By Amani Mike, Synergy intern
I have dreamed of working in health care since I was 6 years old. Today, as a 20-year-old college student preparing for a career, I asked to spend a day shadowing occupational and physical therapists at Upstate University Hospital’s Community campus. I thought I knew what occupational and physical therapists did, but seeing them at work made me realize how much there is to their jobs.
I have had entry-level jobs in hospital nutrition services and as a certified home health aide. These jobs helped me realize that I find it gratifying to help people with daily living activities such as bathing, dressing and eating. Does that mean that occupational therapy is a good “fit” for me?
I followed three Upstate employees at the rehabilitation centers on the Community campus: Jennifer Tarasevich and Cindy Cook, who work on the fourth-floor rehabilitation unit, and Michelle Malchak, who works on the sixth-floor acute-care unit.
Occupational therapists help patients recuperating from physical or mental illness perform activities needed in daily life. Physical therapists treat disease, injury or deformity with physical methods, such as massage, heat treatment and exercise.
I watched Tarasevich, a physical therapist, help a patient with an injured hip transfer out of bed using a sliding board, a therapy tool that helps support the patient as he or she moves.
Watching Cook with her patients, I saw that she made sure everyone was comfortable and had everything they needed. The expression on her patients’ faces told me that they were thankful to have Cook by their side. An occupational therapy assistant, Cook has worked in the profession for 27 years, 14 of them at the Community campus.
“I enjoy knowing that I make people feel better, even if I can’t fix everything that’s wrong,” Cook told me. “I feel good knowing that I’ve helped.”
Occupational therapists typically have a master’s degree in occupational therapy and must be licensed. Occupational therapy assistants typically have an associate’s degree.
Physical therapists must have a master’s degree or higher in physical therapy and often complete a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program.
Between 2016 and 2026, the job market for physical therapists and occupational therapy assistants is expected to grow by 28 percent; occupational therapists by 24 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
My day shadowing the occupational and physical therapists at Upstate has encouraged me to pursue a career as a therapist. Knowing that there are different specialties – including mental health, pediatrics, low vision and feeding, eating and swallowing – is exciting. Will occupational therapy or physical therapy fulfill my desire to help people with daily living? I think so.
The writer worked as a summer intern in the marketing and university communications department at Upstate through Synergy, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to empower youth and underserved individuals to reach their highest potential and improve the community.
To read about journalist Jackie Warren-Moore’s experience as a patient in the Rehabilitation Unit at Upstate’s Community campus, click here.