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How I became an occupational therapist

Posted Jun 09 2009 11:16pm

Or perhaps more appropriately titled: Too much information. Oh well.

I wrote a blog entry once about 'the things I do.' It has been lost to time - I am not sure where I have the entry stored but I recall that it received many comments and sparked a lot of conversations about the issues of time and time spent - and how one comes to the decisions about the things they do. That entry is decidedly more serious than this one. So, I am not trying to recreate the original - but couldn't think of a more appropriate title for this entry. Maybe I will look for the original sometime.

Today is a hard work day. I am not questioning why I am an occupational therapist but sometimes when I have hard work days I reflect back on what I thought I wanted to do when I grew up.

I took a Strong-Campbell Interest Inventory in high school, and it said that my career interests were matched to a speech therapist, a college professor, and an actor. The fourth match was 'occupational therapist' but I never noticed that until I went back and looked at the document years later. The career that I was supposedly most poorly matched to was 'agricultural business manager.' I remember that because for years after taking that test I would respond to "What are you going to college for?" with "I really want to be an agricultural business manager." There are probably people out there who believed me and thought that is what I really wanted to do. The truth is that when I was in high school I thought that interest inventories were stupid and I was mostly interested in my girlfriend, hockey, and Rush.

My own career development came through a combination of interest and happenstance. In elementary school I wanted to be a football player. I don't know what I was thinking. I am not very good at football. If I was a football player, people would be able to say, "Wow, he is not very good, but he really tries hard."

In middle school I wanted to be a marine biologist (now somehow demeaned by that Seinfeld episode, oh well). It was never anything more than a fantasy, really. I used to be so excited when National Geographic was sponsoring another Jacques Cousteau special. I wanted to ride on Calypso and learn how to dive... When I used to keep aquariums I don't think anyone knew that my love of marine life was carried through from my childhood. I have never eaten fish in my life, except fish-sticks once or twice when forced to as a child - it has always seemed sacrilegious to me. I remembering reading that a new kind of squid was discovered and that it can grow to over 24 feet in length - and I didn't have anyone to talk to about that. Most people just think I hate fish, and I don't bother to correct them.

In high school I had a lot of ideas about how I wanted to spend my life. First I wanted to be a veterinarian. I read all of the Herriot books and I even got a job in an animal hospital. I loved the lab work and the anatomy and the pharmacology - the science appealed to my sense of order. But now I understand that what originally caught my fancy was Herriot's ability to connect with people. If I was a veterinarian, I would want people to say, "I love the way he handles my pet. It makes me think that he really cares about me too."

In high school I also wanted to be a stage actor. I was in all the plays in high school and also have done some community theater. I always loved the task of immersing myself into a character and experiencing those affective shifts so intensely while playing. Over time, I found out that people were dramatic and histrionic in real life which is always difficult for me to manage, and I stopped enjoying it as much. I don't do well with dramatic people, and now I find my participation in theater rather ironic.

Between high school and college I wanted to be a geneticist. Oddly, some of the coolest things I have done in my life involved fruit flies (drosophila). In my first college biology course I got to mate winged with wingless fruit flies, and I had to count the wingless offspring to see if the Punnett Square models of gene expression were true (and determine the genetic heritage of the parents). In a different class I got to remove the salivary glands of a fruit fly and see the chromosomes under a microscope. I know that some people would consider this very strange stuff to get excited over, but having success at extracting salivary glands from a fruit fly is truly accomplishing something. At least I always thought so.

Once I got into my sophomore year I wanted to be a physical anthropologist. I loved the rigor of the anatomy, and I also enjoyed the classification schemes of new vs. old world monkeys, knuckle walkers vs. brachiators, etc. Once I took a comparative primate anatomy course and had to dissect a macaque, a baboon, and a human all within the same semester. Believe it or not, that crazy semester made me even more certain that I would not mind being a physical anthropologist. I think that I especially liked the idea of disappearing into a tropical forest for months at a time to do observational research.

Along the way in college I transferred schools and had to put an 'intended major' on the transfer application. I had no idea what to write, so I opened up the college catalogue and pointed my finger. It landed squarely on "Nuclear Medicine Technology," which sounded intriguing. Then I looked at the classes I would have to take and I saw that it was heavily oriented to chemistry and math. Since I was struggling with orbital paths of electrons and calculating molarity and molality I decided that I couldn't be a Nuclear Medicine Technologist. I flipped to the next page and it said "Occupational Therapist," so that is what I put on my transfer application. The rest is history.

My daughter is currently considering her future career path - she is seventeen and not sure if she wants to be an occupational therapist, child psychologist, FBI crime scene investigator, or perhaps Broadway starlet. From my perspective her occupational development is essentially on track. She has passed through Ginzberg's stage of fantasy choices (for the most part) and is coming into tentative choices now based on her values and interests. In trying to move her forward into the stage of realistic choices I am encouraging her to spend actual time observing the professions that she has interests in.

The problem is that even under conditions of observation there are many vocational activities that are not apparent to the casual observer. For example, when I have a high school student spend a day 'observing' me I try to find fun and exciting activities for them to participate in. On these days I am more likely to have them observe me completing evaluations, providing therapy services, and in general spending time with clients.

What my young observers never see are the 45 minute conversations with my site supervisors as we pore over details and strategies of how to handle staffing concerns. They don't see me fighting the fax machine or trekking to the post office to see how faint the stamp ink can be for them to still honor my postage meter. They also don't watch me answering emails on what the most effective potty training chair is and they most certainly don't get to watch me sit paralyzed by responsibility and fall back to blog spewing for some odd kind of therapeutic tension release.

Observations may not really do much for people. I am not sure what does - in my immediate circle of high school buddies there were career aspirations including an architect, lawyer, doctor, two engineers and a rock star. None quite worked out that way, but from what I can tell people are doing fairly well. I don't worry too much about my daughter's occupational choice process. It seems to be happening.

This stream of consciousness is starting to run dry.I really need to get back to work - I have many things to do.None are particularly motivating me, so if anyone knows of a job posting for a physical anthropologist intern in the jungles of Borneo, please send it my way.

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