Hermine D. Plotnick
OT—The “Other” Therapy Comes Into Its Own
Although the need has become so “desperate” for occupational therapists that head hunters, working on behalf of nonprofits, for-profits and government agencies, are offering schools such as The New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) in Old Westbury a hefty bounty for referring graduates, the typical high school senior either knows nothing about the field, or—like most members of the general public—confuses Occupational Therapy (OT) with Physical Therapy (PT). And thus misses a wonderful opportunity to pursue a profession that, in the words of Associate Professor Hermine D. Plotnick, Program Director of OT in the School of Health Professions and Behavioral and Life Sciences at NYIT, challenges as it rewards—both bank account and soul—and is also “more fun.” She’s being playful but also serious about a field where some entry-level practitioners can expect to make $80,000 a year and probably more when the master’s degree becomes the new industry standard in 2007 (with a doctorate not that far behind.)
For some years, OT has been listed in the Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook in the top ten out of approximately 120 health profession specialties, but more recently has climbed to second or third place. Reasons for the surge have to do with demographics (baby boomers approaching the age of heart attacks and stroke and an elderly population that soon will be five times what it is now and that may benefit from medical advances but, ironically, live longer with restrictions); new funding models (particularly for Children With Disabilities, including learning difficulties, that will increase the need for occupational therapists in schools, particularly for special education); curricular enhancements that have moved OT far from being the “arts and crafts” line of work it was decades ago, to being a high-level health profession, whose licensed practitioners work closely with the medical and psychological community, and are also being sought out as teachers and administrators for an increasingly complex field; and, Professor Plotnick is eager to add, a post 9 /11 sense of wanting a meaningful career, an interest, she notes, that is expressed by both 18-21 year-olds (many of whom were born abroad or whose parents are immigrants) and by a growing number of thirty and forty-somethings, some downsized, others disenchanted with Wall Street, seeking intrinsically rewarding work. Add to these prompts this incentive: the NYC Department of Education will give tuition scholarships to full-time OT students for four out of five semesters, in exchange for which graduates work for the city according to a credit payback formula. At $600 a credit these days, that’s a considerable inducement.
“Music is my passion, occupational therapy my passion and my job,” says Professor Plotnick, a choral singer, violinist, and pianist with perfect pitch, who could have had a professional career as a musician, but the example of an aunt, a social worker, who became the director of a children’s home in New Orleans—an unusual position for women then—inspired Hermine to take on the sciences and specialize in an area where she could work with her hands and mind, not to mention soul. OT requirements are rigorous—biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, anatomy. Professor Plotnick offers an anecdote: It was an OT student who, checking on a patient being catheterized in a hospital, noted that the urine bag was suspended above the bladder and knew instinctively from study of planes, angles, joints, that something was deadly wrong. Though hospitals are prime sites for OT graduates, the growing number of people in rehab (not all of them over 75) has meant that OT programs stress “intervention”—working with those who want to keep active in their homes and communities—see relatives, do shopping and banking, attend social and religious functions, learn to use adaptive devices for driving. The need for skilled and emotionally sensitive OT professionals could not be greater. For further information go to www.aota.org the site of the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. and www.nyit.edu.#