April is Occupational Therapy Month. At Ovation Home Care, we have a special fondness for the work that occupational therapists do in no small part because our administrator, Terri Pope, is an occupational therapist. We thought we’d ask her how she chose this particular field of health care and what it is she enjoys about it. Turns out, making a difference in the lives of others runs in the family.

“My grandmother was a speech therapist at Easter Seals,” Terri said, “and I saw the therapist working with the children making such a difference in their lives.” She added, “My mom was a nurse and I knew I also wanted to help people.”

So, did she always want to be an occupational therapist? Not exactly.

“I started out as a PT [physical therapist] but honestly, I never connected with my fellow PT students. I went to my PT advisor and told him how I wanted to help people physically but more so I wanted to help them in all areas including emotionally and spiritually.”

Turns out the advisor was an occupational therapist himself. That conversation launched her journey into occupational therapy. She transferred from Baylor University to Texas Women’s University in Denton, TX, a school known for its strong OT program.

After completing her education, she gained experience in several areas, including acute rehab (in a hospital setting), home health, and skilled nursing facilites. And it’s been a rewarding journey.

“The most rewarding part of being an OT is the use of daily tasks and common items to overcome huge obstacles. OT brings together everyday tasks, that one has done since age two or three, and spins a fresh and new technique or adds a new tool to regain independence to that task.”

Of course, misunderstandings about what she does are common. Sometimes, people hear the term occupational therapist and think that she works with businessmen and businesswomen to help them cope with the stresses of their jobs. But the greatest misconception, Terri says, is that occupational therapy is not physical therapy.

“OT is in between PT and ST. We are unique in having skillsets from all the Rehab professions. I heard a PT explain that PT can help you walk  but the OT helps you see where you are going, helps regain arm movement to balance while you are walking, and helps you put on the shoes needed to safely walk.”

While Terri remains a registered occupational therapist in the state of Florida, she’s not a practicing therapist. For the past two years, she has served as the administrator of a home health agency—Ovation Home Care. She started the company with her husband. We wondered if being an OT brought a different perspective to the role of agency administrator.

“As Administrator, I try to see all angles,” Terri said. “But we also see items and skills that help limit the disability.” For example? “ADL [activities of daily living] function and how our caregivers can assist for independence. In-home safety issues and how we can recommend safer options. Physical limitations and what home exercises we can encourage to increase or maintain gained function.” 

Just because she earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy back in the 80s, education is still a key part of her work.

“There’s always ongoing training/education to build confidence in our caregivers to be their best at their job for the clients.”

Ultimately, she says, it’s about being able to help someone age in place, a goal that occupational therapists are well-suited to help people achieve, even if they’re not practicing occupational therapy.

You can learn more about occupation therapy at the Florida Occupational Therapy Association (FOTA) website.