How to Get Occupational Therapy Observation Hours

OT Observation Hours

Observing, shadowing, volunteering, working – different names, same goal! One of the questions I hear most often as I interact with prospective OT students is about how and where they can get observation hours with an OT or OTA. Many programs require at least 20 hours of direct observation with an OT, but some programs require 50 hours or more.

If you’re a prospective student looking for places to start shadowing and learning more about the profession, this post is for you! Just follow the steps below to learn more about how to have a successful OT shadowing experience from start to finish.

Read on to find out how to get those all-important OT observation hours and have a great time while you do it!

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OT Observations: Bell’s Palsy Treatment with FES and Heat Modalities

Ultrasound/FES Cart
This is a combination ultrasound and FES machine (on a cart) that is very similar to the one used in the clinic where I volunteer.

Helen, the therapist I spend the most time shadowing at the outpatient clinic where I volunteer, has recently begun treating two clients with Bell’s palsy. I’ve included the Mayo Clinic’s definition of Bell’s palsy below for anyone who has not heard of it – I know I hadn’t!

“Bell’s palsy causes sudden weakness in your facial muscles. This makes half of your face appear to droop. Your smile is one-sided, and your eye on that side resists closing.

Bell’s palsy, also known as facial palsy, can occur at any age. The exact cause is unknown, but it’s believed to be the result of swlling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face. It may be a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.

For most people, Bell’s palsy is temporary. Symptoms usually start to improve within a few weeks, with complete recovery in about six months. A small number of people continue to have some Bell’s palsy symptoms for life. Rarely, Bell’s palsy can recur.”



As the definition mentions, Bell’s palsy can occur as the result of a viral infection a person contracts or by some damage to or inflammation of cranial nerve VII, the facial nerve.

Interestingly, Helen has seen two very different clients with Bell’s palsy in the past few weeks. The first client is an older male who is recovering from a surgery to remove a brain tumor that happened in early March. The second person, with whom Helen is using the heat and FES modalities, is a young boy. However, in both cases the client is experiencing dry eye and difficulty moistening the eye by blinking, as the impaired nerve functioning leads to partial or full paralysis of the facial muscles around the eye. This is certainly very uncomfortable, and can be dangerous if unwanted substances enter the eye and aren’t removed by reflexive blinking and eye-watering.

These clients can also have difficulty in other functional areas. Bell’s palsy and the accompanying facial weakness or paralysis can make it difficult to drink from a cup or straw, eat in a way that is socially appropriate (i.e. with mouth closing fully during chewing and by removing all food particles from the affected side) or be comfortable interacting with others due to the facial droop and weakness preventing typical expression with the mouth and eyes.

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New Feature: “OT Observations”

The “OT Observations” feature describes my experiences observing and learning from various occupational therapists in practice. Currently I am volunteering at an outpatient therapy clinic and observing the work of the therapists there.

This past October, I began volunteering in a local pediatric and adult outpatient therapy clinic. Multiple therapeutic disciplines are represented, and there are adult and pediatric occupational, speech and physical therapists at the clinic. I spend the majority of my time observing and/or playing with the clients of the therapist I’ll call “Helen.” Helen is an amazing therapist, a fantastic role model and another person who has been instrumental in helping me learn about and become more passionate about occupational therapy!

Just a little bit about Helen, for context – she’s been an OT for 17 years and she works with children and adults. She’s worked in home health, hospital and private outpatient settings, and has the vast amount of experience one would think goes with such a long career in OT! She is the first therapist who I’ve seen administering feeding therapy, early intervention with an infant, sensory integration treatments and basically any kind of pediatric therapy. I thought I wanted to work solely with adults in the future, but Helen has had a large part in changing my mind about that!

Initially, I only planned on volunteering until the end of the semester, in order to meet a graduate program’s volunteer hour requirements. However, being able to see all of the therapists and their different styles in action has kept me there for the past 6 months! I don’t know what I’m going to do when I have to leave, but I’m glad I have had the chance to see and learn about so many different things while I’ve been there.

I’m creating this “OT Observations” feature so that I can record and keep track of what I’m seeing now and perhaps link it to things I will learn in the future. Although my observations will be heavily inundated with my own commentary and musings, I hope they will be helpful for anybody interested in learning more about occupational therapy as well.