African American

Kathleen H. Conyers, MEd, OTR/L

ConyersI have been an occupational therapist for over 35 years. Choosing occupational therapy was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life. Like many, I had no idea what occupational therapy was. As a junior in high school, I met with my guidance counselor to discuss my educational plans. I told her that I really did not think that I was going to college. My family did not have the money and I thought I would just go to a secretarial school and then find a job. She seemed very surprised at my decision and said that since my grades were very good and my participation in extracurricular activities was high, I really needed to seriously consider going to college. I was surprised by her attitude because this took place in an era when African-American students were not often encouraged to pursue college careers; in fact, many were steered into service careers or vocational and/or technical jobs. I did tell her that I was interested in working with people and enjoyed the interactions I had with people working part-time as a cashier in a local supermarket. She said that if I enjoyed working with people, I should look into a career in either physical therapy, occupational therapy, or speech therapy. Of course I knew very little about any of these professions. She instructed me to go to the library and research each one. Unfortunately, the Internet had not been invented yet so I had to do my research the old-fashioned way. I followed her advice and I read about all three professions.

The information I read about occupational therapy sparked my interest and seemed to focus on helping people overcome obstacles, regain function, and return to active, productive lives. I reported back to my guidance counselor that I had chosen occupational therapy. She then suggested that I make an appointment, go to visit an occupational therapy clinic, and speak directly to an occupational therapist about the profession. I followed her advice and visited a well-known Rehabilitation Hospital with an occupational therapy department in a nearby town. The occupational therapist that I met with was gracious and friendly. She toured the facility with me, allowed me to observe treatment sessions and explained her role with the patients. I loved what I saw. I was impressed with the personal, caring but professional interactions between the patients and the therapists. I was hooked. I went back to my guidance counselor and explained to her that I liked occupational therapy very much and wanted to make it my career. Once again, she was extremely helpful and assisted me in finding colleges that offered occupational therapy as a major and also provided me with information regarding scholarship opportunities. I chose to attend the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana Illinois.

After 2 years I applied to and was accepted at Columbia University’s Programs in Occupational Therapy. Both programs were excellent and provided me with the training and education upon which I have built my career. I have had the opportunity to work in a variety of positions including Staff Occupational Therapist, Director of Occupational Therapy, and Coordinator of Rehabilitation. As a member and Past President of the Black Occupational Therapy Caucus (established in 1974), I have seen the profession move from one with a lack of diversity to a profession that offers a wealth of opportunities for rich multicultural and diverse experiences on a daily basis. I know I made the right choice

Paige M. Johns, OTR/L, OTD (C) 

JohnsSomehow, I always knew that I possessed a great desire to enter a health-related field of study.  There was an innate drive to pursue an Allied Health profession upon attending the Ohio State University in which I was enrolled as an undergraduate student; however, I was not really interested in nursing or becoming a doctor, per se.  Therefore, I investigated other options which, ultimately, lead me in the direction of either physical or occupational therapy.  Both disciplines were intriguing to me and exhibited great potential in lending themselves to helping people in a great capacity and endeavoring to assist individuals in optimizing life to their fullest potential toward the goal of increasing overall quality of life secondary to disease or illness.

However, I ultimately chose occupational therapy simply due to the diversity of the profession.  The opportunities inherent within the occupational therapy field were endless as characteristic of each and every client that we encounter daily.  Occupational therapy is a holistic, dynamic and evolving profession, characteristic of the diversity of individuals that we serve in order to meet the everyday needs of our clients in our ever-changing world in which we all live.  Essentially, I loved the fact that occupational therapy afforded so many opportunities for abounding professional growth within the discipline, consequently, giving rise to the potential for personal fulfillment by helping others in a variety of ways and not becoming bored in the process.  As any occupational therapist can attest to the fact that our profession is certainly never boring!

I firmly believe that I grow personally and professionally every day as an occupational therapy practitioner and that I have learned something from every patient encounter that I have experienced within my 16 years of practice.  I have been self-fulfilled in my “occupation” of helping others to reach their fullest potential—what a tremendous reward it is!

I encourage any individual that embraces and envisions a bright future of endless and rewarding career development, exploration and advancement incorporating a myriad of opportunities to choose occupational therapy as their career of choice.  I certainly believe in the intrinsic relevance that meaningful, purposeful daily occupation of “living life to its fullest” has on individuals.  I love helping, teaching and providing assistance to people in a meaningful way and these are just some of the reasons why I chose occupational therapy.

Nadine Kwebetchou

KwetbetchouI was first introduced to occupational therapy while volunteering in a physical therapy department at a local VA medical center. While observing the physical therapists, I was intrigued by the occupational therapists’ professional demeanor, holistic client-centered and psychological approach to therapy. I feel as though occupational therapy is one of the few, if not the only profession that is capable of encompassing this perfect combination.

Both of my parents are naturalized citizens, each coming from two very diverse countries (Haiti and Cameroun). My upbringing and their personal life experiences heightened my sensitivity to other people and the difficulties with which they sometimes must cope. I knew I wanted to engage in a career whose goals fit with my personal value-based framework—one that has impact and adds meaning to my life while still allowing me to make my own creative contribution.

Occupational therapy is a professional career that will keep me inspired.  I am currently a student in the professional master's degree program at Towson University. I am also a graduate assistant in the occupational therapy department. If for any reason, I did not become an occupational therapist, I feel as though I would be wasting my potential. I like to help people because I care about them. The irony is that I am actually helping myself. In defining others, I define myself. That's why occupational therapy chose me.