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April is occupational therapy month. Grace Weybrecht, BS ’09, talks about her bid to become Dr. Weybrecht.
Of the many preprofessional programs offered at Ohio Northern University, preoccupational therapy is perhaps the least understood. Judging by its name, one might suspect that it involves work-place safety or job counseling.
In truth, the “occupation” in occupational therapy applies the broadest definition: that which chiefly engages one’s time. Occupational therapists rehabilitate people who are injured or otherwise impaired so that they are able to participate in any activity that has meaning and purpose in their lives. From adults who want to drive a car, dress themselves or prepare a meal, to children who need help holding a pencil or playing with other kids, occupational therapists need to be able to do it all.
Grace Weybrecht, BS '09 will graduate with her
doctorate in occupational therapy in May.
ONU offers a preprofessional program in occupational therapy through the Department of Biological and Allied Health Sciences. It prepares students for entry into post-baccalaureate programs in physical occupational therapy and boasts a 100 percent acceptance rate into graduate programs since 1998.
Grace Weybrecht, BS ’09, is pursuing her doctorate in occupational therapy at the University of Toledo, where ONU has an early acceptance agreement. She knew from her sophomore year of high school that she wanted to be an occupational therapist and decided that the undergraduate education from Ohio Northern was vital to achieving her goal.
“I liked the comprehensiveness of Ohio Northern. I remember my tour of campus and meeting with faculty and seeing the lab spaces,” she says. “I could see that everything was in place to provide me with a good science base.”
As she prepares to graduate this spring, Weybrecht looks forward to practicing and the specialization into one of two areas that this will involve. Though she appreciates how broad her field is in its ability to help those in need, she also considers this sheer breadth to be the greatest challenge for OT students. It is common for practicing OTs to specialize into a narrow area, such as hand injuries, driving rehabilitation or pediatrics, to name just a few.
“I would like to work with adults who have experienced neurological trauma either through car accidents, stroke or other trauma,” says Weybrecht.
rehabilitate people who
are injured or otherwise
impaired so that they are
able to participate in any
activity that has meaning
and purpose in their lives.
She is particularly interested in working with military veterans and has completed a six-month clinical residency at the VA hospital in Ann Arbor, Mich., and a skilled nursing facility in Holland, Ohio. Her graduate research is a meta-analysis comparing occupationally embedded movement to rote movement in terms of motor performance outcomes. She is currently completing her capstone semester, a 16-week independent study in which she is advocating within an international Christian organization for local churches to increase both environmental and programming accessibility for older adults.
“Occupational therapists often help older adults be successful and safe in their home environments. I am taking it a step further by helping older adults be successful and safe in their church environments, which I hope will increase their religious and community participation and, by extension, their quality of life.” she says.
Occupational therapy is often confused with physical therapy. The two fields are similar in that they both work with people to improve some aspect of their lives. The key difference is the scope of this improvement. Whereas physical therapists rehabilitate the underlying motor skills (strength, balance, coordination) required to physically complete a task, an occupational therapist works to match the person to his or her environment so that he or she can function in daily life and regain independence.
“I remember one gentleman I worked with who had suffered a middle cerebral artery stroke and, as a result, had some shakiness in his hands. His nurses were afraid to allow him to shave himself, but he really wanted to do that basic task on his own,” says Weybrecht. “I assessed him on his different skill levels, and I knew that he had the ability to do it. So I worked with him on it, and he was just ecstatic that he was able to shave himself.”
Grace (right) and fellow OTD student Reggie Kehoe demonstrate a rocker
knife, one of the adaptive technologies used by occupational therapists.
Occupational therapists have two basic approaches to helping their clients/patients — change the person or change the environment. Sometimes a person needs to get stronger to complete a task, or change his or her perspective on what constitutes success. In other cases, an amputation for example, an occupational therapist must change the environment to make up for the patient’s loss of a limb. Occupational therapists will often employ a combination of the two, relying on their expertise to develop a suitable plan of care.
“If you want to do OT correctly, you have to empathize with your client and try to understand what they are going through,” says Weybrecht. “Whether it’s a new injury or a developmental disability they’ve had since birth, you have to be able to put yourself in their shoes in order to make recommendations and develop a course of therapy that will be meaningful to them.
When Henry Solomon Lehr founded Ohio Northern University, he did so with a vision of blending professional and liberal arts education. He wanted to train students in their particular vocations while educating them in the humanities so they could better apply the skills they had obtained. For more than 140 years, Northern’s graduates have entered the work force well rounded and primed for successful careers.
In a way, the same is true of occupational therapy. It is an incredibly broad field that brings together scientific understanding with a humanity all its own.