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The Right Job Fit for Occupational Therapists

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The Right Job Fit for Occupational Therapists
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The Right Job Fit for Occupational Therapists
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Is contract work or direct hire the best option in a school setting?

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Is contract work or direct hire the best option in a school setting?

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News By Profession

Rehabilitation Services

Is contract work or direct hire the best option in a school setting?

By Chelsea Lacey-Mabe

More than 10% of occupational therapists worked in a school setting in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.1 This part of the workforce is a combination of contract workers employed by a healthcare company as well as direct hire employees who are on a school district's payroll. Although they perform the same job and help children and teenagers with a range of health conditions, the agreements they have with their employers are very different.

The Right Job Fit for Occupational Therapists

Money and Benefits

The average OT earns about $78,000 annually, and the biggest factor in pay is location. States with a lower cost of living like Florida will traditionally offer less money. Therefore, a contract OT has a salary comparable to an OT directly employed by the school district. The biggest difference then is benefits like paid time off.

Some contract companies can pay their employees for sick days but that's not always the case. Smaller companies specifically might not be able to afford this benefit because the school district only pays the company for services that were provided.

"It can be a little bit strenuous for the therapist, not being able to take days off without it being a hit to your pay," noted Amanda Speights, an occupational therapist at EBS Healthcare who has been a contract OT for the last six years. Speights is preparing for a transition to direct hire work, employed by a university. "I'm looking forward to a little more stability and some of those benefits that just come with a direct hire like the PTO, vacation days and better medical/dental/vision plans because when you're part of larger groups, your rates and premiums tend to go down."

Added Perks

Besides a new work opportunity, Speights is eager to begin advancing her education. Since her new employer is a university, Speights will be able to pursue her doctorate in OT at a substantially discounted rate.

One of the biggest perks for contract workers is the support system of working within a company. Many companies offer relocation assistance, travel reimbursement, and some like EBS have mentorship or professional development programs available to employees, which can be particularly beneficial to new grads.2

"Schools are always in need of therapists so some districts will hire new grads, but other districts aren't so keen on it because they know the job requires a lot of skills that maybe a new grad wouldn't have yet," noted Speights. "If grads are looking to do school-based work, they should look for a really strong mentor and make sure that they have adequate supervision."

Time Management

One skill that new grads and other contract OTs will be able to add to their resume is time management.

"It's a lot of juggling. You have to figure out the best schedule for the kids and the teachers, and also your own schedule as far as being able to commute back and forth between the schools," said Speights. "Then of course some days you get totally thrown off because you might have an IEP [individualized education program] meeting."

The positive is a busy schedule shows hard work and commitment, skills that can make a difference to future employers. Contract work was the right route for Speights after graduation. In six years, she was able to add three jobs to her resume in three different states, which also shows an employer she brings adaptability and reliability, while having worked under the same contract agency.

So as for whether contract work or direct hire is the better option, the answer is it depends. Both can be a great fit for the right person or at the right time.

Chelsea Lacey-Mabe is a former staff writer at ADVANCE.


1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational Therapists. 2015.

2. EBS Healthcare. Benefits. 2016.

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