Today I welcome guest blogger Stacy Turke, OTR/L! Stacy’s 30+ years as an occupational therapist have taught her what it really takes to be a great OT. She’s learned that occupational therapy practitioners are passionate, generous, versatile…wait, I don’t want to give too much away! Go for it, Stacy!
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After spending five days at the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) Conference, I feel so deeply inspired by the passionate and generous nature of the people with whom I share a profession.
As a group we were hard to miss in Philadelphia. I mean, there were 16,000+ people walking around the Pennsylvania Convention Center wearing matching neon orange AOTA lanyards, excitedly talking with friends and colleagues as we rushed from session to session. But it was the other, less visibly obvious qualities the residents of Philly noticed and commented on. One staff member at the conference center said it perfectly – “We are gonna miss y’all so much. Such a kind group! You have made work here this week a joy.”
So what is it that makes OT such a great profession?
I believe it is our great people!
10 TRAITS OF A GREAT OT
1. OTs are Client-Centered
First and foremost, OT practitioners focus on the client, patient, or student they are working with. YOUR goals for your life are what we address, and it is our job and calling to help you do YOUR “job” and all the occupations contained within. By “occupations,” we mean all of the various tasks and responsibilities you have within your role as a student, daughter, father, friend, librarian, farmer, and all other roles. We work with people who have experienced an interruption in their ability to independently complete their roles due to illness, injury, developmental lags, cognitive differences, or mental health challenges, and our goal always is to help you return to or grow into YOUR vision of independence and self-determination. We are true people people!
2. OTs are Positive
One of my big take-aways from the 2017 AOTA conference was the reminder that OT folks are positive and upbeat. We view our clients, patients, and students from a strengths-based perspective. This means we see your strengths and passions first, then work to help you attain your life and therapy goals by using those strengths and passions to overcome any areas of weakness or challenge. You want to return to your life’s work of baking after a stroke that affects one side of your body? We will creatively work to help you figure out how to crack the eggs, run the mixer, and pour the batter safely and effectively using your strong side. And if you insist, we will also help you eat those yummy cupcakes after!
3. OTs are Passionate
We deeply feel our work with our clients and students, so watch out if you see us at a party and ask, “So how’s work going for you?!” You will likely get an earful of positive, passionate conversation regarding our most recent student’s success, or a past favorite client who has just written to share their latest achievement. And because we feel so deeply, don’t fret if we occasionally shed a tear over the intensity of the challenges a client is facing, or a death in one of their families. We will always protect our clients’ identity, but the general stories of how they are able to move on to more independence keeps us going day by day, and we love to share.
Our hearts are big!
As evidenced at AOTA 2017, we are also passionate about continuing to improve our work so we can be the best we can for our clients and patients. Many of us never even left the conference area any further than the Reading Terminal Markets to grab a bite to eat, because the lure of the next session was always pulling us back. We love to learn, and we love to share our skills and knowledge with one another, with the people on our caseloads, and with their caregivers and loved ones. Which leads to…
4. OTs are Generous
I work with one school-based social worker who is continuously commenting, “You are so generous with your time!” Yep, we give freely of our time, advice, therapeutic skills, observations, helpful “tools,” encouragement, you name it. We also generously share with one another, so that all OT folks can grow and improve their skill sets, helping even more patients, clients, and students both directly and indirectly.
5. OTs are Versatile
One of the most exciting things about conference for me is learning about the many different jobs my OT colleagues have. Many folks know that OT practitioners work in both inpatient and outpatient clinics with adults and kids. We work in schools, helping kids access the school environment, get their thoughts written down one way or another, and learn to use tools to help themselves self-regulate so they can focus and attend to the work of school. Some of us teach future OT students at the community college or university level, and others supervise students as they embark on their Level I and Level II Fieldwork experiences in community settings.
But did you know OTs work in driver training and re-training? Pain and disease self-management? Oncology? Did you know some OT practitioners use and teach their clients and patients to use 3-D printers to create customizable, cost-effective, client-centered solutions? Or use body building training to overcome addictions and post-traumatic stress? And really, where else can you go to professional training and see a llama walked by on its way to an Animal-Assisted Therapy presentation? Only in OT folks. Only in versatile OT!
6. OTs are Compassionate
Are you familiar with the Grinch, whose heart was two sizes too small? Yeah, we will NOT be confused for the Grinch! Merriam-Webster defines compassion as “consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” Yep, that’s OT! Many people can be described as “compassionate,” but what sets OT practitioners apart is that we do not wallow in the “distress” end of that definition; instead we work tirelessly with you to alleviate or work around the challenge. We will ask you to set the outcomes measures, since this is your challenge and your goal after all, and we will follow your lead.
