Yesterday was one of the most interesting and wonderful days I’ve ever had! Like many of you know, I am in school working on my Bachelor’s in Health Science, but I plan on getting my Master’s in Occupational Therapy. Part of the process of applying to grad schools (which will start in a few months) is having so many hours of experience volunteering/shadowing at an Occupational Therapy clinic. Because of this, I’ve started looking for places near me where I can go and follow OT’s around for the day. The first place I went to shadow was Brooks Rehab in St. Augustine.
I was so nervous to start shadowing, because to be honest, I had a few reservations previously about choosing the OT path. I knew it was something I would probably be good at, and I had lots of experience working with people who had disabilities, but I just wasn’t positive that it was right for me. I knew that once I spent some time shadowing an OT, I would either know it was a bad decision, or all of my fears would go away. Luckily, I learned that being an OT is the perfect job for me!
It was a long drive to get there, but when I arrived I was shown to the back where I talked with the lady I would be shadowing. She is actually the manager for that clinic, and it happened to be payday, so she was very busy. I helped her organize some toys while she worked, and then the first kid of the day came in. It was a little boy who was having trouble with some fine motor skills and hand strength, so we began playing with a puzzle where he had to dig through a large bucket of dry beans to find the pieces that he was looking for. I got to sit on the floor and play along with him, helping him find all of his pieces. It was a lot of fun, and before I knew it his 30 minute time slot with us was over!
Because the woman who I was technically shadowing was busy with payroll for most of the day, I sort of bounced around between the different therapists and got to observe all sorts of things! For example, the second child I saw was a little girl who had Down Syndrome. Since my little sister has DS, I was immediately drawn to her and wanted to see what she was working on! An OT was taking her through a progress report to see how much she had improved since beginning her therapy. They got her to attempt to draw certain shapes, cut in a straight line with scissors, and button/unbutton things. It was fascinating to see how they were looking for specific things within each of these activities, such as the way she held a pencil and went about holding the scissors, and took note so they could improve her therapy. She was so adorable and kept following me around for most of her time there!
The woman who was working with that little girl had a student intern working with her who actually turned out to be from UF as well! I got to spend some time talking with her about what classes she took, how its feels to be completing your internship, and asking about the application process. It was so comforting to have someone there who hadn’t only been in my place just a few short years ago, but had actually gone to my school and knew the way it worked. She was a wonderful resource and I enjoyed working with her the whole day!
Part of me bouncing between therapists meant I got to see more than just OT, but PT and Speech Therapy as well! The way the clinic was set up was that there were a few private rooms that the therapists could use if they so chose, but they could also use the large main area that had lots of equipment for the kids to play on and work with. I spent a lot of time in that main room watching whoever had a child with them and observing what they did. This is wonderful for me because even though I know OT is definitely the particular field of therapy that I want to go into, I will end up working and co-treating with all types of other therapists, and it is wonderful to see how they work!
One of the particular types of therapy I really enjoyed was Speech. There was this wonderful Speech Pathologist who worked there that was so incredibly friendly to me from the moment I arrived, and she let me come into her sessions with a few kids and help them. I appreciated how with everything she did, she explained how she was helping the child and what the goals were for each activity. She turned a simple board game that we were using into such a great learning experience for these kids, and was able to adapt it to each of their specific levels and challenges.
I can’t say enough great things about the therapists at this facility. Every one of them invited me not only to watch what they were doing, but to participate and help treat. They would say something like, “Our new friend Emily is going to play with us today! Won’t that be fun?” The kids were so excited to have a new friend to talk to and play with, and each one of them melted my heart! Each therapist was so patient with me and told me what the purpose was for each activity that we did. It was incredible to me that every game we played, even though at times seemed so simple, was always to help the child reach their developmental goals. They certainly have to think on their feet, and that is a skill I’m sure they have learned over time in their field.
One aspect that I’m sure not a lot of people think about with therapy is the amount of paperwork involved. Because there was a hurricane that was approaching that night, the nasty weather caused a lot of people to cancel in the afternoon. While it was slow and there were no kids around, the therapists took the opportunity to work on some of the papers that they had to write. There is letters with insurance companies and doctors, writing what was accomplished with the child each day, checking future goals and activities for the child, and much more. That applies to one child…and now imagine that for 15+ kids a day! I have so much respect for the behind the scenes work that they do, and though I don’t necessarily look forward to it in the coming years, I know how important it is.
Overall, it was an absolutely incredible experience! I could tell you about every child I saw and the great things that I witnessed, but this is already getting too long! I am so glad that I got to see that OT is the field I dreamt that it would be, and I can’t wait to go back tomorrow and next week. Not only that, I can’t wait until I am working on the field, and helping change the lives of children every day!