Wednesday, April 10, 2013

An OT's Perspective - Cheryl of OT Notes

To celebrate OT Month, today I have another installment of An OT's Perspective to share with you. 

Please welcome Cheryl of OT Notes. Cheryl is possibly the original OT blogger. Cheryl received her Master's in OT from West Virginia University in 2007 and began blogging in 2008. She has worked in a variety of settings with clients across the lifespan, from one day old to 100+ years old. Cheryl is currently working in early intervention and outpatient pediatrics. Cheryl has presented at two state conferences, as well as the AOTA conference, on online and social media tools related to OT, and is the vice-president of advocacy relations for her state OT association. Cheryl is expecting her first child this spring and is working on balancing career, family, and everything in between!

My life as an occupational therapist in five words:

Busy, rewarding, educational, emotional, unplanned.

Four qualities every pediatric OT should have:

  1. Patience - self explanatory.
  2. Foolishness - a willingness to be a complete goofball will often endear you to a client
  3. Willingness to educate - everyone says they want to go into pediatrics, nobody says they want to go into parents. However, this is often the majority of your job’s focus, depending on the setting. So sharing your therapy knowledge with the family is the only way to make a lasting impact on the child.
  4. Willingness to listen/learn - the flip side to the above is that the parents know their child much better than you will at an hour a week. Listen to their concerns and tips about what is working. Learn from parents and the other people you work with. Remember that even if you have a bigger degree, there’s still plenty for you to learn from a layperson or aide.

Three resources I can’t live without:

  1. Apps that integrate between computer and phone: Most of these are Google products - gmail, Google voice, drive, calendar. I need to have everything updated and synced without me worrying over it so I can be confident that I am connected to important things when I need to be. I haven’t become a full-fledged Google+ user, but the instant photo backup and hangout features have been terrific. I use Pocket to save things from the computer to my phone and Google Reader to check blogs for me. This allows me to do my reading when it’s most convenient for me instead of spending tons of time on the computer. I also use a combination of ToodleDo and Due Today to coordinate a very detailed “Getting Things Done”-esque to-do list that can be broken down in many ways and stay updated.
  2. AOTA - So many great resources are provided by AOTA. Getting AJOT and access to international journals is great. I’ve gotten 3 jobs from OT Joblink. Discounts on continuing education. The advocacy resources are so easy to use to affect change nationally, everyone should use them. Chuck Wilmarth and Dan Brown have come to my rescue on state issues too many times to count and they are terrific at helping us stay on top of important legislation. Sam Gonzales and the online team are really starting to embrace social media and interact with us so quickly there, it’s great. My parents started my AOTA membership when I was in OT school as a Christmas present and it has been worth it.
  3. A third is hard to define, but I will go with organizational tools. I depend on spreadsheets, checklists, and coordinated file portfolios to stay ahead of deadlines. One of the best tools I have taken from Getting Things Done is to have a large folder with all the days of the month having separate folders (1-31) and then putting the papers I need that day in ahead of time. I also keep extra folders of important papers in my car and try to keep my thumb drive with me in case I forget things.

Two words (or more!) of advice for the parents of a child who recently started receiving occupational therapy:

  • Set goals - let the therapist know your goals, what will make life better and what kind of dreams you have for your child. Therapy needs to be moving you closer to your overall goals. If you don’t feel like the goals being set reflect what you really want, speak up! Ask what the motivation is for the goal, what approach the therapist has, and how you will know when the goal has been met. And no therapist has a magic ball to say what a child’s capability will be for the future- so don’t accept ultimatums or limits.
  • Be involved - the best therapist in the world is still going to leave your home or the clinic and you need to feel like when that happens that you have a concrete plan for how to keep moving forward. Ask questions and be prepared to carry out a plan at home. If the therapist is recommending something that isn’t going to work with your lifestyle, speak up ahead of time instead of avoiding the topic so that the overall plan can be modified.

A word of advice for someone who is considering a career in occupational therapy:

  • Job shadow in several places to start to understand some of the broadness that is OT. Spending time observing, asking questions, and being generally helpful will pay dividends for you later. Your interviews for OT school will go well if you can draw on these experiences, and therapists will remember great students and write very nice recommendation letters.
  • Tour and interview at a few schools if you can. Though all schools have to follow the same ACOTE standards, every university has a different approach and focus. You may also want to ask at your job shadow sites about the reputation local schools have.
  • Learn what you can ahead of time and expect to learn more once you get the job.
  • Don’t lose your initial passion even if your focus changes. Many people (including myself) go into OT expecting that they will work in a given area and change their minds completely. But keep the passion that brought you to OT.
  • Also, you don’t have to be on a set time frame. I was very tunnel focused in getting my degree, but the field of OT benefits from nontraditional students and people who bring another background into the profession. I have a lot of student resources on the blog which may be helpful as well.

One dream for the field of occupational therapy:

I have a million ideas and worry that I won’t be able to achieve most of them. If I have to narrow it down to one dream, I’d like to see more OTs in nontraditional roles such as general education, wellness, and drug-addicted pregnancy. Obviously, there need to be changes at multiple levels to facilitate this- education, legislation, funding... but it can be done. 

What I do to rest and relax. (Or in OT terms, how I maintain occupational balance):

I’m really bad at balancing...
I rest and relax a lot at home, watch TV and read books. I’ve been reading Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time Series, watching Lost and Dexter. I  like to travel with my husband  to new places and go to the beach with my family. I love to see concerts and Broadway shows. I am an avid West Virginia football fan and grow African Violets. I love going out to eat with friends and taking a spoon to a jar of Nutella. I enjoyed doing the triathlon last year and hope that I will be able to return to this in the future. 

Thanks for stopping by, Cheryl! Readers, you can keep up with Cheryl on OT Notes, Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, and OT Connections. Also, if you're attending the AOTA Conference in San Diego later this month, Cheryl will be presenting via video on Saturday, April 27, during a short course titled, "What's new in Digital and Social Media for Occupational Therapy?"



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