My journey into the occupational therapy field began many years ago. Ever since I was a child, I was inspired by the intelligent, compassionate, and hardworking healthcare professionals that I got to know. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in which I could make a difference in people’s lives every day. So, it has been my dream to work in health care for many years. I have also been strongly interested in science since childhood and as I progressed through my college career, I developed specific interests in anatomy, psychology, and neuroscience. After looking into different health care careers, I learned about occupational therapy. I learned that occupational therapy is a profession that helps individuals of all ages live their lives to the fullest. Occupational therapists help patients develop, recover, or improve the skills necessary to engage in their daily activities.
Once I learned about occupational therapy, I decided to shadow and volunteer with occupational therapists to learn more about the field. There were many aspects of occupational therapy that stood out to me compared to other healthcare professions. I learned that occupational therapy is a diverse and holistic profession; occupational therapists work with individuals of all ages in numerous settings including hospitals, schools, outpatient clinics, skilled nursing facilities, and the home. Another aspect of the career that inspired me and I found unique was that occupational therapists collaborate with their patients to determine the best treatment and intervention options. Through my research into occupational therapy, my shadowing and volunteer experiences, and my interactions with occupational therapists I learned that occupational therapy is a very creative, unique, and exciting field.
Before starting OT school, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a hospital and an outpatient clinic. Through my volunteer experiences, I learned about occupational therapy by directly observing occupational therapists working with their patients. Eventually, I was able to assist the occupational therapists with treatments and interact directly with patients. I volunteered at Bellevue Hospital in both the inpatient and outpatient units of the occupational therapy department. Most of the patients in the inpatient unit suffered from strokes or traumatic brain injuries due to car or sports accidents. The occupational therapists administered assessments to the patients to determine their level of functioning and design treatment plans. They helped patients relearn how to perform daily activities like cooking, getting dressed, brushing their teeth, planning their day, and managing money. The occupational therapists also helped patients increase their strength and improve their posture through exercising and performing daily tasks. During my time volunteering, I assisted with an upper extremity group for stroke patients. The group consisted of activities such as painting, passing exercise balls, playing Jenga, playing basketball, and performing stretching exercises. I also observed occupational therapists using video games and yoga as interventions for patients with traumatic brain injuries. I was amazed at the diversity of activities that the occupational therapists used to help their patients. I also volunteered in the outpatient unit of the hospital as well as at an outpatient clinic in my neighborhood. In these settings, the occupational therapists primarily helped patients with hand and arm injuries. I was really inspired seeing how much the patients improved through their treatments. Volunteering was an invaluable experience and truly solidified my interest in the field.
Following my volunteer experiences and graduating with a Bachelor’s in Psychology, I began the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (MSOT) program at Sacred Heart University. I was so excited to truly begin my journey into this amazing profession. The academic portion of the program involved a lot of hard work and studying, but also taught my classmates and I the importance of creativity in the career and learning about our passions and interests outside of OT. Two of the most interesting and difficult classes I took in the beginning of the program were Applied Functional Anatomy & Neuroscience and Human Conditions Across the Lifespan. In these classes, I learned all about the human body, especially the muscular and nervous systems, as well as about physical and mental health conditions that can affect an individual’s ability to access their daily occupations. One of my favorite classes that I really felt highlighted the heart of occupational therapy was Human Occupation & Activity Analysis. In this class, we learned how to break down, analyze, adapt, and teach activities to our classmates which is a crucial skill that occupational therapists use with their clients every day. It was also a really fun class, because we were encouraged to explore each of our own “favorite occupations,” try new activities that we had never tried before, and do fun projects in class every day. One assignment we were given in this class was to go out into the community by ourselves and engage in an activity we had never done before. The professor explained that this assignment would help us gain more insight into how clients might feel when doing a new activity by themselves in a place they’ve never been before. I chose to go to Plasko’s Farm in Trumbull and try their corn maze by myself which was a fun and interesting experience. We also got to make a bunch of fun arts and crafts projects during class which was something I never thought I would be doing in graduate school, but really enjoyed. The program inspired me to create “occupational balance” in my own life by exploring my hobbies and interests throughout graduate school. During my time in OT school, I explored the beautiful state of Connecticut, made great friendships, and explored a bunch of hobbies and interests, like cooking, baking, painting, crocheting, jigsaw puzzles, rock climbing, and hiking. Many of these hobbies I was later able to share with clients that I worked with in my two level II fieldwork experiences.
About six months into graduate school, the COVID-19 pandemic started, which led to a tremendous change in my OT school experience. Everyone in the program needed to adjust to the change in lifestyle that everyone in the world was experiencing, but we also had to figure out how to make those changes work while continuing our OT education. We ended up having to move many of our classes online (or partially online) and complete many of our in-person labs in small groups, wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), and trying to socially distance. Despite those changes, my classmates and I pushed through and gained the necessary experience and knowledge to prepare us for our level II fieldwork experiences. We learned how to perform goniometry (measuring the angles of joints) and MMT (manual muscle testing), make splints, take vital signs, transfer patients, administer assessments, run groups, design creative interventions, write evaluation reports, and much more. Due to the need to socially distance, we learned how to run groups and interview patients over Zoom or on the phone. We also had the opportunity to use the “simulation lab” to practice scenarios on mannequins or patient actors that we might encounter while in fieldwork. One of my favorite labs during this portion of my OT school journey was the clinical lab in pediatrics. In this lab we were able to create obstacle courses, try out a bunch of equipment that is frequently used with pediatric patients, and design fun and creative interventions that could be created with everyday materials (to prepare for telehealth services).
