A Full Guide to Occupational Therapy Shadowing

shadow occupational therapist

For students considering a career as an occupational therapist, shadowing is one of the best ways to get an idea of what an OT does. Occupational therapists focus is on developing fine motor skills, visual-perception skills, cognitive skills and sensory-processing deficits. They help patients to fully engage with daily activities such as eating and driving. Along with shadowing in settings, such as a hospital or clinic, it’s also beneficial to see OTs at work in other areas. Shadowing a school-based occupational therapist is one option to consider. By doing so, participants are not only able to understand the functions of an OT but can experience how the job is performed.  

Occupational Therapy Shadowing Opportunities

There are several types of occupational therapy to consider. Some examples include neurology, geriatrics, and pediatrics. Even if you have a good idea of what an occupational therapist does, clinical practice can look different in different settings. Here are a few options to consider when shadowing an OT:


Observing a school-based OT provides you with insight on how best practices and treatment approaches may vary. Working one on one with students over the school year is different than treating patients briefly in an acute care hospital. Seeing firsthand what a therapist does day to day may help you decide which setting or specialty feels right for you. There are several occupational therapy shadowing opportunities and we’ve provided a few examples of them below.


Hospital OTs typically work closely with a health-care team in order to determine the best treatment plan option for their patients. Together, they are able to determine the specific needs, abilities and environment in which the patient needs to function. Hospital OTs play a crucial role in the rehabilitation process for the patient which ultimately leads to a lesser likelihood of hospital readmission.

Nursing Homes

As in any setting, OTs in a Nursing Home environment consider a specific approach for each individual patient. There are a variety of needs when it comes to Nursing Home residents/patients. Things that an OT may consider in this setting include the duration of stay, daily activities/engagements, age of patient and illnesses.

Home Health

Occupational therapists that specialize in home health focus on offering strategies to their patients to manage their daily activities while minimizing risk of injury or further decline. Their ultimate goal is to improve their patient’s efficiency and maximize positive outcomes for them. OTs achieve these goals by visiting their patients in their home environment.

How to Find Job Shadowing Opportunities

Some colleges and high schools may help their student arrange job shadowing. If you are in high school, check with your school guidance counselor. For those already in college, talk with an advisor or your career placement center.

You can also try to find a job shadowing OT experience on your own. Once you identify a school where you would like to do your job shadowing, call the office. Introduce yourself and explain your goals for observation. The school will likely point you in the right direction. You may have to write a letter or talk with an administrator or the therapist directly.

Job Shadowing Tips

Although you are only an “observer” it is still important to be courteous and respectful by doing the following:

Be professional: Treat your shadowing experience as a real job. That means you should always arrive on time, dress professionally, and respect client privacy. Don’t talk about the students you observe to your family, friends, or classmates. Be prepared for your shadowing day by bringing necessary tools such as:

  • Notebook
  • Reference Letter

Offer to help: Depending on how long your shadowing job is, you may have opportunities to help out. You can offer to organize supplies, make copies, or clean equipment. Going the extra mile to help out, makes a good impression.

Ask questions: Although you should avoid interrupting a therapy session, you can ask questions when it is over. After all, you are job shadowing to learn more about the profession. Here are some examples of questions to ask:

  • What do you like the most about your job?
  • What do you find to be challenging about your job?
  • What does a typical day for you look like?
  • What type of advancement opportunity does this field offer?
  • How has this field changed and developed over time in terms of technological advancement? What future changes/developments do you anticipate for this field?
  • Is there anything that you wish you had done differently to prepare for a career in this field? If so, what would that/those be?
  • What is something that most people don’t know about this field?
  • What is one thing that you wish you had known about this field before entering into it?

Express thanks: Remember your manners and be sure to thank the therapist that you are shadowing at the end of the day. Also, when your shadowing job is over, send a brief thank you note to the therapist and school for allowing you to observe. Here are some points to include in your thank you note:

  • Acknowledge & thank your contact for taking the time to allowing you to participate in the job shadowing opportunity
  • Include something specific that you enjoyed about the job shadowing experience 

Keep track of your hours: Write down all the hours you spend shadowing an occupational therapist is a school-setting or anywhere else you observe an OT. The school may have a log sheet. If not, make your own. If you decide to apply to OT school, you may need to have a certain number of observation hours completed.

Job shadowing is one way to learn more about what an OT does. Are you  a healthcare professional and interested in browsing for jobs? Check out our available opportunities by visiting the button below. 

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