7. OTs are Research Driven
As a profession, Occupational Therapy is science and data driven. Not all of us engage in actual research on a daily basis, but ALL of us strive to use “evidence-based practices” in our daily work. We intentionally seek out the best treatment modalities and ideas, and we actively use treatment data and observations to guide what we do next. We continually ask if our work is helping as we had hoped, and we reflect and reshape our treatment modalities and processes with our clients to assure we are going to hit the targets we set in our goals.
8. OTs are Team Players
Occupational Therapy is designed to work WITH you. So at the very least, we are a team of two. But typically, we work with all of the players to assure we are looking at all aspects of a challenge and all folks are included. As a school OT, of course I work with children, their parents, and their teachers. I also work with the art teacher, gym teacher, and music teacher. I will work with paraprofessional staff, social workers, physical therapists, and speech-language pathologists. If students have medical needs and are seeing outpatient providers, we work with those individuals as well. We work with equipment vendors and supply companies. We will go to jobsites for our post-secondary students to assess and support challenges in pre-vocational tasks. We are good teammates!
A favorite “team” story of mine from several years ago involved a young autistic boy. He suddenly stopped using the toilet, instead peeing in a corner of the classroom. Clearly, this was very distressing to everyone involved, for many obvious reasons. Following these episodes, the custodian came in with the carpet cleaner, and the area was cleaned and disinfected. This occurred daily, over the course of a week. Our student, who was previously evaluated and observed to be very sound sensitive, would watch the cleaning process with his hands FIRMLY held over his ears and his body actively rocking as he stood, which we judged to mean he was pretty stressed. So our team called an emergency meeting, and we decided we needed to include input from the custodian. The custodian was struck by how interested the child was in watching, and he wondered if we could stop the behavior by giving the child a chance to see the carpet cleaner first thing in the morning, before he had a chance to create a reason for the cleaner. Operating from the concept of “all ideas are good ideas, the best one stays on the table,” we decided to give this one a try. We first gave the child a set of sound dampening headphones and a compression vest, to help his sensory system tolerate the loud sound of the machine, and we had him wheel the heavy machine to the identified location, which gave him a serotonin and dopamine boost through the heavy work and movement. The custodian operated the machine, the student was able to both watch and tolerate the input…and the challenging behavior stopped! Giving the child a tinge of control, plus a visual allowing him to ask to visit the carpet cleaner machine, helped him work through that challenge, and the crisis was averted! Go, team!
9. OTs are Knowledgeable
OT school prepares us for so many different possible career outcomes. In school, we learn about the nervous system, the digestive system, the cardiovascular system, our sensory processing systems, and how they all interplay to create health and wellness. We know about how the muscles and the joints work with or against one another to create stability and movement. We understand typical child development and can guide you toward supports and share ideas if your child is not really following the typical developmental trajectory. But we also know little things that make life easier and more fun. We know where to find the best fruit-loop type cereal for stringing if you want your students to use bilateral (both hands together) skills to make a necklace. (Pro-tip: it’s the big bag of Malt-O-Meal Tootie Fruities. The holes are ALWAYS fully formed and the pieces that get stuck together in the manufacturing process almost always pop apart intact, which is satisfying to kids while working the little muscles of their hands! You’re welcome!) We can help you find clothing that doesn’t have tags or seams that would rub uncomfortably on your sensory-sensitive child. The best place to find adaptive self-feeding equipment? We know where to go to find it. And because we are generous, we are very happy to share that knowledge with you!
10. OTs are Grateful
We are grateful for the trust you put in us, during some of your most vulnerable times.
We are grateful for the opportunity to engage in a profession that brings fulfillment and joy into our hearts.
OTs are grateful for the opportunity to watch your determination as new skills are learned and practiced and perfected.
We are grateful to stand by as your confidence and independence grow.
And we are all grateful to have all found a career that blends so many wonderful characteristics and challenges into one.
As Jessica Kensky, survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing, stated in her 2016 AOTA Keynote address alongside her husband Patrick, “Occupational Therapy is where science, creativity, and compassion collide.”
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Stacy Turke, OTR/L has been a School OT for 30+ years in her “dream job” with the same intermediate school district in Michigan. Her career has ranged from working in a “center-based” school to working in public and private general education school in urban, suburban, and rural settings. She has experience working with students with a wide range of educational needs, to include cognitive impairments, autism spectrum, physical challenges, sensory processing needs, and many other learning challenges. Stacy is passionate about growing her own skills as a practitioner and in sharing information through education and OT channels. You can connect with Stacy via Twitter (@StacyTurkeOT), on Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/stacyturke/) and on her blog, GoToForOT.
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