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Occupational Therapy Month highlights pros who give everyday help

Military health personnel wearing face mask attending occupational therapy Army Staff Sgt. William Cox, an instructor in the occupational therapy assistant program at the Medical and Education Training Campus at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, observes a student practicing convective thermal therapy (Photo by: London Prince / Medical and Education Training Campus Protocol Assistant, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston).

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April is Occupational Therapy Month, a chance to highlight a profession that helps people to accomplish the everyday tasks they need to do through the therapeutic use of daily activities.

Occupational therapists often work with people with disabilities, injuries, and mental illnesses to help them get their lives back on track, working on tasks such as learning to walk and strength recovery.

Occupational therapy assistants (OTAs) help people who are struggling by providing treatment to improve motor skills, balance, and coordination. OTAs can help anyone at any stage of life and work in settings such as skilled nursing facilities, school systems, children's clinics, rehab facilities, and orthopedic clinics.

Occupational therapy (OT) dates to 100 B.C. when Greek and Roman physicians including Asclepiades and Celsus used it for the treatment of patients with emotional and mental disorders. Recommended therapy would include travel, therapeutic massages, exercise, conversation, and music to soothe the mind.

"OT month is a time when we can share the awesome work that we do and showcase that OT is here and we can help no matter the issue; from healing wounds and recovering strength, to finding new hobbies and new work interests," said Army Staff Sgt. William Cox, an instructor in the occupational therapy program at the Medical and Education Training Campus (METC) at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.

"It is a time to not only let the community know who we are, but it also provides awareness to other health care providers by allowing them to offer another resource to their clinics that could help patients in their recovery," he added.

The METC OTA program trains Army and Navy students to become occupational therapy assistants.

The eight-month program is broken into two phases. In phase one, students are in the classroom learning general studies of occupational therapy and the required skills needed to be an occupational therapy assistant. Students also get to practice skills in practical labs.

In phase two, students work in two different clinical settings, putting their skills and knowledge to the test in local hospitals and clinics around the city and around the country.

After graduation, active duty Army students are assigned to a military medical treatment facility (MTF) or a holistic health and fitness unit, while National Guard and Reserve students go back to their hometowns and begin working as OTAs. Navy students are assigned to inpatient/outpatient MTFs. Navy OTAs are also stationed at overseas MTFs providing school-related services as part of the Education Developmental Intervention Services team.

"Our program is nationally accredited, and graduates of the program earn an associate degree from the Uniformed Services University as well the privilege to sit on the national board for certification as an OTA," said Cox.

Army Spc. Zachary Berdan, a student in the program, said that he was happy that he chose occupational therapy as a career.

"This field grabbed me because I wanted to help people recover," he said. "What I enjoy most about the training is that there hasn't been a block of instruction that I thought was boring or unnecessary."

Berdan added that all the instruction has intrigued him, even inspiring him to do more research in his free time.

"I have been learning how emotionally and spiritually rewarding occupational therapy can be," he said.

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