During her last semester as a psychology student at Flagler College, Carleigh Kidwell ’15 realized she didn’t want to pursue a career in counseling or research. Feeling stuck, she turned to her faculty advisor for help. He suggested occupational therapy.
“I hadn’t heard of the field, but after researching it, I realized it fit perfectly with my drive to improve people’s lives. Occupational therapy also has a psych component, which enables me to use all I learned as an undergraduate.” Kidwell, who graduated with her Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) in December, recently accepted a position as an OT at Brooks Rehabilitation in Jacksonville. Here, she shares how her fieldwork at Tampa General Hospital, where she treated an 18-year-old girl recovering from a brain tumor, shaped her approach to occupational therapy:
“The teen, one of my first patients, was extremely weak after surgery and had decreased motor coordination, as well as blurred and double vision. She wanted to be a normal kid again and return to high school. I took the time to get to know her as a person. When you build a rapport with patients, they’re more willing to work at therapy.
“To improve her vision, we played games like ‘I Spy.’ She lacked upper body strength, so we also used free weights while standing so she could improve her balance and endurance. She was also severely ataxic, and couldn’t control her movements. We practiced handwriting, an important school skill.
“Initially, she used large, easy-to-hold thick-grip pens. But within three months, she was using thin pencils to draw and write. Before I left, she wrote me a card. On the cover, next to two, hand-drawn flowers, it said, ‘To the therapist who helped me.’ On the inside: ‘Thank you for all your help and all that you do for me. I will never forget you.’ I was so proud of her.
“During each of my fieldwork assignments, I had an amazing experience with every single patient. At the end of every day I’d go home and think, ‘Wow, I made a difference in someone’s life.’ ”