Help with deciding becoming a nurse or occupational therapist!

Nurses Career Support


Hi there!

I am interested in either going back to school for nursing or occupational therapy. When I first started college I did 1 1/2 years of Pre-Nursing and I switched to other majors because I wasn't ready to dedicate myself to the program. I ended up with a B.A. in Art and now I want to go back to the medical field..Go figure! I work as a Chiro Assistant and Chiro x-ray tech now and I am having trouble deciding what to go back for. I love being able to help patients and learning all about different diagnosis and treatment. I know the "real nursing world" is nothing like tv and I am afraid maybe I wouldn't be able to handle it. In college I worked as a CNA at a nursing home and was able to handle that. On the other hand I am also interested in OT and I think my Art background and OT could combine with each other. I love working with people one on one and being busy doing different things. I would love some feedback if anyone has any!


Specializes in Critical Care, Education.

Congrats on making a career switch decision - with your background and experience, I am sure you will be successful this time.

I am sure you are already weighing the "pluses & minuses" of both your choices - here are the ones that come to mind.

I believe that entry into practice for therapists (PT, PT, ST, etc) is at the graduate level. With a bachelor's degree, you will qualify for licensing as an Assistant (OTA, PTA). There may be salary considerations with this. Nursing is more physically demanding and stressful but jobs are more plentiful. The job market for therapists is much more limited than that for nurses because there are just fewer positions. OT's work with very specific populations, and you may tire of this after a while and want more variety. On the other hand, Therapists can go into independent practice fairly easily in most states.

Just a thought - have you looked into Art Therapy as a career? It may be a good career for you.

Specializes in Med-Surg; ER; ICU/CCU/SHU; PAR.


You may want to check around to see how the OT profession is looking in this economy. For the vast majority of potential nursing students that I talk to, I do NOT recommend that you choose nursing because of perceived salary or security benefits! (They are not quite what the media portrays!) But from your post, I have a sense that you've already begun to look at the things that I like to see a future nurse consider.

I would advise you to consider if your short term goals require a BSN, or if an Asoociate's degree would work just as nicely for you. The BSN may end up costing you more than it would be worth, given what you seem to be indicating your interests and your "driving force" in all of this may be!

I wish you all the best as you pursue your interest in nursing; email me if you had other Q's.

MsLori RN, BSN


107 Posts

Wow, you and I have similar backgrounds. I "always" wanted to do "art." I got my BA in art as well. When I tried getting a job w/ that degree in the "real world" I had no luck! I then took a year to figure out what I wanted to do.....and came up with nursing. I researched the best/fastest way to get to where I wanted to I chose a private LVN program, with the intention of going for my RN (which I still plan to do). However, living in CA as a LVN has been a real eye opener for's hard to find a job and there are not as many doors open for a LVN in various fields. Maybe I should have researched it more?

Anyways, throughout the last year of being in and out of work, my mind has wandered....should I just go for my masters in psych? counseling? art therapy? (I see/saw art therapy as a way to combine my two people one on one in a therapeutic environment). However, there are no art therapy programs close to me and moving is not an option at this point. Sooooo, I've finally decided to stick with nursing and go for my BSN/RN.....figuring I need to finish what I started and not get sucked into the "what ifs" simply b/c I'm struggling to find work.

Once I get my BSN, maybe I'll go back for my masters down the psych? not sure yet. I think at least having a BSN/RN will open more doors for me. I also decided to go for the BSN b/c the Community Colleges here in CA where I live all have a waiting list for their ADN/RN I'm going to go through Indiana State University's online program, and they'll accept a lot of my classes from my former BA, so it shouldn't take me AS long. Art therapy MIGHT be a good thing to pursue :loveya:Keep us posted!


14,633 Posts

For what it's worth, over the (many) years, the OTs I've known have been a lot happier being OTs than the nurses I've known have been happy being nurses ...


378 Posts

Just do your research. Its so hard choosing a career sometimes and you just dont want to look back and say I wish I would have chose that career or this career. I wanted to get away from the competitive nursing programs and changed my major to speech therapy only to find out that those graduate programs are just as competitive as nursing schools. Good luck on whatever you choose!


157 Posts

Most OTs seem to be happy. Some nurses are but nursing seems to have more burn out and overwork then OT

jjjoy, LPN

2,801 Posts

Definitely try to talk to several different nurses and OTs. Ask lots of questions. Ask what their exact training and licensure is (eg some med assts will call themselves 'nurse'). They still might a good resource for some info but it's good to know exactly where they're coming from. How to find these people? Ask family, friends, etc if they know anyone who is a nurse or OT and ask if it might be okay to ask them some questions.

