This week, guest blogger and professional occupational therapist Marlene Hampton shares her story of deciding to become an occupational therapist (OT).
Growing up, I always had a passion for helping people, whether it was getting to school early to help my grade school art teacher get ready for the day or volunteering for random events in the high school Key Club. I always had kept an eye open searching for more opportunities. When I first got my drivers license, my dad encouraged me to get a job. Soon after I was working at a small bed and breakfast in my hometown as part waitress, part cook, part housekeeper. I loved it! I enjoyed interacting with all the hotel/restaurant guests and helping them have a better visit. Perfect, I thought… I was being paid to help people. A win-win.
Then one summer, another opportunity came along: MDA Camp (Muscular Dystrophy Association Camp). I had known a friend who had done it a previous year and I remember her talking about it for what seemed like forever and looking at all her fun previous an thinking "this is something that I would like to do." So I committed to one full week of my summer, paired one-on-one with a child with muscular dystrophy (“my camper”) to help them have the greatest week of their year. When I got to camp, I was definitely nervous. This was unlike any other volunteer opportunity I experienced. For seven days it was basically 24/7 making sure all your camper’s need were met. My camper was six years old and full of energy. We instantly bonded over hunting for crawdad’s and water balloon fights. For the next few years, MDA camp became part of my routine every summer as it was one of my greatest weeks of the year.
When I came upon my senior year of high school, it was time for me to start applying for college. I still loved various food service jobs, so I decided to study hospitality and tourism management with the goal of one day owning my own restaurant. After my freshman year of studying hospitality, I interned at a large chain hotel where I felt like my boss was there 24/7 and always working on holidays. That same summer I returned to MDA camp. It was there I had my “awakening”. I still remember the moment at camp where I thought to myself “I want to do something like this the rest of my life”. Therefore, upon returning to fall semester of my sophomore year, I researched careers that would allow me to work with people with disabilities and use my creativity. I landed on occupational therapy. Within I week of returning home from camp, I had already set up a time to meet with my advisor to discuss how I could make it happen.
For the next three years, I focused on doing everything I could to prepare myself for OT school. Everything paid off and I was accepted to OT school my senior year of college. I literally jumped for joy when I received my acceptance email (which does not sound as cool as acceptance letter). I was on track to becoming an occupational therapist.
Four years later, I consider myself to have my dream job. I get the opportunity daily to make a positive impact in someone’s life AND be paid for it. There are, of course, days when I would love to continuously press the snooze button, but once I am at work, I feel the lights are on. I am ready to serve people that may be going through one of the most difficult time in their lives. It is amazing to see how your patients gain confidence throughout their rehabilitation journey and become more independent. Not all the patients you work with are pleasant or cooperative, but in the back of your mind no matter how they treat you, you can rest assured that they have appreciated all the help you have given them throughout their rehab stay. I could never imagine having another career, and I am forever grateful for MDA camp for letting me see the light.
Did this story inspire you to start your career as an occupational therapist? Learn about St. Catherine's online OTA program.