It is not uncommon after a severe injury and physical therapy that some people still need help to reclaim their daily lives. Activities that most people would take for granted like taking a shower, using the bathroom, or even getting down stairs can seem almost impossible. Helping these people is just a small portion of what occupational therapists and their assistants do everyday. There is a new program coming to TJC this fall and it is the Occupational Therapy Assistant program. It will be a two-year program that will train students to work in the field of occupational therapy, and under the supervision of licensed occupational therapists.

Most people have heard of physical therapy before, but the people that are involved with and working hard to bring this program to fruition want potential students to be aware that occupational therapy involves much more than physical therapy programs.

“Typically the physical therapy focus is going to be strength, endurance, mobility, and balance,” said Elizabeth Olivier, department chair/ director/ professor of the occupational therapy assistant program.

“Occupational therapy is going to look at that patient and decide what to do with that strength, endurance, mobility and balance. We’re going to get up and get across the room to go to the bathroom. We’re going to get down the stairs and into the car so you can go to work, and we’re going to get those groceries into the cabinets.”

There are also huge gains in the mental health of patients under the care of occupational therapists.

“Occupational therapists are looking at improving their (the patient’s) cognitive skills,” said Olivier. “They can get the groceries into the cabinet sure, but then can they read the directions on a box of stuffing to make it? So I’m looking at cognitive skills and language skills there, as well as the sequencing skills to know to boil the water first. So there’s a whole other component in occupational therapy that isn’t quite as significant in physical therapy. We’re trying to get people re-engaged in their lives.”

Besides the cognitive and physical aspects of their patient’s lives, occupational therapists work in a very personal and involved way with families to help them cope with a loved one dealing with an injury or a disability, and to guide the family in helping with the healing process at every step. It is this aspect of the job that is very satisfying to occupational therapists.

“There’s people that get so exhausted just from taking a shower and getting dressed, that they might as well have run a marathon,” said Jennifer Garner, Academic Fieldwork Coordinator/ Professor for the Occupational Therapy Assistant Program. “The satisfaction of that person saying, ‘I did that myself.’ or ‘Thank you for making me do that, cause now I know I can.’ is why we do what we do. There are so many reasons (I got into this profession), but the reward of seeing a person do something they couldn’t do before feels really good.”

To be a member of this new degree field, students will have to apply for the program as it is a selective admissions program like any others in the nursing and health sciences area. The application period will be from April 14 to May 30, 2014. Interviews will be held on the first weekend in June for students who meet the criteria, and classes will begin in fall 2014. There are four semesters of classroom work, and one semester of full-time field work under a therapist at area clinics. There will be intermittent clinical time throughout the entire program.

April is Occupational Therapy Month, and there will be an information session at 2-4 pm on April 8 in Pirtle Technology room 350 for perspective students who have questions. More information is available at tjc.edu/ota. Any further inquiries can be made to both Elizabeth Olivier and Jennifer Garner who are located in Pirtle Technology room 220.

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