Michele Schwartz, MS, OTR/L

I am a pediatric occupational therapist with over 20 years of experience in many different pediatric OT settings including schools, clinics, home health, early intervention, and teletherapy (prior to 2020!).  I have my master’s in occupational therapy from Tufts University and my bachelor’s in Psychology from Binghamton University.  I am a certified life coach and certified business coach.  I have been featured in Lifewire, Huffpost, Care.com, Babycenter and Newsbreak. I was an early intervention agency owner and also owned a childcare franchise.  I now mentor occupational therapists online and love my job!

In March 2020, the world was unexpectedly turned upside down. Suddenly, therapists were thrown into the online therapy world. They had no idea where to start. Several years prior, I started working as an online pediatric occupational therapist WAY before others had ever heard about online therapy. It was exciting but nerve-wracking at the same time. How was an Occupational Therapist supposed to work with children ONLINE?

Now so many therapists were thrown into the online world without any warning, time, or preparation. I saw an opportunity to share the knowledge I had learned and TheVirtualPediatricOT.com was born.

Now let’s back up to when I started working as an occupational therapist. I always only wanted to work in pediatrics. But I did not have the opportunity to complete a traditional pediatric fieldwork placement. I was lucky enough to land my first job in a private school and clinic, but my level 2 fieldwork was on a child psych unit. How was I supposed to use the theory learned in OT school and apply it in this new setting? Let me tell you, it was a rocky start. 

I had the zest to learn and was constantly reading, but I did not have the confidence when talking with other disciplines and parents. I constantly questioned if I was doing the best for my clients. 

Then it started to change. My co-worker came back from maternity leave, and they hired another OT. I had colleagues! We brainstormed cases together, and I had guidance on what to learn next. We worked on session structure, treatment planning, and goal banks. 

I remember my first few years like yesterday. I was very lucky to work in an environment where I had constant access to observe and ask questions to, not only other OTs but PTs, teachers, and SLPs as well. Even with this support, I remember reading an article entitled “To Burn Out and Back. My first 2 years as an OT” out loud with my co-worker. We laughed so hard as we could relate so much. 

It was an amazing start to my OT career. But many new grads are not as lucky to work with other Occupational Therapists. The profession has changed.

Nowadays I know a lot of other OTs are not as lucky to have built-in mentorship and support with their first jobs. Some are all alone doing home visits, or the only OT working in clinics. However, you also have the advantage of so much information at your fingertips on the internet. But at times that too can be overwhelming.

One reason I chose to become an OT is the great variety in settings and opportunities. We are always learning and it is never boring! I have been lucky to work in many pediatric OT settings. An inpatient psychiatric hospital, special education private school, public schools, early intervention, home care, pediatric clinics, and teletherapy. I was also the owner of an early intervention home care company.

Over the years, I took every opportunity to mentor other therapists. Students, new OTs (one who was 20 years older and on her 2nd career!), I worked as my school district’s fieldwork coordinator and even mentored therapists of other disciplines as a practice owner. 

When we sold our childcare business this year, I knew I wanted to work with special needs families again. But not necessarily in the role of a practice owner or therapist. But how? 

I have grown to see how important mentorship is. It is the fastest way for new therapists to become confident, efficient, and fulfilled. Everyone needs a mentor to talk to, someone to assure them they are on the right track, and to guide them to think differently. Someone in their corner to help them grow. 

That is why I love being a mentor. I love the energy new therapists bring, and their zest to learn. I love having an impact on children and families (right here from my computer!), even though I am not the therapist working with them directly. And I love seeing new therapists grow their confidence. 

That is how my mentoring systems at The Virtual Pediatric OT were born.