Interview With OTA Director Loriann Helgeson
Loriann Helgeson has worked in occupational therapy for years, and has recently brought her expertise to Ameritech as the new director of our occupational therapy assistant program. We talked with her about how she became an OT, and changes she’s making at Ameritech.
Related resource: Occupational Therapy Assisting: A Visual Guide
How did you come to occupational therapy?
When I was in college, my advisor suggested occupational therapy to me after I told him what I liked about wanting to work in healthcare. I knew I didn’t want to be a nurse, but I wanted to be something similar. So I did a week-long exploration of the OT programs that were available at the time. I fell in love with the profession, and decided to go to OT school from that point on.
I went to a master’s program and was a student at Tufts University in Boston. I enjoyed it! We had a lot of time spent in the classroom, but we also got a lot of hands-on experience going to different facilities, having our instructors bring clients in so we could work with them to understand what we were going to be doing as occupational therapists.
What was practicing like?
As an occupational therapist, I worked in several different settings. I’ve worked in an inpatient rehab center; I’ve worked with people who’ve had strokes; I’ve also worked in home health. I’ve also done some outpatient therapy, and I’ve gotten involved in teaching. I’ve taught at the master’s level. I’ve taught at another OT program, a doctoral program for OT, and now I’m here at Ameritech.
Related resource: A Day in the Life of an Occupational Therapy Assistant
When you were working with clients, what did a typical day look like for you? Were there typical days?
No, and that’s the nice thing. There’s never a typical day, and each type of setting offers its own distinct things that you’ll do with a client. And that’s one of the nice things about OT as well; you’ll have change every single day. There’s not a typical day at all.
Rehab was probably the most physically challenging job that I had. I would start early in the morning and would work with clients on getting them ready for their day. Then they would come down to the therapy gym for additional therapy sessions, which could also include physical therapy or speech therapy. It was a pretty intensive environment, and physically demanding on each of the therapists as well. But it was very rewarding to see people regain skills that were taken away from them by a stroke or a car accident or some illness.
Home health was nice because you got to go into the client’s home and see them do things in their own environment. When things weren’t working for them, you could try working with them and see if there was a different way they could perform the task. Perhaps it was rearranging something in their home environment to help them be successful. That’s often rewarding, especially with the elderly who are really trying to stay in their homes.
Related resource: OTA on the Go: Home Healthcare
How would you summarize the roles of OTAs? What do they do?
OTAs work very closely with the occupational therapist. Their role is to carry out the treatment plan that the occupational therapist lays out for that client. The OTA will report back to the OT about any progress or lack thereof that the client is making. They work together on whether a treatment plan is working, or if modifications need to be made to help that client become as independent as possible. They do a lot of the day-to-day work with the client. It can be anything from practicing their self-care, or it could be getting more involved with a leisure occupation they have. Things like being able to do their laundry, the dishes, or cooking a meal. OTAs need to make sure that if the client lives alone, they can prepare healthy food for themselves.
They do all of that daily work with the client with the occupational therapist’s oversight to make sure the treatment plan is working. You get to really have a close relationship with the client as an OTA. You really are helping them learn how to be independent again.
Related resource: What Is an Occupational Therapy Assistant?
You’re fairly new to Ameritech. What changes have you made to the program?
We’ve looked at increasing the use of evidence-based practice in the program since I’ve worked here, and I’ve also worked with the faculty to develop their skills. It’s important that the faculty is delivering information to students in an exciting way that will make them want to learn. We are making some changes with some courses, too, and some refinements to the learning process.
What can prospective students expect from the program?
It’s an accelerated program, so it’s not easy. They will have to study quite a bit. But I think they’ll find it quite rewarding. Our cohorts tend to really support each other, so they will most likely be in a group of students who will form study groups and work together. They’ll also have the opportunity to collaborate with the other students on campus from other programs. That’s something that we’re trying to expand upon, as well, working alongside other students here at Ameritech. It’s a friendly environment to learn hard information!
For more information about Ameritech’s OTA program, check out our free e-book, 7 Fast Facts About Becoming an Occupational Therapy Assistant, and keep in touch with the Ameritech community on Facebook.