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KGI’s Pre-Occupational Therapy Program Showcases Career Trajectories

This story was first published in the 2019-20 Annual Report.

Occupational therapy is a rewarding career path with a client-centered approach. The inaugural session of Keck Graduate Institute’s (KGI) Pre-Occupational Therapy Program (PrOT) this past summer provided an immersive three-day experience to help students better understand this multifaceted profession and prepare for a career in occupational therapy.

“The multiple voices of seasoned occupational therapy professionals, new graduates, and current students helped provide insight into the process of getting into occupational therapy, career trajectories, the work of occupational therapy, and leadership within the profession,” said Christy Billock, Professor and Founding Program Director of KGI’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate program. “This unique opportunity served to inspire and support participants’ decision-making and motivation for pursuing occupational therapy as a profession and was enthusiastically received.”

One of the purposes of PrOT was to showcase the diversity of roles that an occupational therapist (OT) can take on. OTs can work in hospitals, assisted living facilities, schools, community-based settings, and more, helping with a range of services including adapting to physical disability, promoting independence and development, and supporting mental health.

For Sarah Preston, a Cal State Fullerton graduate who hopes to work with children in a school setting, one of the most eye-opening aspects of the program was seeing how someone could carve out a unique niche.

“One of the OTs talked about a person whose passion was surfing, so they created an OT surfing program to help people get back on their feet, which I thought was so creative and awesome,” Preston said.

Kayla Michel, a graduate of Saint Joseph’s University, appreciated that on the first day of the program, Billock had everyone give a 30-second pitch that defined occupational therapy.

“Being able to get my words down and talk about what the profession can provide and how it expands on a lifespan was really beneficial,” Michel said.

Michel felt that the program reaffirmed her desire to work in occupational therapy, specifically with helping incarcerated people reintegrate into society.

“For my senior year, I took an Inside-Out course in the prison system alongside people who are incarcerated, and I learned how we need to improve our rehabilitation efforts within this system,” Michel said. “Through the intersection of occupational therapy and mental health services, we can help them learn how to enhance their skill set because nine times out of ten, society is completely different from when they first entered the prison system.”

For Preston, one of the major takeaways from PrOT was to treat each client as an individual and improve their overall quality of life. For example, one speaker said that it was important to give meaningful goals—instead of saying “stand for 30 seconds,” an OT could say, “Stand so you can hug your daughter.”

“The OTs theme is creating meaning in everything that they do,” Preston said. “It’s a holistic approach. They get to know each person they work with and incorporate that person’s family and hobbies to motivate them.”

Michel also enjoyed the variety of speakers as well as learning how to make her application stand out and receiving personalized support from Billock. Additionally, she appreciated that the program informed them on how COVID-19 restrictions are impacting both OT students and professionals.

“I got a first-hand perspective on how to make the transition and how this is teaching you to be a better occupational therapist, exposing you to services such as telehealth,” Michel said.

Both Michel and Preston appreciated that the PrOT program, which was held online, allowed them to connect with people across the world. Preston has organized a Facebook group to keep in touch with pre-OT students she met through the program.

“I’m taking anatomy, which is one of our hardest pre-reqs that we have,” Preston said. “KGI reminded me of the light at the end of the tunnel. OTs really do make an impact on people’s lives. It’s such a rewarding field to be in, and this KGI program re-sparked that passion in me.”