Finding Creativity in Hand Therapy: An Interview with Rachel
Interviewing Rachel Egan
Current Practice Area: Hand Therapy
Years in Practice: 4
Her best advice for OT students:
Get as much experience as you can. As a big nerd, I know books are great, but in OT you have to be able to put theory into practice. Watch and learn from others, and get creative yourself.
How did you become interested in OT?
I originally became interested in occupational therapy because it has such a huge, all-encompassing scope of practice: disability. I knew I would never get bored. It also provided a good creative outlet for me. Not only do I get to make unique treatment plans for each patient, but in hand therapy I get to make custom thermoplastic orthoses (read: functional sculpture!) as well.
Briefly describe your career path.
After graduating with my Masters from NYU, I moved to Minnesota. While waiting for my registration and state license to come through, I volunteered in a hand therapy clinic. After a brief per diem job where I worked in both hands and acute care OT, I accepted a full-time position in hand therapy with NovaCare. The company’s hand therapists were widely spread throughout the market, so to foster community I created a uniform set of patient handouts/exercises and continuing education program.
I also became certified in Functional Capacity Evaluations (FCEs) to provide an upper extremity disability specialist for the company. Last year, I was given the opportunity to pilot a lead position in our hand market and was tasked to promote growth in all senses of the word: help market OT, improve current therapists, start up new clinics, and hire new therapists. This year, I am also designated to become the center manager of my clinic. Beyond these managerial roles, I am studying for my CHT exam, which I take in May 2016.
What is your favorite part of your job?
Hand therapy caters to my biomechanical side and my creative side. I love how my knowledge of anatomy enables me to address function and recovery. I also enjoy the challenge of keeping up with all the research. And I really like making splints!
What is your biggest challenge on the job?
The biggest challenge I have faced has been learning how to best market myself to referral sources. (I expect that I still have much to learn.)
If someone was interested in pursuing work in your practice area, how would you recommend they proceed?
The factor that consistently sways hiring decisions in hand therapy is experience. If at all possible, volunteer, get internships, shadow hand surgeons—it all helps. Experience is important because so much of hand therapy is knowing how to make the best clinical judgments throughout recovery. Experience is so valued in hand therapy that obtaining your CHT (certification in hand therapy) requires 4000 hours of upper extremity treatment over 5 years.