Occupational Therapy Roundtable
April is Occupational Therapy Month and to mark the occasion, we brought together our passionate occupational therapy staff here at St. John’s to discuss what made them choose the profession and how working with the elderly population has impacted their lives.
What led you down the path to becoming an occupational therapist?
Jacquie Brambley: I always wanted to work with other people and help them. I learned more about it when I went to school and I really liked it.
Jessica Viglianco: Mine is sort of the same response. I’ve always wanted to help people in the medical field, but I also liked the more creative approach that occupational therapy takes.
Christina Petrella: I like helping people and just seeing their progression from when they come in to their discharge date. It makes me feel good that I helped them and I am proud of them for all that they achieved.
Marissa Daly: For me, it was after going through my grandparents wanting to stay in their home and age in place. The OTs that came to work with them were incredibly helpful to my family and my grandparents and made a huge difference in our ability to take care of them. That’s when I started heading in the OT direction.
Jill Abbey: For me, I learned about it in high school. My mom worked in a nursing home so I was interested in geriatrics.
Sara Lyautey: I always knew I wanted to work with people and I thought I wanted to be a PT. I did some job shadowing in high school and the first time I saw an OT, I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
Why work with this population? What is it that appealed to you about working in a nursing home?
Jill Abbey: I really enjoy this population – I love hearing their stories and just helping them to increase their independence to stay in their homes as long as possible.
Jessica Viglianco: I kind of have the same reasoning. Their stories are what get you going and keep you motivated to help them get through any difficulties they are having. It’s always nice to state out their goals for them and make sure they are on the right path.
Marissa Daly: It’s been a lifelong interest of mine working with the elderly. I used to play the violin growing up and go to all the local nursing homes around the holidays. I just love talking to them. I feel like I have an easier time talking to them than people my own age.
Jacquie Brambley: I always thought I was going to work with kids. When I got my first job working in the nursing home population, I couldn’t imagine working with any other population. You can build a relationship with them and get to know them more so than with kids. You can learn so much.
Christina Petrella: I also thought I wanted to work with kids and then I did my internship here for school. I just fell in love with it. It’s almost like I’m working with my grandparents. They are just really fun to work with.
How do you go about working with a patient to make sure they are able to remain safe when they return home or transition to their new living space?
Jessica Viglianco: Upon evaluation, we always individualize their plan as much as possible based on their goals. It really depends on the situation. Some people might need more assistance than others and that’s when we look at in home care, or an assisted living facility. We like to give them options and we typically do that from the beginning.
Marissa Daly: If they are going home, we are able to collaborate with PT and go into their home and do a home safety assessment. We can make recommendations for modifications or durable medical equipment they might need. We also work with their caregivers and train them on how to keep the patient safe to the best of their ability.
What is the biggest challenge that you all face?
Marissa Daly: It’s difficult when a residents’ goals and desires doesn’t match up with their abilities. Getting them to accept that is tough. A lot of times that might not be what they want to hear.
Jessica Viglianco: Families too have a hard time accepting that. Unfortunately we have to pull the blinds on that and let them see that they won’t be able to do everything on their own.
Jacquie Brambley: Confusion about why they can’t go home. Trying to explain this to them and sometimes it just doesn’t make sense.
What is one aspect of the work you do here that people would be surprised by?
Jill Abbey: There is a lot of confusion regarding OT.
Sara Lyautey: Fixing wheelchairs. People think they need to call the maintenance department to do that but as long as I have the right tools I’m qualified to fix the wheelchairs.
Jacquie Brambley: I feel like a lot of people don’t know that it’s dressing, bathing, toileting, etc. A lot of times when people think of OT most people don’t think of that or the functional everyday tasks.
Jessica Viglianco: And functional can also mean hobbies, too. Say someone wants to get back home to garden. We make those modifications and help them get back to what they love; their hobbies.
Marissa Daly: We do try our best to incorporate personal interests and values into treatment. So yes, you might see us playing a game or doing a craft, but we are using that to improve skills that are necessary for those functional tasks. It’s all about making it fun and interesting.
Jacquie Brambley: Another thing that is difficult is trying to explain to a patient why they have to do certain activities or games. It’s hard for them to understand that.
Marissa Daly: Right. Sometimes they think what we are doing is silly, but we have a method to the madness.
Christina Petrella: Lots of motivation.
Jessica Viglianco: We try to make it fun.
How do you know when you have done your job successfully?
Christina Petrella: When I see the smile on someone’s face when they get a task done safely and correctly.
Jacquie Brambley: When they get to go back home.
Jill Abbey: We do a lot of positioning too, so seeing that someone is comfortable in their wheelchair or whatever surface they are on.
Jacquie Brambley: When they have some of their functional abilities back. For those in long-term care, like Jill said, positioning or getting someone a power wheelchair so they can get around and be more independent.
Jessica Viglianco: When I see someone out in the community. That is always so nice.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Jessica Viglianco: I would say just getting a smile out of someone for that day. Maybe someone is in pain one day and then the next day they make gains toward a goal. Those little gains throughout the day that make their day, make my day.
Marissa Daly: A lot of people usually aren’t thrilled to be here. Getting a laugh, a smile, someone saying that was fun. Helping them get to their most independent level boosts their self-esteem.
Jacquie Brambley: I had someone call after they left and they were telling me how happy they were to be able to dress themselves again.
Sara Lyautey: I was going to say the same thing. When people come back to visit and say look how well I’m doing. And when people say thanks – It’s not expected but when you hear it from someone you know you did the best you could and you helped someone.
Jacquie Brambley: You might just get a hug.