Definitely try to shadow some nurses and OTs. Following a nurse or OT on their shift for a couple of hours can give you more info on which to base your choice. That may not happen due to concerns of patient privacy but it's worth asking. If you do have the opportunity, I suggest making sure to include bedside acute care nursing as that has been where the most opportunity is for RNs. Other Nursing Jobs are out there, specialty areas, advanced practice, but it can difficult to land such jobs (everyone wants them!).

Do know that in many nursing environments, the nurse is responsible for more than one patient at a time, usually 4-7 in acute care (unstable patients) and up to 35 in long term care (more stable patients)!. That means having to juggle everything that is competing for your time. Getting meds out on time, contacting physicians, hanging IVs, documenting, filling out forms, can all take away from the amount of time a nurse has to spend one-on-one with a patient.

Keep on searching for what will work for you1

Gentle Giant

20 Posts

Hey everyone!

I'm exactly in the same boat as far as deciding between OT and nursing. So undecided, in fact, that I'm applying both to second-degree BSN programs and OT programs. I've shadowed four nurses and two OTs, and yet I can't decide. So afraid of making the "wrong" choice. There are some things from the OT shadows that I liked better:

-more one-on-one interaction with patients

-opportunity to visit different floors of a hospital on the same day

-worrying about handling doctors didn't seem to be an issue

However, there are (I think) some drawbacks that still make nursing look slightly more appealing for me:

-a BSN in nursing seems to be more of a broad education that offers a bigger platform than OT in it's opportunities for specialization. For instance, the masters options with nursing are so numerous. MSN/MPH, RN/MSW, nurse practitioner, etc. I'm afraid by going into OT that I will shut out some of these opportunities. I have a strong interest in mental health and public health.

The bottom line for me is that I don't think I'd be happy for the long-term being a bedside RN. It might just be something I would "toughen out" until I go on and get my masters and look for other options. But again, the daily life of an OT did seem more appealing to me than an RN....

So, I realize that no one has the answer for me except for myself. But I would appreciate any feedback from RNs about my points above. Do they seem legitimate? Where am I correct or wrong in my thinking? What else should I consider?

Many thanks to all who respond!


jjjoy, LPN

2,801 Posts

I had similar questions and concerns. I wanted to change my major and was interested in PT school, but my school (and nearby schools) only offered nursing school. So I started looking in to that. Most Nursing Jobs I observed didn't look like something I'd be comfortable with day after day after day. But I'd also been introduced to some non-traditional nursing jobs that looked much more appealing. Everyone emphasized there was much more opportunity in nursing than bedside care.

Not until just prior to graduation did our instructors start STRONGLY encouraging everyone to work an acute care bedside job for AT LEAST a year before branching out. Lucky us, like for grads now, after mcuh ado over the vast job opportunities, there was a sudden switch and new grads weren't being hired.

After no bites from dozens of hospitals nationwide, I also started looking at non-acute-care jobs, such as jobs in research, public health, health information, etc. And got a job offer. I took it! I didn't want a bedside job badly enough to remain unemployed & do hard-core job hunting for who knew how long.

Ultimately, my nursing background did open the door for certain specific job opportunities; though, they have all been the kind of job one happens into. The knowledge and experience gained in school is priceless and has served me well.

I'm happy with where I am, butI do think with the right opportunities, support and preceptors I could've found a niche in clinical nursing that worked for me. Still, I think I personally would have enjoyed the content and clinicals of something like PT school, as their work always had appealed to me more than most nursing jobs. And I might have actually directly practiced PT for a time. But then again, with that background would I have had the opportunities that have led me here?

Just food for thought! Everyone and every situation is different!


446 Posts


Thank you everyone for such detailed responses : ) I am still struggling with this issue but I find myself leaning more towards OT. I like to spend one on one time with patients now at the Chiropractor office that I work for and like to understand each patient medical history and symptoms. I know as a nurse I would be juggling so many patients I probably could only spend a limited amount of time. I also like the fact that you spend a long period of time with a single patient and you are able to see them progress. I hope this is the right choice, going to start on my pre reqs this summer and hopefully take the GRE this fall! I'm sure I ll change my mind a few more times though! It interesting to see how many people are having this dilemma!

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