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Name: Denay Hall
Hometown: Augusta, Georgia
Undergraduate school and program: Augusta University – Bachelor’s in Kinesiology
Post-baccalaureate school and program: South University, Columbia (SUC) – Associate's in Occupational Therapy Assistant
Expected graduation year: 2022
How did you find out about occupational therapy?
After my bachelor’s, I was taking prerequisites preparing to apply for the occupational therapy master's program, but I didn't get accepted. Then I applied to South University and got accepted into their OTA [Occupational Therapy Assistant] program this year . Before graduating with my bachelor’s, my advisor started talking to me about occupational therapy because my GPA wasn't as strong as I needed it to be since the grad programs are very competitive. She told me, “Well, you know, if you're interested in occupational therapy, you won’t need to take these other courses [for the pre-physical therapy track].”
So, then I shadowed an occupational therapist for a few hours out of the day and got introduced to occupational therapy. Then I decided to reach out to the facility [where I shadowed] so I could do my final internship. After completing my internship, I got hired on with that same facility: the Children's Hospital of Georgia (Augusta University Medical Center). I worked as a rehabilitation technician at the hospital from 2017 to January of this year .
Why do you believe this particular field was for you?
I feel like there's so much you can do because occupational therapy involves everything about your life, from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to sleep. Occupational therapy is everything, so you're helping people with their self-care (Activities of Daily Living), mental health, things they like to do to be productive, whether it's exercising, skills needed to work, education, or helping kids with play skills.
The main thing that drew me to occupational therapy I believe is my love for helping people. Also, I'm passionate about health and fitness. Further, I'm a group fitness instructor and Zumba instructor. I love that I can combine my passion for health and fitness with Occupational Therapy.
You can help people not just working in the hospital but also in the school system. You can work for the health department; you can work in the community. We recently did our Level 1 field work at an adult daycare, where we were able to create activities for some of the clients. They had a schedule, but we could come in, create activities for them, and get to know them.
We have the opportunity to connect with the patients, and we also get to build relationships with them and their families over time. There's more of a connection in the field, so that's what I love about it.
What is something you'd say you're still adjusting to while in OTA school?
My main thing right now is time because I'm a mother of 2 boys, and I also have to travel an hour to school. I'm trying to create that schedule and get in the routine because we just had a break. We'll start field work next week, but to me it has always been my time management and stress. Just trying to find balance. I have to manage my time as a mother, full-time student, and fitness instructor.
I made the decision to commute back and forth to school. So, when I arrive home, I get them situated, then complete schoolwork.
I would also add being in school full-time took some adjusting because of the workload. So much time goes into class lectures, reading/studying, and assignments.
What's something you love or you're good at?
Based on the last field work experience, connecting with the clients and getting to know them. I also like creating activities. I love arts and crafts, so when we get to do fine motor activities with the kids, I feel like I would be good with that for my next fieldwork. I think once I'm there [the field], I’ll have an idea of what kind of activities to do with the kids.
For you personally, what's something you enjoy doing?
Traveling, going to the beach, spending time with my kids. I try to do something fun with them on the weekend because my schedule has been so...by the time I get home it’s like we're doing homework, having dinner, getting all washed up, and getting in the bed. I also enjoy dancing, whether in the dance ministry of my church, instructing Zumba classes, or doing TikTok videos with my boys. I also like being alone. I'm an introvert, so I love my alone time to recharge and focus on myself.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I've thought about moving to a different town, maybe another city. I've also thought about incorporating occupational therapy with fitness and having my own studio or a fitness center. I want to help those in the community with health management and provide them with resources. Also, have my own space and home. Right now, I'm in school full-time, so my boys and I are with my mom until I'm out on my own.
I will continue learning more about OT and the different specializations and career opportunities that are emerging. People have asked me if I want to return to school. Once I’m certified and licensed as a COTA (Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant), I want to gain as much experience as possible. I’ll decide later if I want to do a bridge program to become an Occupational Therapist Registered (OTR).
What advice do you have for others interested in entering occupational therapy field, but they're doubtful or having difficulties? For instance, you say you were not accepted into the occupational therapy graduate program. Also, occupational therapy is still a competitive field to enter.
I would suggest going onto the AOTA website (American Occupational Therapy Association at aota.org) and researching the different schools in your state or the state you want to relocate to. That's what I initially started out doing. I didn't know anything about occupational therapy initially, so I did my research. I was looking at schools. I was looking at the master's programs and the associate’s programs. Look up what schools you may be interested in. How much it is to go to those schools? Look up the prerequisites to get into those programs. I know for the master's program you don't need a bachelor’s to get into the program, but you still can take those prerequisites and then apply. So, I would suggest doing your research first and then taking the necessary steps afterwards.
I also suggest finding any local facilities where you can shadow someone or volunteer. Further, focus on anatomy and physiology, English, and psychology courses. Make sure you have an A or B in those. That's where I struggled. I had to retake a few courses before I got into this program. Do your research and start taking small steps so you can apply. You'll be more successful. I personally didn't know anything about it [the field], so that kind of pushed me to retake the courses. Whatever those prerequisites are, make sure your GPA is high in those and that you have a GPA that is over the minimum.
The programs are changing, so I would stay up to date. For instance, over the next few years, I believe the associate’s program is going to be a bachelor’s program, and the master’s is going to change to doctorate. I think it's 2027 that everything will change. I would do your research and talk to other therapists in the community you want to work in, such as peds (pediatric). Try to shadow someone or gain as much experience as possible. I was able to intern and then work as a rehab tech, which introduced me to physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech all in the same clinic, so that kind of helped me as well. Clinical experience looks great on your application and is helpful in school and fieldwork.
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