The next portion of my OT school journey was completing my fieldwork education. I had the opportunity to spend time at St. Catherine Center for Special Needs which is an adult daycare in Fairfield, CT for my first level I fieldwork experience. At St. Catherine’s, I worked and connected with a group of adults, each with unique interests, abilities and needs, who were diagnosed with a variety of conditions including autism spectrum disorder, intellectual disabilities, and developmental disabilities. One of my favorite parts of this fieldwork experience was our weekly trip with the clients to the local bowling alley, which everyone looked forward to. I truly enjoyed working with the individuals I met at St. Catherine’s and was able to apply some of the knowledge I learned in my OT classes, such as how to modify or adapt activities for a client, while working there. Due to the pandemic, this fieldwork experience was cut short, and I was not able to participate in any other in-person level I fieldwork experiences.
My first level II fieldwork experience was at Community Mental Health Affiliates (CMHA) in New Britain, CT. At this fieldwork experience, I had the opportunity to work on the Young Adult Assertive Community Treatment Team (YACTT), which provides intensive outpatient clinical services (including occupational therapy), case management, and medication management to young adults ages 18-25 who are experiencing severe and persistent mental health and/or substance use conditions. This program also included an independent living program, called Transitional Youth Program (TYP), which helps young adults ages 18-25 build the skills necessary to live in the community independently. Working with the individuals in this program as well as my fieldwork educator, Lindsay, was an amazing experience and really helped me grow as an occupational therapy student. During this fieldwork I was able to collaborate with a variety of professionals including social workers, psychiatric nurses, counselors, and recovery specialists. The clients I worked with in YACTT were diagnosed with a variety of mental health conditions including depression, generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorder, bipolar disorder, social anxiety disorder, and substance use disorder, among other conditions. However, while working with the clients, their diagnosis was not the central focus; my fieldwork educator and I viewed each client holistically and worked collaboratively with the client to figure out their goals for occupational therapy. Many of the client’s goals involved engaging in the program, spending time in the community, and learning basic “life skills,” so my fieldwork educator and I spent a lot of time planning and engaging in fun activities with the clients including running arts and crafts groups, cooking groups, playing sports, going to parks, and going on trips (including a trip to the trampoline park and to a ropes course). We also helped clients engage in everyday activities such as shopping for groceries and clothing, doing laundry, cleaning and organizing their apartments, and managing money. I truly enjoyed working with the clients, coworkers, and my fieldwork educator at CMHA and am grateful for the experience I had there.
My next level II fieldwork experience was at Building Blocks Pediatric Occupational Therapy Services in Westport, CT. Building Blocks is a private outpatient pediatric occupational therapy clinic that helps children from birth to adolescence with sensory processing difficulties, fine motor, visual motor, and visual perceptual delays, and feeding challenges develop the skills necessary to engage in their important and meaningful everyday activities. At this fieldwork experience, I also had the opportunity to learn more about Birth to Three services, as we had one early intervention patient who we would work with in the home setting. Working with the children at Building Blocks as well as my fieldwork educator, Justine, was an invaluable experience that I’m very grateful for. Before starting OT school and throughout my OT education, I had a strong interest in working with children. I feel that occupational therapy in the pediatric setting is one of the settings that can make the largest impact on individuals’ lives since the skills that children develop in childhood make a tremendous impact on their lives in the future. During my fieldwork experience at Building Blocks, I learned how to design creative and fun interventions that addressed each client’s goals, plan individual and group treatment sessions, administer a wide variety of assessments, collaborate with parents, and write evaluation reports. I learned a lot about sensory integration and sensory processing difficulties, something that I have experienced personally since I was a child. Through working at Building Blocks, I learned from and connected with the sweet and adorable children that come in for occupational therapy. I am so grateful for the opportunity I had to learn from these children and my fieldwork educator and hope that I was able to make a positive impact during the time I spent at Building Blocks.
I am so excited to continue my journey into the occupational therapy field. My next step is to study for and take the NBCOT (the occupational therapy licensing exam) and then begin applying for jobs. My journey through OT school was a long and difficult, but fun and inspiring process with a lot of ups and downs. Despite some of the difficult times during OT school, I am so glad that I pursued this career and know that this journey was well worth it. I am looking forward to a career where I can inspire and help individuals pursue their goals and dreams. Following my fieldwork experience at Building Blocks, I am hoping to work in a pediatric setting and eventually work in Birth to Three services once I gain more experience. However, I am open to trying out different settings as I would like to gain experience and expand my knowledge as a practitioner. I am so grateful to my two fieldwork educators, Justine and Lindsay, my professors at Sacred Heart, and all of the clients and families I worked with throughout my journey in OT school. Thank you everyone!
Sacred Heart University, MSOT 2022