What's It Like To Be An OT?
As part of Occupational Therapy Month, we asked Karen James, OT, CHT some questions about OT and what it means to her.
What inspired your passion for OT? During high school, I spent time volunteering for Special Olympics and physically challenged children and decided I wanted to work in some capacity to teach them. I discovered Occupational Therapy at a career fair at school and decided that I wanted to be an Occupational Therapist to combine my passion for teaching and the study of the body and its amazing actions. I really enjoyed Biology and Anatomy courses in high school. I initially wanted to work with children specifically, but grew to love the challenges of Orthopedics and Hand Therapy.
How is Occupational Therapy different than Physical Therapy? I am often asked the question "What is the difference between OT and PT?". I answer this question several times a week. It is true that I use some of the same exercises, or modalities, or charges that PT does. OT training in college is half physical and half psychological studies with a little pediatrics, leatherwork, ceramics, splinting, and woodworking mixed in. Occupational Therapists learn about the whole body, but we focus on the upper extremities/arms and the specific challenges that go along with these body parts. Along with the arms focus, OT looks closely at the way a patient functions in their daily living skills. And as an Occupational Therapist who happens to be a Certified Hand Therapist, I have a closer appreciation and focus on the hand and how activities of daily living are performed.
OT is a broad field, with many uses. What made you choose orthopedics? Occupational Therapy encompasses working with all ages with both physical and psychological challenges. A person exits college with a degree in Occupational Therapy as a generalist with multiple skills. Over time an area of expertise is developed through exposure to different clinical uses of OT depending on place of employment. In the beginning of my career, I worked in a lot of different OT settings including outpatient rehabilitation facility, school system, work hardening, nursing homes, and home health agencies. I came to love orthopedics because of the unique challenges with their daily tasks that those patients have after hand surgery or injury. Surgical intervention is so fascinating and the process I can use to make the patient better is great.
How does being a Certified Hand Therapist (CHT) add to your skill set as an OT? As an Occupational Therapist the focus has always been the upper extremities/arms, and facilitating independence and participation in activities of daily living or OCCUPATION. This encompasses all aspects of daily life: writing, typing, playing sports, dressing, bathing, feeding, driving, caring for children or elders, working, and retirement activities. When I learned of the CHT credential, I thought it would be a wonderful way to further my love of OT, surgical intervention for the hand/wrist/elbow, and emphasis on helping the patient "get back to" what they were doing with their hands before injury or surgery.
What is your favorite thing or things about being an OT? My favorite thing about being an OT is that everyone I meet is different, has different challenges, both physical and psychological, and has gone through a lot before I see them for an OT evaluation. I am fascinated by their life choices and careers, and how determined they are to return to their previous activities before injury or surgery. It is so great to hear them laugh or tell stories of how their injury occurred. Mainly I hear of the impact their surgery or injury has on all aspects of life for them and their families. I am also blessed to be able to be creative in making splints/orthotics for some patients and also come up with unique activities to help their rehabilitation.
What is the one thing you want OT patients to know as they are going through their rehab? I want patients undergoing Occupational Therapy at OrthoMaryland to know that you have an individual and unique program designed by you and your OT that will address your concerns and goals that you want to accomplish. You will be receiving treatment designed to decrease pain and swelling, followed by exercises to stretch and strengthen. There will be talk and some simulation of daily or work tasks. My goal is to have you feeling much better in a short period of time. Also communication, especially with your physician, is crucial in rehabilitation and returning you to your previous activities.
Karen James, OT, CHT is an Occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist at The Centers, OrthoMaryland. Karen is a member of our rehabilitation team, providing OT for a variety of hand and arm concerns.