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The Rural Opportunity for Occupational Therapists

Written by Tracy Milius, Published on July 20, 2016

As you achieve your professional degree and look back on the years spent studying the theory and practice of occupational therapy, you may be eager to focus on a specialty straight away. Before setting yourself on a path that could box you into neuro, acute rehab or another area, consider the benefits of continuing to practice as a generalist.

One of the best places to make that happen is in a rural area.

New Occupational Therapists are Primed for Rural Practice

Occupational Therapy school prepares you to practice with a broad-based, thorough understanding of how to perform assessments and interventions on all types of patients.

In a rural practice you’ll have the opportunity to treat for almost all the diagnoses you’ve learned and potentially advance as the resident specialist for a singular program—be it lymphedema, aquatics, women’s health and more.

Rural settings provide supportive environments, and new graduates can learn from cross-discipline mentors how to handle any nuances they didn’t encounter during clinical experiences.

Interests in Specialties for OTs Evolve Over Time


Janelle Sears, OT works in a rural Iowa hospital. She started there as a new grad 19 years ago and is still enjoying the culture and opportunities she found in the rural setting.

“When I began my schooling to become an OT, I planned to be a pediatric therapist. While I still enjoy the time I spend with our pediatric clients, I can’t imagine what I would have missed or what clinical skills I would have neglected had I stayed that course. I have been involved in the development of multiple programs that I never knew existed until I began working with clients who had needs that required growth from myself, as well as programs that had always been an interest of mine,” she said.

Occupational Therapy Stands Out in Smaller Communities

Rachel Goeser, OT, a 2015 OT graduate has found similar satisfaction in her new job as the only OT in the town of Valentine, Nebraska. In fact, at the AOTA Annual Conference this past April President Amy Jo Lamb, OT highlighted Rachel in her inaugural speech to the crowd of 10,000+ attendees.


Rachel Goeser is a new occupational therapy practitioner with RehabVisions in Valentine, Nebraska. Rachel purposefully chose to work in a rural setting because of the diversity of practice it offered her.

Within her OT position she practices in critical access hospitals, inpatient rehabilitation, outpatient rehabilitation and skilled nursing facilities. She uses occupation as a means in her practice to facilitate participation and get clients back to the things that they need to do, want to do and have to do. This under-served area did not have access to occupational therapy services until Rachel arrived. Rachel did not seek to fit in.

She sought to stand out.

Rachel stepped outside of her comfort zone and reached out to physicians, nurses and nursing home administrators, educating them on the value of occupational therapy with their clients.

In her first seven months of practice, Rachel is an influencer of change as she worked to bring access to OT to this community and enhance the quality of life of those that she serves.

The first few years after graduating you can either choose a “niche” specialty practice right away or take the time needed to fully explore other specialties available to you.

Rural practice offers this clinical diversity and a chance to identify opportunities that will bring value and build programs for rural communities. 

Topics:alternative career pathsCareersClinicaloccupational therapy settingsrural areas

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