How a Woman Who Was ‘Bad at Math and Science’ Became an Occupational Therapist
September 2019 Update
Note from Ellen: The last few weeks have been exciting ones for Claire – she was married and passed her boards! Next up: job hunting. I’m so glad she decided to take the dive into STEM!
May 2019 Update
Note from Claire: As I walk at graduation today for my Masters of Occupational Therapy, I reflect on the seasons in my life that have led me to this proud day. There is abundant gratitude in my heart for so many people who have accompanied and encouraged me on this journey. For me, this journey began when I was caring for this sweet girl, Leah. Her mom, Ellen Matloff, watched as I spent time with Leah adapting and expanding activities to support the work Leah’s occupational therapist was doing with her. Ellen encouraged me to consider a career in this field. That belief in me sparked a flame that has continued to grow and burn steadily throughout the years. Thank you for always believing in me, seeing my potential, and encouraging me to shoot for the stars. Leah and Ellen to this day remain two very dear friends of mine and will always hold a special place in my heart.
This article was originally published in December 2018
Claire came into our life when my daughter was 3-years old. I was interviewing for a nanny and meeting Claire was one of those life moments when you feel like the heavens above have opened and light is shining down. She was that good: smart, reliable, kind, capable, trustworthy, and I knew my daughter would love her. I was right. And I loved her, too.
Claire was the ideal nanny in every way. But it was clear to me that this was a transition stage for her as she was searching for her life work. During her time with us, I learned that my daughter had both gross and fine motor delays and would need to see an occupational therapist (OT). I was a single parent at the time and working full-time, so this was fairly overwhelming. Claire anchored me and agreed to be present when the OT came to our house for my daughter’s visits.
Claire relayed to me everything that happened during the OT visits and worked on the “homework” with my daughter in between visits. And then something happened. Claire began to alter the OT lessons to make them into games for my daughter and to make them fun. It came so naturally to her, and my daughter never knew they were “working.” I blurted out, “Claire, this is what you were meant to do. You were meant to be an occupational therapist!”
Claire, how did it feel when I burst out with this uninvited proclamation?
At first, I was a bit surprised. I hadn’t really considered this possibility. I was intrigued by what Marina (the OT) was doing with Leah, but I hadn’t thought about it as a career path for myself. I felt that science and math were not my strong points and because of that I had never considered pursuing anything in the medical field.
Note from Ellen: In fact, Claire’s response to me was, “But I’m not good at math and science.” In my very non-directive manner, I announced, “Yes, you can do it! You can do math and science! You can come over here, and I’ll help you with your homework.”
But what made you take the rather large plunge to go back to school, take the prerequisites needed for graduate school, and change the entire course of your life to become an OT?
It was having someone I respected, who was also in the medical field, encourage me and see my potential. Someone who believed I could do it. And I saw that I could make a difference in individual people’s lives in a meaningful way. Once the seed was planted, it started to take root and grow within me. At that point in time, I already had plans to teach English in Spain for six months, and I went and did that. While I was in Spain teaching classrooms of kids, it was the one-on-one experiences that resonated with me. It was then I realized that being an OT, rather than teaching, was the path for me. When I returned home from Spain, I made arrangements to shadow some occupational therapists to make sure this was the path I wanted to follow. I started researching programs and learning what prerequisites I would need before I could apply to programs. I also attended a conference held by the Connecticut Occupational Therapy Association (ConnOTA) to learn more about the field. This conference gave me a broader perspective and understanding of what OTs can do.
What was it like to go back to take prerequisites in math and science?
Returning to school after several years to complete prerequisite courses was a vastly different experience from math and science courses I took in high school and college. My return to academia after a three plus year reprieve was an intentional process I was pursuing because I had found a career path I was passionate about following. Anatomy, physiology, statistics – those classes stood between me and my pursuit of a career in OT, and I was determined to conquer these obstacles. I had a more open mindset, and I was actually excited and willing to learn because the coursework would be the foundation for my career as an OT. I really enjoyed anatomy and physiology, which surprised me. I was surprised to find that I actually really enjoy science!
Note from Ellen: And she nailed these classes!
How did you feel about applying to graduate school?
I researched and considered several programs, but Bay Path University was the first and only program in the area for which I qualified at the time I was hoping to begin, pending successful completion of all outstanding prerequisite courses I was enrolled in at that time. Other programs I was considering would have required additional prerequisite courses or standardized testing, which would have delayed my eligibility for acceptance for at least an additional year. I decided to commit my time and energy applying to Bay Path University and gave it my best shot. I applied for this program, knowing that if I was not accepted right away, I would accomplish the additional requirements I needed in order to apply to more programs for the following year. But I was accepted into Bay Path University’s Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) program!
As you recall, Ellen, you were the very first person I called to share the exciting news. When I received the news that I was accepted, I remember feeling absolutely beside myself with excitement for the opportunity ahead, pride in my accomplishments, and unending gratitude toward those who encouraged and supported me along the way. It felt so surreal. I honestly do not even remember feeling scared. I love change and new opportunities – it is when I learn and grow the most.
How has graduate school been so far?
I have definitely enjoyed my experiences in Bay Path University’s MOT program. The professors have a wealth of knowledge and expertise to offer, and the support and friendship I have received from my classmates is unparalleled. Sometimes I wonder how I would have gotten through graduate school without the support and help of my classmates. Having such an invaluable support system, and a close handful of friends who are experiencing the same challenges and triumphs, has been a very large piece to my success thus far. Upon entering the program, my perception of OT was very limited – it was mostly based on pediatric experience. The longer I’ve been in the program, the more I’ve learned about the depth of the OT field. It is so broad, and there are so many exciting options! At this point in time, I really don’t yet know where I want to focus when I begin my career. However, I still have six months of level II fieldwork ahead of me, which is a very big piece of the learning process and experience, which I hope will guide me in making this decision.
Claire, what would you say to the person who is not good in math and science, but who is interested in a career in health care?
If there is a career path you are passionate about, don’t give up, even if it will be difficult and there are known and unknown challenges ahead. Find a mentor, a tutor, classmates, or a friend who will help and support you. You may discover that you are more capable than you thought you were. You may find you have the skills to overcome the seemingly endless challenges. Whatever the case may be, keep challenging yourself and keep working toward your goals. When you challenge yourself and push yourself farther than you ever thought you could go, that is when you will truly grow and discover your full potential.
Note from Leah, age 9: I am happy for Claire that she is moving into a new job, and I’m just so proud of her. She has a good brain, and she has unique ways to solve problems. She has good people skills.