What’s It Like Being a Minority Male Occupational Therapist?

It’s not bad at all, actually.  To clarify, I used the word “minority” instead of Asian because some people assume that I’m Mexican, Indian, Hawaiian, or Middle Eastern.

Being a male OT in a predominantly female occupation has its pros and cons.  Only about 10 percent of occupational therapists are male, which I soon realized at Ohio State University when I was 1 of 7 males in a class of about 55.   What I didn’t know is that Asians are the second most common ethnicity in the OT profession at a measly 6%.  This doesn’t surprise me because I’ve only worked with one occupational therapist that was an Asian male in 5 different states (NY, MA, NJ, HI, and CA) and 13 school districts.  Now that may sound pretty specific but he was 1 of only 7 BroT (a term I never heard of until last week BROT Movement) that I have ever worked with in 18 years.

That being said I had only heard one racist comment which happened to come from a student.  It was not like being raised in the midwest in the early 80’s where people were constantly asking me if I knew karate, which I did, or if I played the piano, which I did, or if my parents were doctors, which they were, or if I ate dog, which I wasn’t aware of.  To be fair, for a long time I thought all Filipino adults were doctors when I was growing up. But I digress.

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There are definitely benefits to being a male occupational therapist.  Apparently men get paid about $11,000 more per year than women.  I have not personally seen this, because this does not typically occur in the school setting since many districts have steps that they follow based on education and experience, not on gender.  I did get a lot more compliments on my clothing and at times my tan and even my arms! Most of the women that I have worked with were much harder workers than me, but they were also more stressed than me.  I actually had a coworker complain that I was too relaxed, so my supervisor at the time explained that I just moved there from Hawaii.

There is one part of being Asian that’s a pro and a con at the same time, which is that I apparently look much younger than my age.  For example, I was mistaken for a hall monitor in an elementary school that went to grade 5. Now that I’m 40 years old, I take those as compliments and now I wear my fluorescent green hall monitor sash with pride.

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As several other male OT have posted, we often enjoy the wonderful baked goods in the staff lounge. I’m a foodie and I enjoy socializing around eating.  At one school, I used to schedule my days based on the fact that a teacher made chocolate chip banana bread, on Wednesdays we had salad club (which I helped start), and Thursdays was pastrami Thursday at the local deli.  One day, I think I got 15 people to order Indian food. One of my good friends mentioned that he lost 10 pounds after I left.

But by far the most important benefit to working in the school setting with so many women is that overall I believe my female colleagues have made me a better person.  I learned how to be a better listener, more compassionate and empathetic, and better worker, which has made me a better husband, father, and therapist.

Now I’m not saying everything was all hunky dory.  There are plenty of things that I (and I’m guessing other men) carefully consider, especially when working in pediatrics.  First, I try not to close the door of the OT room especially if it’s only me and the child. I don’t think that is something women have to worry about, at least not for the same reasons.  I don’t have kids sit on my lap for story time and when kids want a hug, I don’t refuse, but instead “side hug” them.

Being a male OT also makes it difficult to make friends at work.  Guys are easy: we talk about some sports and the next day we’re practically chest bumping in the hallway.  Women can be tricky. I have to be careful about how I invite a teacher or fellow therapist to a social event after school with a group without it sounding like I’m asking them out.  With that being said, the women that I have worked with have become close friends and have helped me a lot throughout my life and I definitely appreciate all of them.