Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
MichelleTell us about your work-what do you do? I am an Occupational Therapist with a certification in Hand Therapy . I provide rehabilitation to patients who have incurred injuries to their upper extremity. These injuries may include fractures, burns, lacerations, amputations, nerve injuries, cumulative traumatic injuries, and combinations of the above. I treat patients who range from pediatrics to geriatrics and a large number of work-related injuries . I work closely with a number of hand surgeons who demand highly specialized care for their patients. I fabricate splints for patients who need external support and provide rehabilitation throughout their healing process. Although my specialty is Hand Therapy, Occupational Therapists can provide care in a variety of settings including Acute and Sub-acute Rehab , Pediatrics, Psychiatry , Geriatrics, Assistive Technology , Work Hardening , and Ergonomic Consulting . What skills are needed? As an Occupational Therapist, one must possess patience, compassion, creativity, and the desire to help people. On a daily basis, an Occupational Therapist assists patients with upgrading their strength, endurance, motivation, and desire to be independent. The therapist must have the ability to leave all her/his troubles at home and to provide support and encouragement to patients in need. As a hand therapist, one must be extremely creative in order to create splints to meet the needs of severely injured patients. What was your major? I received a B.S. in Occupational Therapy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison . It is now much more common for students to receive entry level Master's Degrees in O.T. I independently pursued my Hand Therapy Certification (CHT) after practicing for 5 1/2 years. Pursuing a CHT enabled me to command a higher salary from my employer as well as trust from referring physicians. How did you get started in your career? After completing the required coursework and six months of internships, I worked for 2 years in a general\rehabilitation hospital. I volunteered to treat every type of patient that was available in order to build my knowledge base. I then specialized in Hand Therapy. After obtaining the necessary criteria, I then sat for the Hand Therapy Certification Examination. What experience do you need in this job? I would encourage students who might be interested in a career in Occupational Therapy to call your local clinics and observe. It is a long road, so make sure that this is the right career for you. Once you are accepted into a University program, you will be provided with the theory behind the treatment. I believe that my most useful experience was obtained as a therapist. Describe your "typical" workday: As healthcare has changed, so has my workday. Managed Care demands have put a strain on all healthcare providers including O.T.'s. I work from 8:00 to 4:30 with a very infrequent lunch. I am expected to treat 14-16 patients per day. This has increased from 4-6 patients per day in the early 1990's. I believe that this increase in productivity expectation is not limited to my field. Although the expectations have increased, I still enjoy my job and continue to learn something new every day. What is the hardest aspect of your job? The hardest aspect of my job is not being able to "fix" every patient. Some patients are severely injured and cannot fully recover. It is very difficult to tell a patient who is counting on you that you have exhausted your resources. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? It is extremely rewarding to assist a patient in regaining their functional use of their hands. These are people who rely on their hands to provide them and their families with food and shelter. I assist them in returning to their roles as worker, husband/wife, and father/mother. What are your suggestions for someone considering this field? I would first suggest volunteering or observing in an Occupational Therapy Department. A call to local hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation clinics, or hand therapy clinics would be the first step. I believe the American Occupational Therapy Association would be able to provide you with local information as well. Explore University programs and check their curriculums. Speak with therapists in the field.