Non-Traditional Practice Areas

When speaking about traditional versus non-traditional OT, consideration for the practice area and practice setting must be considered as OT is a broad field with diverse opportunities. Working within an non-traditional practice area can be very exciting due to its innovative nature (Doll, 2010). However, it can also be very challenging because it is often founded on program development (Doll, 2010). OTs must be prepared to participate in active leadership and advocacy roles (Grandisson et al., 2009).

Traditional OT consists of a therapist working within a clinical role or role-established practice area in a setting that generally hires OTs. A clinical role usually relates to any role where there is hands-on patient care. Role established relates to the common availability of OT positions in the practice area. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018), the largest employers of OTs are as follows:  

  • Hospitals - 27%                                                                                                  
  • Offices of occupational, physical, and speech therapists, and audiologists - 26%                            
  • Elementary and secondary schools - 11%                                                             
  • Home healthcare - 9%                                                                                                            
  • Skilled nursing facilities - 9%

Non-Traditional OT can be a little tricky to define but is typically considered the practice of OT in a non-clinical,  developing, uncommon, or new role. To better clarify, let's look at three terms that are frequently referenced while discussing non-traditional OT: emerging practice areas, role emerging practice, and role enhancing practice.

The term "emerging practice areas" is really just a fancy way of describing OT's expansion into new and relevant areas. It may indicate that no OT has ever worked in the practice area or that OTs are just beginning to work in the practice area. Generally, any emerging practice area is also considered non-traditional. The opportunities for emerging practice areas within OT are limitless. Within this website, you can explore several different emerging practice areas and gain insight into OT's current and potential applications. The American Occupational Therapy Association has also highlighted several emerging practice areas in their Centennial Vision including:

  • Addressing the psychosocial needs of children and youth
  • Design and accessibility consulting and home modification
  • Driver rehabilitation and training
  • Ergonomics consulting
  • Health and Wellness consulting
  • Low vision services
  • Private practice community health services
  • Technology and assistive device development and consulting
  • Ticket-to-Work services
  • Welfare-to-Work services

The term "role emerging practice" usually refers to a practice area in which an OT will participate in a form of program development and will be responsible for creating their position within a setting that does not routinely hire OTs. For example, it is considered role emerging for an OT to participate in program development at a transitional housing facility that does not have OTs on-site to serve the homeless population. 

The term "role enhancing practice" is usually attributed to OTs that bring new or uncommon practice areas into a traditional setting. For instance, it is considered role enhancing for an OT to introduce and implement a Lee Silverman (LSVT) Big and Loud program at an outpatient clinic. The LSVT program is relatively well-known but is not overly common. Meanwhile, outpatient clinics are a very common setting for OTs to practice in. Overall, role enhancing is more about expanding the role within established settings. Some individuals consider role enhancing to be traditional OT whereas others consider it to be non-traditional. 

OTs also sometimes decide to pursue alternative employment opportunities that can remove them from the clinical role in part or in its entirety. However, their success and approach often rely heavily on their OT insight. Below is a list of common alternative employment roles that OTs assume:

  • Business owner
  • Clinical/Rehab liaison
  • Clinical educator 
  • Clinical informatics specialist
  • Educator/Professor
  • Entrepreneur
  • Ergonomic/Industrial rehab
  • Health coach 
  • Home modification specialist
  • Management 
  • Rehab technologist/Startup employee

Podcast: Unconventional OT  101 with Dr. Kayla Collins

Listen to this podcast with Dr. Kayla Collins to learn more about non-traditional OT! This episode is an introduction to traditional vs. non-traditional OT while exploring additional factors such as occupational justice and doctoral projects. Dr. Kayla Collins has been an OT for eight years and has primarily practiced in inpatient geriatrics and outpatient pediatrics. She has a passion for working with older adults with cognitive disorders and has a certification in Dementia Caregiver Training and Dementia Care. She is also a certified LSVT BIG practitioner and serves as lead of the St. John's County Falls Coalition. She currently works with older adults in home health and outpatient settings. Her research interests include online education, simulation, higher education, and cross-cultural learning. She has presented at state and national conferences. She is also the OTD Doctoral Coordinator for the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences at the St. Augustine campus.