career with lower KPI expectations (our grads start on 3 billable hours per day), so that they have more time for shadowing and learning from the more senior OT’s in the team. They also need more time to plan sessions and to reflect and develop their clinical reasoning skills. This is important when you’re just starting out and learning all the complexities and nuances that make up paediatric OT life. It’s impossible to do this properly with such high KPI expectations.

Six billable hours in a day is a lot for even those more experienced therapists. All therapists need adequate time for clinical reflection in their working day. This is so important for ensuring that we are providing quality care to the children and families who put so much trust in us.

Having a business owner or Manager who is not a health professional.

Paediatric OT is a complex field. It’s so important that businesses providing this kind of service have a thorough and holistic understanding of the needs of children and their families, and the impact that disability can have. They also need to have respect for the importance of evidence-based practice and commit to investing in their therapists continual learning and development. Health professionals are well placed to understand these needs and provide the right kind of support for their team their team.

Lead OT’s who are lacking in good quality clinical experience.

OT’s in leadership roles are the captains of the ship in any paediatric OT practice. They set the scene for the quality of the services that are provided by the practice. As captains, they should hold a wealth of knowledge and expertise that is accessible for all team members. Before you take the job, check how often the lead OT is actually working in the practice. Are there opportunities for you catch up with them outside of scheduled meetings, so that you can tap into their wealth of knowledge when you need it?

You should also check the lead OT’s credentials. How long have they been working in peadiatrics? What courses, certifications or post-graduate training have they completed? Do they keep up to date with evidence-based practice in your clinical area? The practice will be built on their experience, knowledge, and skill base. A lead OT with little experience and a limited skill base should have you questioning whether this is the best career move for you.

Not having adequate supervision or a skilled OT supervisor.

Everyone promises supervision, but in our experience, the quality of supervision can vary greatly. It’s important to find out how frequently supervision sessions will be conducted. Will it be weekly, fortnightly, monthly? An hour, half an hour, less? Will supervision happen just for the first few months of your employment or will it be ongoing? You need to feel completely comfortable that the level of supervision being offered is right for where you are in your career.

Monthly or fortnightly supervision sessions for fulltime new grads is not ok! When you’re just starting out in your career, weekly supervision for at least 60 minutes is so important. This is how you can ensure that you’re providing the best quality service to children and families. It’s also good to find out about the knowledge and skill base of your supervisor. Do they receive supervision? Are they an OT, or a different allied health professional? It’s hard to develop good quality, evidence-based OT skills when your supervisor doesn’t have the right experience or skills.

Lack of career progression.

You have studied hard to be a paediatric OT, and you deserve to work in a practice that values your efforts and is invested in growing both your clinical and leadership skills. It’s important to ask questions about the possibility of future opportunities to move into senior or clinical leadership roles, if this is something that interests you. Check what systems and procedures the practice has in place to support you to progress your career. What kinds of CPD opportunities do they offer, including internal training and support for attending external courses and certifications? It can be really helpful to speak to current team members to get an honest account of what life is like as an OT in that practice.  

Having a mixed-bag of clients.

Some practices offer only paediatric services, but others have a mixture of clients that might include paediatrics as well as adults, mental health, equipment prescription, home modifications etc… If you’re interested in developing your skills as a paediatric therapist, then you need to ensure that you will be seeing paediatric clients. While a diverse caseload sounds amazing, it can be very difficult to build your clinical skills across such a broad profession so early on in your career. We suggest if you are interested in paediatrics, then it’s best to choose a paediatric only clinic. You can diversify your skillset later.

Paediatric OT’s play such a vital role in supporting children of all ages and levels of ability to thrive and live their absolute best lives. It’s such a privilege to do this work for children and families. As therapists, it’s so important to have the right kind of support behind us, so that we can show up as our best OT-selves, to provide high quality care for children and families. Choosing your next career move is a big decision! Just remember that job interviews are a two-way process. Make sure you’re using the interview process and our suggestions above to ensure that it is the right practice for you!   

Thanks to the Stepping Stones Therapy for Children OT team for sharing their wisdom; and to Mary O’Connor and Alyce Svensk for reviewing this article and providing valuable feedback.

Copyright Stepping Stones Therapy for Children 2021/22

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