28 March 2010

So Why OT?

I really enjoy when you readers leave me questions (just type what you'd like to know in the box there on the left that says "ASK ME ANYTHING" and hit SEND . . . and you really can ask me anything).  I got this one today and I think it's one of my favorites:

What led you to occupational therapy? What was the studying like?
Oh, wow, what a question! I will do my best to go against the core of my nature and not write a novel-lengthed response, but no guarantees!


How did I end up working as an OT?? Well, when I was in high school we built pin hole cameras in art class and I decided I wanted to go to art school. But my parents told me no . . . I wanted to study drawing and photography, but my dad used tell me I was no Picasso, and art was no way to make a living. I had always been interested in medicine, but did not want to spend a million years in school to become a doctor.

I started to explore the idea of Physical Therapy and began volunteering at a local hospital in the PT department. One day they let me shadow the Occupational Therapist. While the PT's had cool toys like walkers and crutches and gait belts, the OT had cones and splints and putty and therabands and long-handled reachers and dressing sticks and adapted forks and plates and all kinds of really cool things.

I began to realize that while PT is really important and necessary for recovery (and every patient just wants to "get up and walk") there is so much more to our daily existence than just walking around. For example: "Great, you can stand up from the chair and walk yourself to bathroom. Now what?" Or, "Wonderful, you've made it here into the kitchen on your own, but you're hungry, walking in here is only the first step."

So I began to realize that while mobility is right up there at the top of everyone's priority list, autonomy is even higher (most people just don't think about it consciously). Try going one day needing someone else to brush your teeth, get you showered and dressed, help you use the toilet, feed you, wipe your mouth . . . .

I once heard it put this way, "A doctor will fix your leg, a PT will help you walk, but an OT will make you dance." OT is concerned with the quality of life . . . the quality of the dance. And that quality is determined by the dancer.

I love what I do. It's so much more than a job, or a profession. It a world-view . . . my belief that people are valuable and were created to be doing-beings drives my desire to facilitate recovery. Not just recovery of physical well-being, but the recovery of LIFE . . . life is so much more than simply a beating heart and breathing lungs. We were created to do, and I believe that simply when we "do", we give glory to God.

So that is what led me to Occupational Therapy.

And the studying . . . I can really only speak to the educational process in the US, and more specifically to my own experience (if you're interest in OT visit www.wfot.org or in the US, www.aota.org . . . WFOT: The World Federation of Occupational Therapists has links to every national OT organization's website in the world . . . The AOTA: American OT Assoc, has links to every program in the US).

In the US, OT is now at the "Entry Level Masters" level, which means, you have to have a Masters degree in OT in order to practice. There are combined bachelors/masters programs, but in the US it no longer possible to become a therapist without a masters. So, I decided to get my bachelors degree in Sports Medicine (and am a Certified Athletic Trainer . . . one of a handful of us in the US with combined credentials of ACT/OTR). I studied for 4 years at Cedarville University and found my education in sports med to be only beneficial for my future in OT. I learned how to interact with real people who were injured, I learned how to take a really good medical history, I learned how to think outside of the box, I learned to do a physical exam and make an assessment, I learned how to plan rehab programs that were specific to each athlete's contextual needs, and I learned to empathize with the realities of how an injury (or illness) impaired a persons ability to participate in something that gave them meaning and enjoyment. These were so helpful to me once I became an OT. One can study theory all day long, but it's the hands-on, putting it all into practice that builds confidence and teaches that every patient is different and as a therapist, it's important to know the cookbook, but it's necessary to doctor-up each individual recipe!

So after 4 years of undergrad, I studied at Temple University for another 2 to get my Master of Occupational Therapy degree. We had gross anatomy and neuroanatomy labs that included cadaver dissections (still one of my favorite parts, and being a tactile learner, whenever I'm doing an initial assessment of a patient or often during treatment, I picture my cadaver [whom we affectionately referred to as Frank] and I can see in my head the layers of muscles and the way they overlap and work to enable us to move).  We had classes on group dynamics and splint building . . . our labs included playing on swings and weaving and wearing glasses that cut our visual field in half and shirts that allowed only one arm to move . . . great practice for learning to think from the patients' point of view.

If you're considering become an OT, I would highly recommend that you choose a program based on its clinical strength. Academia puts more value on research . . . and that's fine if life was lived in the lab. But it's not, so find a program that remembers that therapy happens in the clinics and in people's homes and in classrooms and WHEREVER LIFE IS HAPPENING!

GREAT QUESTION!! THANK YOU!! (I LOVE WHAT I GET TO DO!! And being in language school makes me really miss it!)

4 comments:

lydia said...

As a fellow SIMer who will be serving in France and likely to go through the same language school as you are right now, I just want to say that I really enjoy reading your blog! And I love your reasons for becoming an OT, and how it's intertwined with your worldview.

Adrienne said...

deb - I was introduced to your blog by joy s, as I am a fellow Tap girl and am now working in Africa, in a country with many similarities to Niger. I'm looking forward to hearing more about your experiences...praying for patience and strength in this time of language learning and much waiting!

Adrienne said...

deb - I was introduced to your blog by joy s, as I am a fellow Tap girl and am now working in Africa, in a country with many similarities to Niger. I'm looking forward to hearing more about your experiences...praying for patience and strength in this time of language learning and much waiting!

lydia said...

As a fellow SIMer who will be serving in France and likely to go through the same language school as you are right now, I just want to say that I really enjoy reading your blog! And I love your reasons for becoming an OT, and how it's intertwined with your worldview.