In honor of National Occupational Therapy Month, three of our Clinical Directors, Larysa, Candice, and Jen, talk about why they became OTs.
Why I Became an OT
Candice Donnelly-Knox, OTR/L:
I can remember visiting my great uncle in the hospital as a young girl. I can remember falling in love with all the beeping, the monitoring, the hustle, the energy, the helping, the healing, the collaboration… I was fascinated. Everyone seemed to move about the hospital floor as if they were all a part of a carefully choreographed dance routine. It was at that point I changed ideas from wanting to be a Marine Biologist (I wanted to be the next Eugenie Clark, Shark Lady) to wanting to be in some sort of helping profession that worked in a hospital. I didn’t think nursing or being a doctor was for me, so I had always thought about some sort of therapy. In high school, my father had an accident from a fall. I went with him to outpatient Physical Therapy, which was a fantastic experience. Watching the rehabilitation process and how vital it was for my father’s return to work and his normal routine solidified the fact that I wanted to be a therapist when I grew up, a Physical Therapist. Later that year, I arrived at my college tour at Elizabethtown College. Our tour guide was an Occupational Therapy student. Occupational Therapy??? I had never heard of that. As she took us around on campus she shared with us the classes she was taking, which included a combination of courses like kinesiology and copper tooling. Copper tooling? And Macrame? Macrame and creating hand splints? This really appealed to my creative side. It was on that tour that I learned that Occupational Therapists have a wholistic perspective and approach to rehabilitation; that OTs not only work with the body, but also in the big picture of the home and the roles that individuals fulfill in their lives. OTs are trained in task analysis and can modify the environment to fit a person’s strengths and areas of weaknesses. I immediately fell in love with the idea of helping someone learn the “skills for the job of living.” After the tour I applied to Elizabethtown College’s Occupational Therapy program. I was one of 40 students accepted, and after a lot of hard work, I graduated in 2001. Since then I have worked in the acute care setting in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, as an OT at the Overbrook School for the Blind, as a therapist in the public-school setting, and now as a manager. I am very grateful for the opportunity to be working in a profession that has the capability to help so many people in so many different ways!
Jennifer Cave, OTR/L:
In high school, I loved languages. So, I sought out a career in International Business, was accepted into the International Area Studies program at Drexel University, and was on my way to my goals. Once I started my coursework, I realized that something was missing. I wanted purpose and meaning in my work. Next plan – find a job with a non-profit organization so that I would have a cause I was supporting. I considered a change to Communications and Marketing, with the intent that I would specialize in non-profits and fundraising.
During my junior year at Drexel, I became friendly with a girl in my sorority who was working part time at Children’s Seashore House of Philadelphia. She told me all about the Child Life department, and how they were looking for volunteers to come in and play with the kids who were hospitalized. That was the moment my direction changed.
Once I began volunteering, I realized what was missing.: the actual people I wanted to be working with. I found more purpose in working directly with children with special needs than working for a company who supported them financially. The direct one on one with the kids and the relationships I built with them was what I was seeking. During my time at Children’s Seashore House, I was able to observe many different professions and immediately reconsidered my career path. Occupational Therapy quickly became the front runner. As I observed OT sessions, I realized that this was a perfect match. An OT said to me, “I became a pediatric OT to help children maximize their potential. I get to play with kids all day, because that is a child’s primary occupation, play.” I was sold.
Immediately, I began researching programs and applied to Thomas Jefferson University. I was told, “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” However, that was the only basket that seemed like it would work at the time. It was a roller coaster. After being wait-listed that spring because a reference letter was lost, I was accepted the day before classes started the following fall. In retrospect, the anticipation and preparation only made me more determined to reach my goal. I never doubted the decision. Being a pediatric OT has given me the chance to work with hundreds of families across a variety of settings. The most important lesson I learned, and that I hope I shared with families, is that instead of being a “patient” or a “client” or a “student”, we are working with a kid, a kid first above all else.
Larysa Spisic, MS, OTR/L:
As a high school student, I had a strong interest in the sciences, and thoroughly enjoyed biology and genetics. I was also a dancer, and was fascinated by how the body worked, and the importance of the mind and body working together and being in sync with each other. I knew I wanted to pursue a career in the health sciences, but did not know in which direction I wanted to go. So I decided to major in biology and psychology, while continuing to dance my way through college. While at Duquesne, I took a psychology course during which the professor taught about the healing power of touch. It was then that I decided that I wanted a career that involved healing though direct and active contact with others. I researched different health professions, I read about Occupational Therapy… holistic health care, quality of life, psychological and emotional well-being as well as physical needs… this sounded like the perfect match! I had found a career that would allow me to bridge the sciences and medicine with the mind and body to help others achieve health and wellness. I was beyond excited when I got accepted into the OT program at Columbia University and began to prepare for life in New York City. After 2 years of classes in the sciences, anatomy, and physiology (the cadaver labs were my favorite), kinesiology, activity analysis, pediatrics, mental health, physical disabilities, and fieldwork, I was finally ready, and honored, to work as a registered and licensed Occupational Therapist (and it sure was fun to write the letters “MS, OTR/L” after my name ). I have worked as an OT in pediatrics for the past 17 years, working in inpatient and outpatient rehab, early intervention, and school-based practice. Although each experience has been a wonderful experience professionally and personally, the most fulfilling moment for me as an OT was when my daughter, who was in 3rd grade at the time, wrote this poem to describe my profession: