What we have here at Nazareth is unique! This fall the Health and Human Services students were fortunate enough to experience the opening of the York Wellness and Rehabilitation Institute on campus. Like many of the health science programs that share this facility, the occupational therapy program offers students the opportunity for hands-on clinical experience right on campus. The OT program is extra-special, though, because students get to participate in the clinics from the first semester on campus!
Freshman in the occupational therapy program are enrolled in an observation course for adults the first semester, and for pediatrics the second semester. Students get to observe occupational therapists in the on-campus clinic working with real clients, and ask questions about what the OTs are doing with their clients. If freshmen have a car, they may also have the opportunity to observe OTs at sites in the community. By getting this experience freshman year, I got a chance to really see what OT was all about, and I was positive that I had chosen the right major for me!
Sophomore and Junior Year
Throughout your sophomore and junior year, classes like Occupational Science, and Normal Development will ask students to observe therapists treating in the clinic. I loved the opportunities to see what the upperclassmen were working on with their clients in the clinic and to see what my professors would be expecting of me in my senior year when it would be my turn to treat clients.
In the both semesters of senior year, occupational therapy majors are enrolled in practice courses that have a clinical component. You get the chance to apply what we learn in the classroom with real, live patients!
Fall Semester Senior Year
This semester, we have the Sensory Processing Clinic, Neurological Clinic, and Psychosocial Clinic. The sensory clinic is held on campus, or at Early Head Start preschool in downtown Rochester. Students are assigned a client with sensory processing needs, and they meet once per week for one hour. It is primarily children, though there are some adults. This clinic is always fun, exciting, and sometimes messy! I had the opportunity to go to Early Head Start and work in a classroom with 3 year olds. I loved planning craft activities and games for the kids and I enjoyed the challenge of meeting the needs of all the kids in my class. We made moon sand and had a beach play day in the classroom one time to help children with tactile defensiveness. They all loved it, and they don’t even know it’s therapy!!
The Neurological Clinic runs about the same way, with clients coming once a week for one hour to the clinic, or some students going to CP of Rochester to work with clients there. These clients are mostly adults, and they all have some kind of central nervous system impairment. My client was a woman who had a stroke and she was working on improving the functionality of her left arm so she could engage in her valued, everyday occupations such as driving, cooking, and dressing more independently!
The Psychosocial Clinic is a little different, because it is held entirely off campus at the Rochester Psychiatric Center (RPC). The professor is an occupational therapist on staff there, and she teaches the Psychosocial class and then she is the supervisor for our clinic where we get the opportunity to lead group therapy sessions with residents of RPC. This was probably my favorite clinic, because we got to try something totally different, and it felt most like the real world! Some people don’t even realize that OTs can work in a psychiatric setting, so we had a lot to learn here. Just like in all settings, we help people perform their daily occupations to the best of their ability. If someone has a psychiatric condition that is preventing them from engaging in the activities that they need to be able to do, we find ways to help them overcome their disabilities, or change the environmental conditions in which they are expected to perform their occupations.
Spring Semester Senior Year
This semester, we have two more practice courses. One is the Cognitive/Perceptual Clinic. This clinic has a lot of variety! We are assigned either a child or an adult that has some sort of cognitive processing needs. My client is an older gentleman with low-vision. I co-treat with a speech graduate student and I love the opportunity to work on my inter-professional skills. For example, I am usually planning an activity that our client would need to do at home, such as making a snack, and the speech therapist helps him overcome word-finding difficulties to ask for the ingredients. Speech therapists work with clients on a lot of the same skills, but in slightly different ways, and I have learned a lot of strategies from her that I can use with all my clients in the future!
In the Orthopedic Clinic, we use the biomechanical approach to help clients become more functional. This clinic serves primarily adults. We learn how to make splints and use other modalities, such as hot packs, and paraffin to treat our clients. I co-treat with another OT and we are making a three-part custom splint that will help our client use his hand functionally.
All of our clinical experience we get during our undergraduate years really help prepare me for our fieldwork and graduate years! I feel confident that I chose the right career, and I will be able to find a job I love when I graduate!