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Career Development January 1, 2020

Why Taking a Rural Occupational Therapy Assignment Can Be Rewarding

By Lee Soren, Contributor

Although 20% of Americans live outside of metropolitan areas, access to quality healthcare is often a problem for rural America. Allied health providers are drawn to permanent jobs in suburban and urban locations because those facilities generally offer more competitive pay and better overall career opportunities. Rural locations may also provide fewer chances for continuing education and offer limited job opportunities for immediate family members, making them less desirable for many occupational therapists.

For traveling healthcare professionals, however, taking a position in a rural locale can be a great career choice. In addition to filling a desperate need for allied health providers in these communities as the population ages, traveling occupational therapists may find small-town positions surprisingly rewarding. Read on to discover five personal and professional benefits to accepting a rural occupational therapy assignment.

1. Getting to know your patients on another level

In small towns, everybody generally knows everybody else. While healthcare providers with permanent positions in rural settings may experience difficulty maintaining professional boundaries, building a better relationship with a patient can be a welcome change for urban-based occupational therapists.

Accepting a position in a small town likely means you'll see your clients in other contexts. For example, the arthritic patient you're helping with mobility issues may be a teller at your bank or the cook at the local breakfast diner. Getting to know your patients outside of therapy can foster more personable therapeutic relationships, building more trust and offering additional insights into their lifestyle, which can influence and ultimately enhance treatment.

2. Making an even bigger difference in your patients' lives.

Limited healthcare options in rural communities can mean that patients can't easily get the care they need. In areas suffering severe shortages, certain services may not be available at all, leaving patients to struggle alone with medical issues or having to travel long distances to see therapists.

In an urban setting, it's easy to forget your value as a practitioner, but in a rural setting, you may be the only person in the area who can help a patient regain their health or physical abilities. When you accept a rural occupational therapy assignment, you may be putting yourself in a position to genuinely change someone's life in a way that nobody around you can.

3. The opportunity to challenge yourself

Because there are fewer healthcare professionals in small towns, practitioners who work in these settings are often generalists. For traveling occupational therapists, this may mean taking on cases that fall outside your area of specialization.

While working in unfamiliar territory can be intimidating as well as challenging, it can also lead to learning opportunities and professional growth. It may even result in discovering an aspect of your field that you would never have encountered otherwise, except in a textbook.

4. Taking a break from the pace of urban living

Occupational therapists who work in traditional urban and suburban settings generally live fast-paced lives. They deal daily with busy facilities, heavy traffic and other modern challenges, which can be exhausting.

When you accept a rural occupational therapy assignment, you can say farewell to car horns and crowded hallways and hello to a back-to-basics lifestyle. These jobs offer you the unique opportunity to enjoy a slower, small-town pace for the duration of the contract. The slower pace can also mean a chance to reflect and reset, so you can return to your regular life feeling rested and refreshed.

5. Enjoying the great outdoors

Many rural locations are known for their natural beauty, pollution-free air and outdoor recreational opportunities. For OTs who love fishing, hunting, hiking and other fresh-air activities, positions in rural areas can provide the chance to spend more time outdoors, soaking in the sun and leading an overall healthier lifestyle.

Traveling occupational therapists seeking a unique employment experience shouldn't overlook rural occupational therapy assignments. If you're ready to discover the available small-town opportunities, visit our job listings search.

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