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New Grad, Job-Market, and Covid-19

Hey everyone, Hannah here! I know we're all wondering the same question, so how is Covid-19 affecting our job market, especially while being a new grad? The honest truth.. it hasn’t been great. Maybe one day we’ll look back on these days and be thankful for how it’s shaped us and allowed us to grow during this time, but the truth is …. probably couldn’t have graduated and come into the job market at a worse time. This isn’t just for occupational therapists, but the whole country. 11.1% of the U.S. is facing unemployment right now (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). I’m not saying this to scare you, but more to help you feel comforted in the fact that you're not alone. We are in a crazy time and the thing that is somewhat comforting is that everyone is going through the same struggles together. We are NOT alone, we’re all truly in this together.


I’m sure my story is a similar story for many new grads at this time, but here’s a quick snapshot of me post graduation. Just graduated (after 2-3 years of schooling), went through the rigor of the NBCOT boards exam, passed, and now ready to get out into the field! And then you realize getting a job is a little more challenging than you thought and it may take a little longer than you hoped to find that just right job ( in a perfect world, this would maybe take 2-3 months tops) and in addition, one month later the whole world goes into a pandemic! Who would have seen that coming! All of a sudden that 2-3 months turns into A LOT longer.


I graduated back at the end of December (pre-Covid). I took the month of January to study for the NBCOT exam (a whole other topic for a different day) and received my license in the beginning of February. This was exactly one month before our nation officially received the shelter in place orders. So I was able to see a slight glimpse of what the job market looked like pre-Covid and then during the thick of it! Here is what I, and many other new grads in the same position, felt and experienced when it came to the job-market post grad life in 2020.

Here are some of the reasons and obstacles we faced finding a job even before Covid. (A look at where the field of OT was in the beginning of 2020.)


First off, if you don’t already know this about all of us, we all live in southern California in the San Diego/ Orange County area. These are some of the most desirable places to live, which in turn, means more people wanting to live and work here causing more competition for jobs!

Second, we are all entering the market as new grads! As we all know coming out of school you have fieldwork experiences and probably lots of volunteer hours in various settings, but of course because you’re a new grad, you haven’t yet had the opportunity to have any “licensed clinical experience.” Something we ran into was most settings wanting work experience, over just student fieldwork experience. I totally get it, we are at the bottom of the totem poll and know essentially nothing compared to those with years of clinical experience. However, how are we ever supposed to get that “experience” if no one takes a chance on us?

Third, Medicare and all its new laws have caused a lot of tension in the therapy world and a decrease in hiring due to stricter laws on reimbursement and therapy visits. A big law that was passed was the Patient-Driven Group Model (PDGM) that was put into effect on January 1, 2020 (Klawitter, 2019). This law focuses more on “the needs of a patient” versus the “volume of treatment they receive.” In turn, decreasing the need for as many therapists due to therapy not being approved and reimbursed for individuals (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 2020). This law has really affected settings who depend on a great deal of Medicare patients (i.e. SNF, home health agencies).

These were several of the reasons in the beginning I was struggling to find something, several recruiters and individuals I had talked to were telling me that the OT job market was very saturated at this time and that there weren’t as many needs for OT at the time, at least in the areas I was looking in.

Then COVID happened….. now all clinics are forced to shut down and shift to teletherapy (another post coming soon), hospitals and surgery centers are ending or postponing most elective surgeries, people are wary to go into medical facilities and/or hospitals right now due to fear of transmission, kids aren’t getting regular check ups and as a result pediatricians aren’t recommending them for early intervention services. If you can tell, it’s a domino affect in ALL practice areas. The therapy world took a hit because we are a hands on, face-to-face profession. As we come into our sixth month of this pandemic, we are starting to learn new ways as therapists to adapt, bringing back some of the surgeries, and so forth. We are starting to see a slight rise in jobs and medical needs. However, it’s a slow rise but I’m hopeful that it will stay that way. Even though this is a crazy time in our lives especially for the medical field, it is good to remember that we are in a field that will always have a need. One day we will be out of this pandemic and people will need OTs!

