All Nazareth occupational therapy students begin their one year graduate program by completing their first of two twelve week fieldwork placements the summer following undergrad graduation; it’s an exciting way to start your graduate career and put your newly acquired skills to the test in a real-world setting!
This summer I had the opportunity to complete my Level I fieldwork placement at Iroquois Nursing Home in Jamesville, NY. My supervisor was an OT on in the Rehab Unit of the nursing home. We worked with clients with dementia, neurological conditions, orthopedic conditions, and other medically complex older adults. For the first four weeks, I shadowed her while she treated clients and worked with her during her sessions. She gave me great feedback, tips and tricks for how I could be the best OT I could be. For the rest of the time, I treated clients on my own with her distant supervision. I slowly took on more of the documentation, evaluation, and other professional responsibilities of a full-time OT!
In a typical day:
- I arrived around 7 am to see my first client and assist them with strategies for completing their morning routine and activities of daily living, such as dressing, grooming, and hygiene tasks.
- Throughout the morning, I would continue to treat clients on the short-term rehab floor, who were there following a medical complication, falls in their homes, or joint replacements. Most of them were working on skills like dressing, toileting, self-care skills, and home care skills to get them to return to their previous residence or level of care before they came to the facility. I also saw some long-term residents who required more extensive nursing care. Some of these patients had significant memory declines, or difficulty with mobility. Sessions lasted anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour and a half.
- Lunch time! During lunch, we would have a staff meeting with other OTs, physical therapists, speech pathologists, and nurses to report on our clients’ progress. It was really cool to learn from the other professionals and get a chance to collaborate on an interprofessional team.
- In the afternoon, I evaluated new clients who had just arrived at our facility. This was a really cool part of my day because I got to be the first person to see a client’s preset level of function and determine what they would need assistance with while they were staying on the Rehab Unit!
- To finish my day, I would complete any daily notes, weekly reports, evaluations, and any other paperwork required for the day.
During these twelve weeks, I learned a lot about being an occupational therapist and about myself. Throughout my undergraduate education, I had been studying for exams, writing papers, and listening to lectures. During my fieldwork placement, I traded in professors and textbooks for a supervisor and clients. I found that with confidence in myself and the knowledge I had gained, I was empowered to use my education in a unique way. It wasn’t until I started putting my skills to the test did I truly understand what I had learned. I began to notice little things and the major concepts and theories that I had learned and understood on paper came to life in front of me. One client in particular was having a hard time completing cooking tasks in her own home and I immediately thought of ways to change the demands of the task and ways I could adapt her environment to make cooking easier for her so she could go home independently. Never before had learning been so interactive and dynamic. I found myself shifting from thinking in blanket, textbook statements to thinking critically about each and every situation I encountered.
Keeping an open mind during my undergrad really prepared me to expect the unexpected during my time on fieldwork placement. I think that students can really benefit from all of the hands on opportunities the OT program offers, as well as the opportunities to volunteer and practice learned skills during the undergraduate years. My supervisors certainly were able to trust me to treat clients on my own and valued my knowledge and experience, which was an awesome feeling.
Every day I found something that excited me. I was eager to get up and treat my clients every morning. I would get ideas for treatment and think about my clients when I was home. I realized what I had already known: I am right where I am meant to be. Working with older adults to help them do the things that are meaningful to them is what I want my life’s work to be about. To me, that feels like everything is coming full circle; my passion is helping others do what they are passionate about.