Eastern Michigan University

Independence Day

OT students help patients get back into a daily routine

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Independence. That, in a nutshell, is why Adrienna Bartnicki, 22, decided to pursue a master’s of occupational therapy degree at Eastern Michigan University. Not only do employment prospects and salary ranges bode well for professionals; the end result—helping patients become as independent as possible—yields rich emotional rewards, Bartnicki says.

“It’s incredibly satisfying to help someone get back to normal—or as close as possible. In a way, occupational therapy makes every day independence day for patients,” says Bartnicki, who is on track to receive her master’s degree in December 2013.

Occupational therapists help patients challenged by physical injury or mental, emotional or developmental impairments regain a wide range of activities essential to daily life including eating, walking and operating a computer, she adds.

“Choosing the right career is about more than money. It’s about making a positive difference in peoples’ lives,” says Bartnicki, who plied her OT skills last semester by helping a 5-year-old boy learn how to swallow for the first time. The boy, who had been on a feeding tube, was enrolled in preschool.

“I suggested they add a thickening compound to the liquid so it was easier for him to swallow, and add his favorite flavor. It worked!” says Bartnicki, who serves as vice president of Eastern’s Student Occupational Therapy Association. “Learning how to swallow may be a small thing, but it is a crucial step towards independence.”

The profession’s employment projections are just as attractive as its emotional rewards, many students say. “It’s very encouraging to know that when you graduate, so many job opportunities exist,” says Mallory Apel, 22, who is also on track to earn a master’s degree in occupational therapy in December 2013.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects demand for the career field to grow 33.5 percent between 2010 and 2020, fueled, in part, by an aging baby-boomer generation looking to maintain its independence and stay active. The Bureau also reports the median annual wage for an occupational therapist was $72,320 in 2010.

Adding to the good news, the online news source 24/7WallSt. named occupational therapy as number 9 on its list of top 10 best-paying jobs, and Forbes Magazine listed it as number 13 on its top 20 best-paying jobs for women.

Eastern’s professors are another plus, students say. “One of the reasons I chose Eastern’s OT program is because professors care about students on an individual level. They don’t just teach—they get personally involved in students’ success,” adds Apel, a part-time graduate assistant for the School of Health Sciences.

Gretchen Reeves, associate professor and director of EMU’s program in occupational therapy, agrees. “Our program has a long-standing tradition of excellence, thanks to our dedicated faculty and students,” she says, adding the program, established in 1941, provides top-notch course, field work options and meets the national standards of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Career opportunities exist in hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and public schools, which employ occupational therapists for preschool, elementary and secondary students identified with developmental and educational disabilities, Reeves says.

“Our students work in the field with clients of all ages and abilities through part-time and full-time fieldwork placement,” says Reeves, adding that most graduates get job offers based on their fieldwork.

This emphasis on community-based practice, plus the program’s rigorous curriculum, emphasis on mental as well as physical health, and research/theoretical component, make it a magnet for students interested in occupational therapy—and a point of pride, Reeves says.

Of Note:

Eastern Michigan University’s master of occupational therapy degree offers diverse paths of entry so students of various backgrounds can apply, says Gretchen Reeves, associate professor and program director of EMU’s program in occupational therapy. Undergraduate students with three years of general education coursework can go directly into graduate coursework for 27 months, including 6 months of training in the field, to earn a bachelor of science and a master of occupational therapy degree (called the “3 + 2” option). Or, those with pre-existing undergraduate degrees can complete the program in 27 months to earn a master of occupational therapy degree.

For more information visit Eastern Michigan University’s graduate occupational therapy program. – Linda Hass