STUDENTS: WANT A JOB? ASK THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
“Sometimes we make the process more complicated than we need to. We make the journey [of a thousand miles] by taking each day step by step and then repeating it again and again until we reach our destination.” — Joseph B. Wirthlin
My name is Aurelie Dimandja, and I am recent OTA/PTA grad of Mohawk College. I completed my program in June 2014, and graduated this past fall.
Upon completing my clinical placements, I landed paid work as a physiotherapist assistant and occupational therapist assistant (PTA/OTA). Two months later, I was offered another job. I have no doubt that having a strong profile was what helped to set me apart.
If you’d like to learn how to be marketable when you graduate, here’s how I did it.
The right questions
During my time at school, one of the best pieces of advice I got was that “People don’t ask the right questions.” Another was that “Some don’t ask questions at all.” You might be surprised by how far just asking questions will lead you.
You can access this support by asking for it. Talk to your favourite instructors teachers and ask your colleagues; they may connect you with their network.
“Build your Profile”
One challenge you may encounter is a lack of experience on your resume. The one answer I have learned from preceptors, current OTs and PTs, combined with my own work experience, is to simply “build your profile”.
We embarked on the same journey, but used different approaches to find success. Our final year group project focussed on prosthesis. From left to right: Aviole Vincent, Maria Fledderus, Aurelie Dimandja and Michelle Koh.
It can be frustrating finding work because you lack experience to get a job. You can break this loop and “build your profile” by doing unpaid work, aka by volunteering.
I began building my profile in my first year in the PTA/OTA program. I started by taking on leadership roles. I decided to get involved with my program and school by being a class representative for my program and a representative for my campus.
I chose to seek out current PTA/OTAs, occupational therapists, and physiotherapists in the field, to ask if I could have the opportunity to shadow them. I am thankful for the warm replies I received from the individuals in this profession. Shadowing those in the workforce enabled me to be prepare for clinical environments and for life after graduation – it also “built my profile”.
You might think, “Volunteering doesn’t pay you” or “I don’t have time to volunteer”. It’s important to understand that volunteering is an act well-paid with the experience learned. Set yourself up for success when you graduate by investing your time in the field now to gain experience.
Coming out of school, one of our primary focuses is to find work. What can help with that is demonstrating your willingness to continually learn. However, consider that volunteering is so much more than building your “profile.” For me, it’s become second nature. It’s about getting involved and growing from it.
Once you get into that role of helping, you no longer see it as simply “volunteering.” I now view it as now having the ability to advocate for those in a community whose voices wouldn’t otherwise be heard. This is what being an PTA/OTA is also about: advocating for your profession and for people in your community.
On my graduation day with the two girls who made my transition into this program a fun journey. From left to right: Michelle Koh, Maria Fledderus and Aurelie Dimandja.
My other leadership role began when I became an Ontario physiotherapist assistant representative of CPA’s National Physiotherapist Assistant Assembly (NPAA). I already had a lot of homework, projects, exams, tests, and preparing for clinical placements, but the opportunity presented itself and I thought “could I really pass up a chance to get to know my peers and practice being a leader?” The answer was simple.
Be a Lifer
Being a CPA member, a Student PTA representative, and one of the NPAA Ontario representatives, have all been a part of “building my profile”.
If I could give one piece of advice, it’s that learning is a life-long process. As PTA/OTAs, we have an obligation to our clients, patients, residents, and community to continually seek to gain additional knowledge and practical experience. Throughout our career, we will continually take courses to enhance our professional knowledge and clinical skills.
This is what keeps us competent to our professional standard. The more you learn, the more opportunities open up.
So start now.
Build your profile; expand your support system. I grew my network by venturing out and asking questions. My greatest support system now includes my family, my friends, my teachers in the program, and the president of the NPAA who was a role model and mentor as I embarked upon my volunteer role to advocate for PTAs and student PTAs.
Become involved with your employer, your school, community, and of course the National Physiotherapist Assistant Assembly! I have only shared a bit of my story as an emerging PTA/OTA with you, with a wish that it may help you as you start your journey into your career.
I work as a physiotherapist assistant, I am a volunteer coordinator for Cystic Fibrosis Hamilton Chapter. In addition, I am a member of the ALS Walk committee Hamilton Chapter. I’m also a PTA Ontario Representative and I am an admin for their OTA/PTA job posting page for Canadians. I recently took a WaterArt Senior Instructor course training, and I teach aquafit for seniors. This summer, I’m looking forward to continuing my education and increasing my practical knowledge as a physiotherapist assistant, and PTA Representative by taking a few courses with The Canadian Centre for Activity and Aging.