Three Resources for Advancing Your Career as a New Occupational Therapist

[Note: Article updated by author 4/10/2023]

You worked hard in OT school. You landed your first job. Now you’re discovering how much more there is to learn. Many therapists quickly see the potential for growth beyond entry-level competence—and they wonder how to advance their careers.

It can be difficult to know where to start. There are many options for pursuing best practices and developing an area of expertise.

For new grads, I recommend starting career advancement by laying the foundation of a strong network and by pursuing best practices through new learning. These are the best ways of setting the stage for new opportunities.

1. Networking

Career advancement starts with networking. The process can be as simple as staying in touch with faculty and classmates. Plugging into a network allows you to ask questions, receive support, and learn more about best practices.

Your classmates and professors are a huge asset to your network in your first years of practice—and throughout your career. Back in the day, my class had a Facebook page where we asked questions and kept each other posted on career changes. Ten years after graduation, my classmates are often still my first call when I need to connect with another OT.

Maintaining a relationship with your former professors can open up new opportunities for career advancement as well. They can help connect you with a colleague or mentor in your specific field and are a source of job recommendations.

Online Communities 

Online communities and forums leverage the knowledge of therapists from around the globe. Such communities exist for almost every area of practice. Joining one is a great way to keep a pulse on the conversations happening in your area of practice.

Social Networks

Practice Area-Specific Communities:

More OT Communities

Industry Associations

Joining a professional group such as AOTA and your state or local association can open up avenues for networking and provide you with ideas for pursuing continuing education. I have never attended a state or national conference and regretted the decision. Honestly, there is nothing like the in-person networking that can happen there. 

Local Social Events

Many major cities have therapy networking events. Keep your ear to the ground for opportunities in your area. Initiating a time to get together outside of work with your coworkers can be great for building professional relationships.

2. Mentorship

Ideally, your network expands to include OTs who are more advanced in their careers. The one-on-one relationship is a great way to learn from an experienced professional.

Sometimes you are lucky enough to have a mentor at your place of work. But more often than not, you may have to seek out a professional who is already on a pathway you are interested in. 

I recommend checking out The OT Directory to search for OT professionals who are doing work you may be interested in. Learn about their career path. Listen to any podcasts or presentations they have done. Then, reach out! More often than not OTs are willing to take time for conversations like these. 

If you are specifically interested in business ownership, there are multiple OTs who provide structured mentorship through coaching programs. Here is a list of the OTs I know of who support people in starting their own business. 

3. Continuing Education

After having completed years of school to obtain your initial occupational therapy license, it can feel daunting to launch into continuing education.

Pursuing continuing education early is a great way to find answers to the slew of questions you have as a new grad. Being a lifelong learner will serve your career and your patients well.

NBCOT Competency Tool

If you are registered with NBCOT, I highly recommend the continued competency resources in The Navigator. These ensure you are up to speed in your area of practice. One of my favorite features is that it will generate a reading list for you of research relevant to your practice.


Conferences are the best way to simultaneously network, grow your knowledge set, and start crafting a vision for what route your career may take. Unfortunately, these are also the most expensive options on the list.

Online Courses

Online courses are a more affordable option. You can choose from a larger library of topics and a wider range of leading experts than at a conference. I started my continuing education here at MedBridge and wish I had done so sooner as a new grad.

Putting It All Together

The best part about these pursuits is that not only can they help shape your career, they also deliver immediate impact on your day-to-day patient care. Each provides an avenue to answer the questions you will have as a new grad and learn from other therapists’ work.

Whatever route you choose, I hope you enjoy building your career. The first years in the field can be particularly exciting as you continue to grow as a therapist and seek that sweet spot where your passion meets your clients’ needs.