Here are some things to keep in mind if you are looking for a job or will be in the near future:

  • Think about all of the patients who have put off orthopedic surgeries and various other surgeries during this time due to the pandemic. Once this is over, they are still going to need those surgeries and procedures! There is going to be an influx of patients in those areas and in turn a need for therapists! (inpatient, rehab, outpatient, SNF, home health)

  • Think about all of the kids not getting referrals from their pediatricians and school therapists because they haven’t seen their doctor or been in school for the last year. They are all going to need evaluations and services once they return! There’s going to be a huge need for therapists in those areas as well!


TIPS!! What to know and DO NOW!

  • Hang in there, this will eventually pass, and when it does you WILL be needed!

  • Do as much CEUs (if you’re already licensed) and personal education and research in some of these areas. That way when you do find an opening you’ll be ready and hopefully have a leg up above others applying for the same position with the same qualifications!

  • Apply EVERYWHERE and be OPEN! I know that sounds crazy and maybe overwhelming, but it’s what we did! Because you’re a new grad you already have a harder chance at getting a job because of your lack of experience, this is just a fact for most professions. (however, don’t let that discourage you, be confident in yourself and what you know! It comes across to employers when you're not confident! Just because you’re a new grad doesn’t mean you can’t be confident in yourself, the knowledge and skills you do know, and the type of clinician you can be!) Most of the time we didn’t hear back from places, but sometimes we heard back from ones we didn’t even think we would or ones that were a stretch for us! So don’t sell any opportunity short, especially in these times!

  • Again, be OPEN to trying new settings, starting off with a lower pay then you may desire, and/or being a part-time or contracted employee. This is true for even non-Covid times, but especially true during Covid times! Remember the unemployment rate I talked about earlier. If you get offered a job and you're not getting many others, take it! I guarantee it will be better than nothing. You need that experience we talked about and everyone has to start somewhere. Who knows, you may end up loving it and choosing to stay in that setting or place for longer than you expected! The wonderful thing about OT is there is so much diversity and if you truly don’t think the setting your in is the right fit for you or you just want to try something else, you CAN!

  • Lastly, being a new grad may feel like it poses a challenge because you're inexperienced like other clinicians and you feel like they won’t respect you or even look at your resume compared to others. And sometimes this is true, but in my honest opinion hiring new grads is a win win! We are ready to learn and adapt to any way of teaching or practice since we are starting from the beginning. Were not burnt out or overrun yet, we’re fresh and ready to learn and help others! If you get the chance don’t forget to SELL yourself because these are all positives that a new grad offers, knowledge and skills can be taught, but drive, passion, and willingness to learn are all traits that come from within and ones you have as a new grad!


Let me leave you with this lasting piece of advice and encouragement during a time where I think we all could use a little. We can get down and think what an unfortunate time to come into the workforce and how behind we may feel in our profession because of Covid. However, I want to choose to look back at this obstacle and feel like I came out stronger and better because of it and I would encourage you to do the same. At the end of the day Covid still happened and is still happening and we can’t change that, but I can change the way it shaped me and forced me to adapt and do better because of it. I want to look back and think during this hard time for our nation, our profession, and even ourselves that I am better now because of it and I am happy with how I handled and came out of it. OT Unfiltered was created during those long quarantined days of endless job searches, fear of never being hired, and isolation away from friends and family. Maybe during what feels like such a dark time in our history we can find a light and bring out that positivity, no matter how small it may feel. Hopefully, that is what OT Unfiltered can do for others. It’s my hope that we can turn the negative that came from Covid into positivity moving forward for our profession and ourselves.


Hang in there guys, we're all in this together!


Yours truly,

Hannah




References


“Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Patient-Driven Groupings Model.” Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, 2020, www.cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-Fee-for-Service-Payment/HomeHealthPPS/Downloads/Overview-of-the-Patient-Driven-Groupings-Model.pdf.


“The Employment Situation - June 2020.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 2020, www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf.


Klawitter, Kristen. “Understanding PDGM What You Need To Know; What You Need To Do.” Thornberry Ltd., 6 Sept. 2019, ndocsoftware.com/2019/03/understanding-pdgm-what-you-need-to-know-what-you-need-to-do/.



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