Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L, Clinical Occupational Therapy Editor

Debora A. Davidson, PhD, OTR/L, Clinical Occupational Therapy Editor

You are at a social gathering and a new acquaintance asks: “What do you do?” The follow-up to your response is: “What is OT?” How do you feel when you hear this question? Are you eager to talk about your exciting career? Or do you feel a wave of anxiety? As a startup entrepreneur, I have been learning about the importance of developing an effective, 1-minute-or-less “elevator pitch” to explain what I do. This is harder than it sounds, especially for an occupational therapist.

When I was a young practitioner faced with the casual query, “What is OT?” I used to launch into my “History of OT” talk, slowly working my way forward from the reconstruction aides of World War I. I would watch the poor listeners’ increasing regret as I approached the biomedical era of the 1960s, and then complete glazing over of their eyes as I hurriedly described how occupational therapy was experiencing a renaissance, which allowed us to really address the individual needs of clients in a person-centered … . Well, you know where this is going.

I love to be asked, “What exactly is OT?” or even, “How is OT different from PT?” I have developed a few guidelines to craft my responses:

Consider the questioner, and what really interests him or her. What is their context and reason for asking? Do they want to know how you can help them or a loved one? If so, respond in that vein: “I often help my patients with relearning their self-care, such as getting dressed and bathing.” Or, “I help kids to learn and practice the skills they need to go to school in a regular classroom and to make friends.”

Do they want to understand how OTs and other professionals fit together as a team? These kinds of responses can be helpful: “OTs and PTs often work closely together. We are both interested in helping people to regain functional independence. In our setting, PTs focus much of their effort on walking and increasing general strength and endurance, while OTs teach new ways of doing everyday tasks, such as preparing food and paying bills.”

Other options include: “OTs support teachers and students in special education to help the kids get the most benefit from school.” And, “I help my clients to practice their new skills in everyday settings.”

I have found that the best elevator pitch provides an accurate, partial answer to the question asked. For the casual questioner, this will be satisfying. They will leave the interaction feeling respected and having enough understanding to move forward.

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