Interview with Stephanie: An Occupational Therapist Working on a Brain Trauma Unit
Current Area of Practice: Head Injury Rehabilitation
Years in Practice: 4
Briefly describe your career path:
After I graduated from New York University, I was hired by JFK Johnson Rehabilitation Center in Edison, NJ. I worked for 3 years in Inpatient Rehab before I rotated to JFK’s Center for Head Injuries, which includes the Brain Trauma Unit and its sub-acute counterpart, the “Extended Recovery Unit.” I currently split my time between these two units.
What is your favorite part of the job?
There are so many things! For starters, being able to witness miracles every day. I feel so honored to participate in making those miracles happen. I love that I get to apply so much of my knowledge from OT school. Every aspect of our occupational therapy skills are required in this field including knowledge of neurology, orthopedics, cognition, assistive technologies and positioning, and task performance with ADLs and IADLs. We get to be educators and advocates for our patients. Every head injury is different and many patients come with complex physical injuries so there is always something new to learn. The unique thing that I love about my department is its supportive and close-knit community. It’s so great to see patients and families interact with and support each other in their journeys to recovery.
What is the biggest challenge on the job?
I would say achieving a balance between providing quality care for our patients while meeting productivity standards and maintaining effective documentation. This is a challenge in hospitals across America. The head injury population has many needs and there is always more that could be done given time. Unfortunately, the changes in healthcare are pushing us towards managed care, which includes less time to treat the patient and more time to fill out forms to fight for a patient’s right to skilled intervention. It limits our resources to do what we know is best for our patients. Luckily, my department is extremely dedicated to our patients and good at working wonders with what we have.
What changes do you hope to see in your practice area in the next 5 years?
I would like to see an increase of OTs and COTAs in the private pay sector. Neurological treatments often require greater frequency and duration of treatment than is typically covered by insurance, especially with managed plans. I also wouldn’t mind seeing OTs play a greater role in preventative healthcare, training good habits and routines to promote wellness and safety for the individual. Occupational Therapists need to do a better job at marketing ourselves and educating the public on what we have to offer, so that people can see our value and seek us out. Of course there are challenges associated with finding other methods of reimbursement but OTs are creative problem solvers, so I’m sure we can figure it out.