As AOTA’s Centennial year closes, some of the 100 most influential people in occupational therapy took a moment to reflect on their careers, innovations in the field, changes in practice, and the future of the profession. Read more stories here.
The most surprising development over Elizabeth Skidmore’s career “has been the rapid expansion of knowledge in the last few decades.
“That said, the core elements of good occupational therapy practice remain the same. I think occupational therapy practitioners seeking to practice at the top of their license have to work harder at staying current with the evidence, and yet still seek creative ways to apply the evidence to meet the personal goals of their clients in ever more demanding health care, education, and community-based practice settings. This is the challenge of the master practitioner,” she says.
The expansion of occupational therapy over the past 41 years and the opportunities it has provided surprises Paul Fontana. He originally wanted to work with pediatric patients, but instead has worked in acute care, home health, nursing homes, teaching, and management, before settling in working with business and industrial customers.
“I found that what I really enjoyed and what I think I am best at is identifying a need that a customer has and developing a program that occupational therapy can provide to meet that need,” says Fontana. “Whether I was working to expand OT services within the hospital, home health, or in an outpatient center, the endpoint was the same,” namely, using the special skills of occupational therapy to meet the needs of the client.
“I believe that our training teaches us to think differently than the rest of society,” Fontana says. “We bring a unique skill set to the table when solving the needs of our customers.”
His career brought him far from the pediatric settings he initially thought he would practice in. “Through my involvement with the state OT associations and AOTA, I developed contacts that opened up my business to companies that have allowed me to work in the frigid cold of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska, and International Falls, Minnesota, and 12 other states. I have had the opportunity to teach at universities across the U.S., [and to] speak at more than 35 state conferences and numerous national conferences. I have worked in chemical plants, paper mills, and manufacturing facilities. I have been 1,900 feet down in the earth working in salt mines and 200 + miles offshore working on drill ships, various types of drilling rigs, and oil and gas production facilities. I’ve ridden on the back of garbage trucks, ridden with the police and firemen, and driven and operated heavy equipment—all in the analysis of and development of physical job descriptions. I have battled attorneys in court as an expert witness and testified before the U.S. Senate, OSHA, and numerous state regulatory agencies—none of which I would have ever thought could occur when I first entered the profession.”
Fontana also credits occupational therapy with bringing him to Gary, Indiana. “Without that move, thanks to Occupational Therapist Tomas Cole, I would have never met the lovely Rose Kallok, who eventually became Rose Fontana and the mother to our 4 children (one of whom is an occupational therapist!) and the Gramma to our 5 wonderful grandchildren (thus far).”
The potential for an international career surprised Betty Hasselkus. “When I began my career in occupational therapy in the 1960s, I had no vision of being part of a worldwide network of occupational therapists,” she says.
“Gradually, as I began to publish papers, completed graduate work, and earned higher degrees, I also came to be sought out for scholarly work abroad. This interchange with occupational therapy scholars in other countries led to collaboration on presentations for the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, visiting professorships, publications in journals worldwide, workshop presentations, doctoral examinations, and visiting lectureships. I now look back on what were scholarly and truly life-changing experiences in Sweden, Australia, Wales, Northern Ireland, Canada, and Denmark. These collaborations with occupational therapists around the world greatly enriched both my professional life and my personal life. “
Margo B. Holm was surprised by the clients she worked with. She recalls using The Objectives and Functions of Occupational Therapy as a textbook, which she describes as an occupational therapy “cookbook,” which was “organized by diagnosis, and included the diagnostic definition, typical clinical features, signs and symptoms affecting occupational therapy, anticipated psychological reactions of the patient, indications and contraindications for OT, treatment aims and principles, and special techniques and precautions.” She took courses in craft analysis on things like using a printing press, woodworking, and weaving.
“What surprised me most about the variety of mental health clients I worked with was that their aims were unanimous, but didn’t seem to match the ‘cookbook’ aims,” she says. “They wanted to ‘be able to perform everyday tasks that were meaningful to them and that they needed to do, were expected to do, or wanted to do.’
“Fortunately, I had supportive supervisors who allowed me to respond to the clients’ aims and carve out ADL/IADL corners in the clinics next to the jig saw, band saw, loom, printing press, leather table, and potter’s wheel. Although my OT education taught me a lot, my clients taught me what really mattered,” Holm says.