Why I Decided to Leave the Therapy Field for a Career in Tech
It has been an interesting and non-linear journey, traveling from the therapy world to the tech field. To get there, I had to travel through what I like to call…
The 10 Stages of a Burnt Out Healthcare Worker
Note: This blog post was originally posted and featured on Hashnode at https://codingtherapy.hashnode.dev/why-i-left-the-therapy-field
and on youtube :)
Stage 1: The Optimistic New Therapist
When I graduated from grad school as a newly minted occupational therapist six years ago, the world felt as though it was my oyster. Diploma ink barely dry, I packed what I could fit in my SUV and hit the gas.
I left my hometown and traveled north to start my career in travel therapy. I worked for private clinics and school districts in Atlanta, Denver, and Baltimore. I spread my therapeutic fairy dust on children and adults with cognitive, emotional, and physical impairments.
For three years I drove countless miles and walked in many homes lugging therapy equipment and a smile. I logged hundreds of hours writing evaluations, calling doctors and insurance companies.
On most nights I took work home. I regularly finished daily documentation and 10-page evaluation reports outside of paid time. Sitting buried in paperwork on a Saturday, I would console myself with the fact that I was making a difference. It felt good to be able to serve.
Stage 2: The Big Epiphany (Is this really what I want?)
In the summer of 2019, I found myself solo in a yoga Ashram in India. After a beautiful but grueling stint in Colorado providing services, I was emotionally and physically depleted.
At one point I found myself sniffling in the chair of my primary health physician. She told me, “You need to slow down before you end up in the hospital.”
I was hopeful a month of sweating and twisting my body alone in a foreign country would re-energize me. I prayed it would remind me of what I was doing all of this for. After four hours drenched from ashtanga yoga, we had our daily 3-hour meditation. I would sit cross-legged, every muscle in my body straining, trying to empty my monkey mind.
Alone in my head, I realized something was missing, and something had to give. On my last day of the yoga teacher training, I looked into the fire burning in our communal sweat lodge hut. There, I tossed away my desire to sustain a life I didn’t want anymore.
Stage 3: Crash and Burn (aka the 2020 Panini)
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed I made my way back to the states with a new perspective, ready to shake things up. I had a new job as a Clinical Supervisor for graduate students at a university in a new state. Then…. the pandemic happened. Insert upheaval, contracts canceling, teaching online, and the zoom boom.
Stage 4: Hitting the Pay Ceiling (Chronically Underpaid, Constantly Overworked)
If the pandemic did anything, it certainly put into perspective how hard healthcare professionals work. It was bizarre being dubbed “heroes” and “essential workers” while feeling underpaid and undervalued.
I also came to the realization that my pay hit a plateau. After 5 years of practicing, my wage stopped increasing, and in many cases decreased. I’d officially hit the ceiling of what payers were willing to give for my time.
While having my own business was nice, insurance reimbursements barely covered overhead expenses. Contracts were offering laughable pay for the amount of work expected. Telehealth companies were offering rates many therapists considered criminal, but which many could not afford to reject. Unpaid hours filled with billing and documentation were considered the norm.
Stage 5: An Exciting New World
In December of 2019, I started providing teletherapy and moved my business completely online. I also began contracting with tech companies that had teletherapy platforms. I provided virtual therapy to cyber schools and homeschooled students in multiple states.
After losing most of my in-person contracts due to Covid school closures, I had to teach myself how to build a real website (instead of the sad Weebly one I had at the time). I also had to market online, blog, shoot yoga videos, and network completely online.
I pretty much lived on the computer and internet self-teaching all there was to know about website development, user research, user design, and web accessibility. When I worked on these things it didn’t feel like work… It felt like a fun puzzle I was solving. Hours easily went by without me noticing. For the first time in a very long time, I was hitting the flow state pretty consistently.
Stage 6: Becoming [Tech] Obsessed
One of the primary things I worked on with students and patients was increasing the ability to access their computers independently. This included interacting with programs and hardware that allowed them to complete homework, watch classes, pay bills, etc.
We used things like screen readers, text-to-speech, and speech-to-text programs. We also utilized interactive games and simulations to increase hand-eye coordination, dexterity, reaction time, and other functional skills.
For those with fine motor impairments that made using a mouse difficult, we used special switches that could be activated by eye gaze, head tilt, full hand press, keyboard tap, and more.
I also started working with screen readers for visually impaired individuals. I realized how annoying it was for my patients to navigate websites due to poor HTML markups and confusing tags. We had a fun time roasting websites as we tried to use them. While it was funny to crack jokes, it was also sad to see how it affected their ability to interact with web content.
I had a little understanding of HTML and CSS from like, myspace back in the day. Because I wanted to learn more, I started taking codecademy HTML and CSS classes. My deep dive into web accessibility and full-stack web development commenced.
Stage 7: The Reality Check
Other than my occupational therapy job piquing my interest in learning more, I also had a yoga therapy side business that pushed me further down the tech rabbit hole.
Around June 2021 I decided I wanted to make a yoga app for fun with yoga tutorials for beginners and people who use the computer a lot. (Click here if you’d like to see the yoga tutorials).
I figured learning the program Swift would not be so hard. Once I looked into it I was like… yeah that is a lot. How the heck was I going to learn to code using Swift, run a business, provide quality care and keep seeing yoga students?
Stage 8: Burnout and Tutorial Hell
It was around that same time I realized my desire to provide direct patient care was waning. My enthusiastic therapist persona was slowly being beaten down by good ole fashion burnout (something I’d been feeling since 2019).
Slowly, I found myself tinkering around with VScode in between seeing patients. I had more fun thinking about ways to fix my telehealth tech company’s platform than I did providing the therapy on it.
Stage 9: The Big Decision
In September of 2021, I started the Harvard class CS50: Introduction to Computer Science. I’d never been so fascinated by a course like this… like ever. It felt like every light on my brain was turned on. I started to gobble up everything I could find on computer programming.
By October it was finally clear; I was enrolling in a full-stack web development boot camp and learning how to code. I spent months agonizing about walking away from the only career I’ve ever had. It seemed like the opposite of sane to stop expanding and taking on more work.
By December I found the 100Devs boot camp. I couldn’t believe my luck and the perfect timing. A 30-week full-stack boot camp, completely free and online? I enrolled immediately. It is one of the greatest gifts I have received from the universe (I will share my experiences in this boot camp in a later post).
Stage 10: The Final Goodbye
Though I will always have a toe dipped in the therapy world, I feel as though it is time to move on to my next iteration. I have enjoyed learning how to code little by little and have loved finding a community of like-minded and encouraging individuals. Though there have been tears of frustration, every day I learn something new.
I will continue to supervise and mentor other therapists remotely, and provide consults as needed, but my career working with patients directly is at an end. I do not mourn for it, but feel grateful for all it has taught me. I hope all that I’ve learned and the soft skills I’ve gained will mold me into a better software engineer.
Are you a healthcare or education professional switching careers or interested in doing so? Share your story in the comments!