The Rewards of Being an Occupational Therapist


By: Mary Vanesko, MOT, OTR/L, CIMI


Happy Occupational Therapy Month! When asked to write this blog post for the month of April, in honor of OT month, I could not help but think of the thousands of times I educated someone on the role of OT. As an experienced clinician of over 12 years, a therapeutic consultant, a certified yoga instructor, certified infant massage instructor as well as faculty/educator, I am honored today to use this platform to educate once again on this rewarding profession that I call my own. I also want to use this as an opportunity to honor all my colleagues who continue to inspire me daily.

To gauge how the public defines Occupational Therapy, I polled colleagues and friends to learn their short definition of OT. Here are some of their responses:
Functional Independence
Occupational engagement
Adaptive Rehabilitation
Empowering people’s healthcare
Creative, Passionate, Kind
Holistic and Functional
Quality of life
Care, Support, Patience
Stronger, Better, Happier

As an occupational therapist, our scope of practice casts a large net. It allows us to work with almost every age and population. We work with stroke patients, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, orthopedic dysfunctions, cardiac patients, mental health disorders, sports related injuries, hand related injuries, developmental delays such as Cerebral Palsy and Autism Spectrum disorders, premature infants, infants withdrawing from opioids, and the list goes on and on and on.

Although these diagnoses are vastly different, the patients whom of which we work with, all have one thing in common — they all have meaningful occupations. Occupation does not just mean a job or a profession, in most cases we are working with patients on their most basic functions of life including but not limited to, self-care, work/play, social emotional development, cognitive skills, activity engagement, roles, habits, and routines. The goal is to help patients find what is meaningful and functional to achieve their highest level of independence and quality of life. In my opinion, this is pretty awesome.

The course of my career as an OT became clear after working with adults in acute rehab and acute care, as well as pediatric settings on the side. I was given an amazing opportunity, and comprehensive mentor-ship, to become a Neonatal Occupational Therapist. Almost a decade later, I couldn’t have imagined a more rewarding career.

You may be asking “What is Neonatal Therapy?” “What can you do with babies that small?”

As a Neonatal Occupational Therapist our role is to provide services to the tiniest of humans. We support their growth and development while providing support and guidance to the families of these infants during a very traumatic time. Our overall goal is to provide developmentally supportive, family centered care. We are preventative in nature and have a responsibility to promote a healing environment, one that simulates the womb, despite the intensity of the neonatal intensive care unit. Although fragile and small, these tiny infants have occupations that in which we help them engage in such a as feeding, growing, sleeping, playing and bonding with their caregivers. Education remains at the center of what we do to inspire the competence and confidence that each caregiver/parent needs to take their little ones home safely. My passion for this population continues to grow and my career continues to develop. Over the last several years I became a traveling therapist, working in many NICUs (among other settings) across the country. I thus began my journey as a consultant and entrepreneur.

Some days, I am not totally sure where my career will take me next, and that is why I love this field so much, forever changing and always growing. I have had so much fun as a faculty member of Summit education. It has given me the opportunity to teach therapists the fundamentals of Neonatal Therapy through my course, A Therapeutic Approach to Evidenced Based Interventions in the NICU. If you are interested in learning more about Occupational Therapy in the NICU, this is a fantastic educational tool to begin your journey or to add knowledge to your current practice. I highly encourage you to find a course near you.

You may also consider visiting my website, where you will learn more about the wellness services I provide to not only caregivers/parents and their infants, but also to the general population. I continue to incorporate wellness and holistic integrative health into my profession, as I remain passionate about prevention. As the OT profession continues to move towards wellness and preventive care, I am excited to see how we will continue to evolve as a profession and our practice. Please follow me on Facebook @WELL-Nurtured Development and on Instagram @Well_Nurtured