This week, we’re featuring a new grad OT who works in a non-clinical role as a Rehabilitation Consultant! AND she’s Canadian! So many firsts 🙂 Enjoy!
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What is your full name and title at your current job?
Priya Thakkar, MScOT
Rehabilitation Consultant at Sun Life Financial
Where are you located?
Where did you go to OT school, and what year did you graduate?
University of Toronto
Graduated in 2020
What did you do when you first finished school?
I worked in a community setting for 2 months.
When did you realize you wanted to do something non-clinical with your background?
I knew in the first week of OT school! Systems-level change is my calling.
What are you doing these days?
I am working (from home) at an insurance company as a Rehabilitation Consultant. My role involves working with employees who are on disability leave, helping them in their recovery, and assisting them as they return to work.
I work with multiple stakeholders such as employees, employers, doctors, lawyers, and any healthcare professionals involved in the employees’ care.
I determine influencing factors impacting recovery and create strategies to assist them in returning to work. There are a lot of moving parts, which keeps things interesting.
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I am solely a non-clinical OT.
How long have you been in your current role?
Since October, 2020.
How did you find your job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
When I was in OT school, I cold-messaged someone on LinkedIn who was an OT working as a Rehabilitation Consultant at Sun Life. He graciously agreed to have a coffee chat with me and we kept in touch ever since.
My fourth placement was at the beginning of the pandemic and many hospitals had paused placements. My program’s fieldwork coordinator and I approached my connection (and now mentor) to ask if I could create a placement at Sun Life. He said yes!
I landed a full-time role shortly after in October, 2020.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
I did not. However, three of my four placements were in the area of return to work and I have a minor in human resources, which provided a solid foundation to work in this industry.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
My parents have been extremely supportive of my decision. The friends I made during OT school have also been supportive because they knew I wanted to pursue a non-clinical career.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you?
My work hours are from 8:30 am – 4:30 pm and I work Monday to Friday.
My day starts with copious amounts of coffee. I try my best to manage my energy instead of my time, so I start my day off with client meetings as this is when I’m most alert.
On average, I speak with 5-6 stakeholders a day. Then, I spend a good chunk of my time creating personalized health management plans for my clients by zoning in on influencing factors that are preventing their recovery.
I set aside 30 minutes a day for emails and administrative tasks. Afternoons are saved for meetings with my clients’ healthcare teams (other rehab professionals, psychologists, doctors, etc.) to get an update on the clients’ progress and recovery. Other times, I facilitate return to work meetings between the employee, employer, union reps, and human resources personnel.
I also spend 30 minutes a day working on other projects for my department. This helps me develop project management skills, and it gives me a chance to work with my colleagues and get to know them better.
What are some of the challenges of your role? What are the rewards?
It can be difficult to stop thinking about your clients after work hours. I definitely let that infiltrate my personal life. This probably occurred because my office and living space are in the same vicinity. Applying some of the strategies in this TED Talk helped me overcome this:
My job is very rewarding because I get to assist people in their recoveries and help them return to work. This role has many parallels with the theoretical foundations of OT: namely, enabling others to get back to their meaningful occupations.
How do you think working as an OT prepared you for this role? Which skills transferred?
This list can go on and on! My background in OT has helped immensely.
As a Rehabilitation Consultant, I am very focused on FUNCTION and what clients are able to do. I perform functionally focused interviews and analyze medical information to create a strategy for each client.
The OT title adds credibility when speaking with my clients. I will take all the help I can get because I look young for my age. I’m also the only OT on my team, so my colleagues approach me when they want an OT to weigh in on their rehab plans.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
- Someone who is a good communicator, as you are talking to multiple stakeholders on a daily basis.
- Someone efficient with their time.
Do you work remotely or on-site?
I am fully remote.
Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles?
Yes, they do. We have nurses, kinesiologists, and people with vocational rehabilitation backgrounds on my team.
Did you read any books or take any courses to get you where you are today?
This is my favourite question because I am a huge bookworm and consume media like there’s no tomorrow!
Here are some of the books I read to help change my mindset, help me network, and are overall great reads:
- The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferris
- Atomic Habits by James Clear
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey
How did networking help you on your journey?
I strategically networked because I knew that I wanted to pursue a non-clinical path. I turned to the industry and searched for folks who were in non-clinical roles. I started with The Non-Clinical PT and read every single spotlight. It was comforting to know there were others like me out there. This kept me going.
Having the “student” title is so valuable because everyone wants to help students. I averaged about 3-4 coffee chats per month, and sometimes skipped classes to go have informational interviews. LinkedIn should have considered making me their poster child.
I attended as many networking events and conferences as humanly possible. I volunteered at any conferences I couldn’t afford on my shoestring student budget.
I even snuck into a conference once! No one questions you if you act like you belong.
Lastly, I co-founded OTech Canada with my two (now lifelong) friends.
OTech started at the University of Toronto when my friends and I noticed a need to actively engage OT students in the possibilities that lie at the intersection of healthcare and technology. We are now a national student-run organization that aims to prepare students to be knowledgeable about health technologies and become active contributors in this technological revolution. We’ve held speaker sessions, facility tours, networking events and built community partnerships.
What is a typical career path for someone in your role?
There are many options in insurance and the return to work area. Some Rehabilitation Consultants go on to work in human resources (health and safety), some climb the corporate ladder, work for the workers compensation board, become disability specialists on the employer side, focus on disability prevention, or start their own consulting businesses.
What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?
This is something I am giving a lot of thought to and don’t have an answer for at the moment. I am happy that I have an opportunity to marry my two interests in healthcare and insurance.
What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into a role like yours?
As I am a new grad, I will tailor my advice for students and new grads.
For students: be intentional with the two years of your graduate program. If there is something that piques your interest, research that topic, and find someone who is working in that field and reach out to them. Most people are willing to chat if you’re authentic. You just have to ask.
For new grads: you don’t need to practice as a clinician before pursuing a non-clinical role. You have your MScOT degree, you have that rehab lens, and you have placement experience. These skills are enough to start pursuing that non-clinical role you’ve been eyeing.
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
I would like OT schools to focus more on non-clinical careers. The University of Toronto does a great job of this with their “role-emerging” placements. Role-emerging placements occur when a student OT works with an organization that does not have an OT but would benefit from having OT services. This is an opportunity to create your own placement and use the OT lens in a unique area.
More schools’ curriculums need to reflect a growing need for allied health in non-clinical roles.
If you could give yourself one piece of career advice you wish you had during your OT school program, what would it be?
I would have liked to slow down (just a tad). I was trying to maximize my productivity: watching videos at 2x the speed, constantly trying to keep up with the latest healthcare trends, and compromising on sleep.
I think we get into the mindset that we have to be productive all the time in order to get where we want to be in life, but there is also a beauty in slowing down, living life in the present, and absorbing what is around you.
I have very little free time and therefore, choose my moments of relaxation sparingly. I have mentors and mentees I hold dear to my heart, friends I have “goal setting” or “accountability” sessions with, and a family that’s my whole world.
I’m working on slowing things down and being present. It’s a work in progress, so stay tuned.
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
Even though it may not seem like it at times, there are options beyond clinical roles. You have to look for them or, better yet, create them.
Do you have any special advice for others who want to follow in your footsteps?
Create your own placement. You never know what doors it will open for you.