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How travel occupational therapy differs in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities

Being a travel occupational therapist can land you in a variety of settings depending on your specialty. From clinics to hospitals to rehabilitation facilities, each environment is unique and offers a learning experience. Knowing what you want to accomplish and where you want to practice can help you discover the right path. We recently spoke with Alyssa Eich, a travel occupational therapist working in a rehabilitation facility, to learn more about that role. Here's what her experience has been like:

Finding her passion

Eich discovered occupational therapy when touring colleges with her parents. She always knew she wanted to practice medicine, but it wasn't until learning about the occupational therapy program at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut that she found the specific path for her. 

"When I saw OT I honestly had never heard of it before, but instantly was drawn to it," Eich said. "I did my research, applied for the program at Quinnipiac and never looked back!"

After graduating, she took a job with one of the clinical affiliations she'd made during school and stayed for three years.

Patient needs in different facilities

Being in a rehabilitation facility required Eich to work differently than she did when employed at a hospital. The latter requires professionals to work with patients immediately after an incident, like a stroke, fall or accident, occur. They also aid patients who are recovering from surgery. This type of rehabilitation therapy is called acute. As such, she noted that these patients, who are a range of ages, required intervention that would address those immediate concerns. Occupational therapists in hospitals must work within strict discharge plans that let patients leave the hospital relatively quickly. One of the benefits for professionals in such a setting is seeing their patients make significant gains.

Clinics, in contrast, often take patients who may need long-term care (though Eich also treats short-term patients). Appointments are less intense, lasting only an hour or two each session. This type of intervention is called subacute. The population receiving this care is older and deals with cognitive issues like dementia, too. 

Doctor checking patient's back.Working in different facilities means catering to unique patient needs.

Scheduling in hospitals and clinics

While working in a hospital, Eich would be in charge of a wing where she'd see every patient in that area throughout the course of the day. She could plan her own schedule, as long as she worked in her wing. In a rehabilitation facility, though, scheduling is handled by her supervisor. Eich has to see her scheduled patients for a certain number of minutes each day. What's more, she has the freedom to balance her patient time with her time in the building. For instance, she might arrive before her patients do to tend to paperwork, insurance steps and other tasks. 

"I enjoy the freedom of creating my own day," Eich said, referencing her role in a rehabilitation facility. "I enjoy the days that may be shorter and you get out earlier than expected."

Being a travel occupational therapist further changes the way Eich's schedules works. She noted that her time is a high priority, so rehabilitation facilities want her to fit in as much as possible. She may work in different buildings throughout a single week to make sure she's filled her working hours. This differs from a hospital setting, where OTs are relegated to a single wing.

Different insurance needs

Eich discovered that hospitals tend not to focus on what insurance patients use. While the staff does have to check on and bill insurance, the provider and type of insurance is less important than in a clinic. Rehab facilities have to know what kind of insurance their patients have so they can make sure the services they provide are covered. In either setting, though, Eich cautions that paperwork requirements change when updates to health care laws pass. Being ready for new processes can help you adapt. 

"Friendliness and a smile can go a long way!"

On finding success as a travel OT

Flexibility is a common thread Eich has found in her work. From being open to changes in paper work to being willing to help out at another facility, Eich stresses that being open and willing will help you succeed. She's even found that her plans for patients can change.

"I really enjoy sending someone home or figuring out a way for them to live with assistance if that wasn't originally in the plan for them to do so," Eich said.

Being a travel OT has taught Eich to get out of her comfort zone, both personally and professionally. She's often in new settings where she's had to overcome fear in many forms. 

"I would never imagine eating alone somewhere and would always feel uncomfortable, but I overcame that and met some very nice people at a local Thai food restaurant," she said. "I've learned friendliness and a smile can go a long way! You never know where a simple comment or gesture can lead you! I've met many friends that began with a spontaneous conversation."

Eich encourages others interested in travel occupational therapy to remain open-minded and positive. 

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