This year the American Occupational Therapy Association is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the profession. Whether assisting patients recovering from injury, suffering from mental illness or living with a disability, occupational therapists give patients the tools they need to reach their goals. For three alumnae in Marietta, Ohio, one of the tools they’re spreading the word about is University of Findlay—not to their patients but to those with an interest in occupational therapy as a profession.
Three alumnae from the University’s Occupational Therapy Program, Candi (Christman) Atkinson ’01, M’03, Emilee (McAfee) Shoemaker ’10, M’11, and Cassi Huffer M’16—now all working as colleagues at Marietta Memorial Health System (MMH)—all found their way to Findlay through their connections to each other.
For Atkinson, who took an interest in occupational therapy after volunteering at her local hospital as a teenager, the University’s Weekend Program was a perfect fit. “I needed to continue working as a certified occupational therapy assistant while furthering my degree/education,” she said. “The Findlay program was affordable, close to my home and focused on expanding my critical thinking skills.” Professors Thomas Dillon, Ed.D. and Mary Beth Dillon, O.T.D. made a real impact on her educational experience. “Both saw potential in me that I did not see. They pushed me outside of my comfort zone and challenged me to advance my clinical reasoning skills,” she said. “Tom challenged my thinking skills and pushed me to do better, dig deeper and take it one step further. Mary Beth challenged my professionalism and greatly assisted me in advancing my skills in handling myself in a more professional manner inside and outside of the classroom.”
The education Atkinson received allowed her to build on her foundation and develop skills in assessment, theory, treatment advancement and management that she continues to use today as an occupational therapist. She currently works in the hospital’s acute care inpatient rehabilitation program. For her, the best part of her job is “being a part of patient progress and knowing that the activities, exercises or equipment I built for them is the reason they are now able to use their impaired body part or take care of themselves again.” Her experiences as a student and as a professional have propelled her to recommend UF to others including Emilee Shoemaker.
After high school, Shoemaker began to develop an interest in OT while assisting in caring for her grandfather who was suffering from Parkinson’s Disease. She also shadowed Atkinson while working as a therapy aide at MMH and learned about her experiences with Findlay’s OT Program. “I shadowed Candi, and she showed me how special and rewarding a career in occupational therapy could be. I decided to major in occupational therapy, and UF was the place to go,” said Shoemaker. “University of Findlay is, in my opinion, the best OT school in the state. The small class sizes, occupation-based education and highly qualified staff made the decision so easy for me.” Completing her master’s in OT in 2011, her experiences gave her the confidence to become a life-long learner in her field. “The program at UF gives you basic information on every aspect of the OT scope of practice. This helps you as a practitioner not to hesitate when learning in-depth skills after graduation. My current place of employment sees a wide variety of diagnoses and does a wide variety of techniques that UF helped me feel confident in learning.” Working as a neuro-outpatient OT for MMH, Shoemaker primarily sees stroke patients, lymphedema patients and those suffering from concussion or injuries in their extremities. She often recommends UF’s program to students who shadow at the hospital and others because of the opportunities available to them. “After I graduated I needed to get the word out about how great the program is,” she said. One of those students was Cassi Huffer, who graduated from Findlay last year.
While shadowing other occupational therapists, Huffer “fell in love with the profession. I loved that I could help people live their lives to the fullest doing what people typically take for granted every day,” she said. She’d completed her undergraduate degree in psychology at Marietta College and found the three-year, weekend course sequence met her needs. “I was working at a juvenile detention facility as a youth specialist in my hometown and enjoyed my job. The University’s program was targeted for older learners who worked and had a life outside of school but still wanted to become an OT.” Though with weekend classes students aren’t on campus together all the time, Huffer still felt connected to her classmates. “You really get to know your classmates, and they are the only ones that truly understand the craziness that is weekend college. They are what got me through working a full-time job while going to grad school full time. I could not imagine a better experience than having such a tight, supportive group of people to get me through that challenge.”
After she completed her degree, Huffer also found her way back to MMH, where she works alongside Shoemaker and Atkinson as an acute occupational therapist. The hospital continues to promote a team-oriented environment. “I enjoy my co-workers, and I really appreciate the teamwork dynamic that we support each other with,” said Shoemaker. “We appreciate each other’s strengths and support each other in our weaknesses.” Reunited in Marietta, the three woman remain passionate about the profession and program that meant so much to them as they found the tools they needed to succeed in a field that is continuing to evolve after 100 years.