Hi there Slick Chicks fam! We are so excited to introduce a project we've been working hard to bring to our community, our Ask an Expert series! The purpose of this series is to provide a direct connection between our community and experts in fields such as occupational therapy, psychology, and gynecology. Keep an eye out on our Instagram for upcoming updates on the series!
Our first expert of the series is Amber Ward. Amber Ward is an occupational therapist with over 25 years of experience working with persons with ALS, muscular dystrophies, MS, and other neurological disorders. Amber is highly accredited amongst her field and presents both locally and internationally about her research in the occupational therapy realm. Read on to learn more about Amber's beginnings in her field and her take on the importance of occupational therapy.
How did you get started in the occupational therapy field?
I thought I wanted to be a music therapist (MT) because I can sing and play instruments. But as I was researching, realized MT is not paid for by insurance and it would be hard to find a job. I took general classes I thought might fit into a number of tracks for the first 2 years of college. I took an OT 101 class and on the first day I realized this was the career for me. I checked into applying for the department, and nearly every random class I took fit into meeting prerequisites almost perfectly. Meant to be!
Why did you choose to pursue occupational therapy as a career?
I am nothing if not practical and I wanted a career I could find a job in after graduating college, with a reasonable salary. I also wanted to help people and have a fulfilling career.
What is an occupational therapist?
An OT is a health professional who focuses on your “occupations” which are the ways you fill your day, and can be impacted by disability, disease, injury, etc. Everyone’s occupations are different, but they can be self-care, care of others, rest/sleep, work/education, play/leisure, social interaction, etc. OT will have tricks, equipment, education, and adaptations to help solve problems.
What does an occupational therapist do on a day to day basis?
That is a tricky question as every OT practitioner is different. It depends on what age (birth to death) they work with, what type of issue (i.e.: shoulder pain, mental health, adapted clothing, cerebral palsy), what setting (i.e.: hospital, rehab, home, etc.), and so many other factors. My day is helping people in an outpatient setting with progressive disorders (ALS, multiple sclerosis, etc.) stay functional and safe with their occupations for as long as possible. I answer emails/phone/portal messages as well as see clients in person for consultation and problem solving. I also run a wheelchair seating clinic where in person and virtually I perform evaluations for mobility devices and other equipment, help them test the devices, help with the justification letters, and the whole process through delivery and fitting.
Why do you believe occupational therapy is so important?
Occupations are really everything that we need, want, have, and love to do, and are generally incredibly meaningful and important to people. Especially when those roles, tasks, habits, routines are messed up due to an accident, injury, disease, etc. This makes OT inherently motivating and really focused on the goals of the client. A preemie baby’s goal might be to bring hands to mouth or visually track for play, while an older adult with diabetes goal is to increase stamina and health after a broken leg to play golf. Everyone’s occupations are unique and individual and are often under-recognized until they are gone or changed. OT fits into assisting every age and mental/physical issue, because it is at the heart, about all living our best life.
What are the most rewarding parts of your job?
I absolutely love solving problems. Especially random and inexpensive things, like needle-nose pliers to open a Ziplock if you have hand weakness or an empty pump bottle to avoid fighting with the ketchup bottle. I enjoy the happy faces as clients get more comfortable or functional with the things they need or want to do. I also enjoy educating people about tricks and tools they did not realize existed, especially if they thought they wouldn’t be able to do the task any longer. I like teaching and educating students and speaking about OT issues as well.
To get in touch with Amber, please message her directly via Facebook.