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Travel occupational therapy as a second career

Not all travel occupational therapists got into the career right away. According to a study by the University of Phoenix School of Business, 59 percent of U.S. adults in their 30s say they'd like to change careers. Earning more money, finding a field they love and having opportunities to grow were all popular reasons why people have considered making a switch. However, taking the leap comes with obstacles. Respondents cited financial insecurity, lack of education and fear of the unknown as reasons to stay where they are.

We spoke with Jennifer Ceballos, a travel occupational therapist with healthcare staffing agency Aureus Medical, who worked through the roadblocks and found a career she loves.

Education in different forms

Ceballos taught kindergarten for 12 years before becoming a travel occupational therapist. She loved teaching kids, so lack of interest in her job wasn't the driving factor in making a switch. In fact, she didn't know occupational therapy existed until she saw it at work in her classroom. Five years into teaching, an occupational therapist worked with one of the kids she taught without having to take the child away from the lesson. The idea of helping a person while they went about their daily life was appealing.

"I realized at that point that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life," Ceballos said.

Occupational therapy allows Ceballos to keep doing something she already loves but in a format she's passionate about. Instead of teaching in a classroom, she now teaches her patients one on one. Ceballos also switched from working with kids to helping the geriatric population where she helps individuals reclaim independence. 

"If it is important to you, you'll never regret it."

Taking the leap

Ceballos didn't dive right into a new career the second she discovered occupational therapy. She had to work through the obstacles many people face when changing jobs. For instance, she wanted to pay off student and car loans before quitting her job to go back to school. She also lived with her parents to cut costs. Ceballos didn't have a significant other to help her financially, so saving money and freeing funds where she could was important to achieving her dream. But more daunting than the financial hurdles was fear of the unknown.

"I honestly think the reason I waited seven years to go back to school was out of fear," Ceballos said. "Sure, I can say I got all my ducks in a row and all, but there will always be a reason not to go back to school. It costs too much. It'll take too much time. Etc. There will never really be the right time to do it. If it is important to you, you'll never regret it."

Deciding to travel

Ceballos didn't go into occupational therapy with the intention of taking travel therapy jobs. The idea came to her while doing clinicals for her degree. She loved learning from other therapists and realized that traveling for her career would let her continue to pick up new skills, techniques and approaches from professionals in her field. What's more, traveling supported personal growth.

"[Traveling] gave me the opportunity to put myself in new and unknown situations and to further grow and explore who I am and who I want to be," she said. "And, of course, traveling the country is not bad either!"

Before she dove into traveling, however, Ceballos tried local assignments. Her first job was only an hour away from her family, which let her slowly stretch her comfort zone. She stressed the importance of working with a good recruiter who will listen. These individuals can help you find jobs that fit your needs and career goals. 

Goals for the future

A recent graduate, Ceballos is still learning about her travel occupational therapy role, but she knows what she wants for the future. She'd like to become a home health occupational therapist that is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. These professionals work with elderly clients, helping them remain independent as long as possible. To accomplish this, she has to keep learning and growing in her job. Working with other experienced therapists and meeting unique patients are all part of the plan. 

Older couple walking together arm in arm.Ceballos would like to help seniors maintain an independent lifestyle through occupational therapy.

Words of advice

If you're interested in leaving your job to pursue a passion, Ceballos has some advice. She councils to make the career change now. As she said before, there's never a good time to drop everything, so you might as well do it sooner rather than later. If you're considering travel occupational therapy, ask as many questions as you can to learn more about what the role will entail.

"Join Facebook pages that are for travelers," she advised. "Ask questions. I found these pages were my biggest support in helping me understand all the tips and tricks of being a traveler. And lastly, don't let fear of the unknown hold you back."

No matter what career you're thinking of pursuing, there's a way to make it happen. The University of Phoenix survey said that 36 percent of people are afraid of the unknown. Ceballos's journey shows that overcoming that fear is worth having a job you love.

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