Turns out, the test was right on the mark.
Gina earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of Buffalo, NY, and a master’s degree in Occupational Therapy from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. She’s now the Lead Occupational Therapist at the Comprehensive Care Center.
“When I looked up occupational therapy, I thought, ‘Help people brush their hair? That doesn’t sound fun.’ And here I am. It really fit my personality … I got into the profession to help other people. There really is no other way to look at it.”
She began her post-college career working with children, many on the autism spectrum. A move to the Central Coast with her husband – a doctoral student at UCSB – necessitated a job change.
The term “occupational” might seem a misnomer for some people. The definition of “occupation,” in this case is anything that fills up someone’s time, other than a hobby.
“They see ‘occupation’ and they think work,” Gina said. “For us, work is an occupation, but it’s one of the many occupations in life. An occupation is what you do in your life. From the moment you get up, you are doing things. It’s what you fill your day with. People who have disabilities or who are in the hospital for a time don’t always get to follow the sequence of occupations that a healthier person might be able to do. We focus on assigning meaning to all those things. You may be able to walk down the hallway, but are you going to do that naked? That’s why you need occupational therapy. You have to be able to get dressed.”
Gina, whose father is a physical therapist, said the job is interesting because she gets to meet new people.
“I like that I have to solve problems every day and that I can use my creativity to come up with some new ideas to help people,” she says. “I also like that what I’m doing is very meaningful, hopefully, to the people I’m helping.”
For instance, it’s meaningful for some people to be able to take a shower, especially after perhaps being in the hospital and being unable to do so unassisted. An occupational therapist concentrates on functional activities.
“Being able to do things on your own again is important,” she says. “Every person is different: what they want, what’s important to them, what they can tolerate. There are so many factors in a human being you have to take into account, to come up with the best plan to help them.”
Her job is busy and full of multi-tasking.
“I like that I can find ways to solve problems on a daily basis,” Gina notes. “It always keeps you on your toes. I’m never bored. From the second I get here to the second I go home, I’m doing something.”
At the CCC, Gina helps residents in their own rooms, assisting them moving from bed to the bathroom, or helping them get dressed and to brush their teeth.
“We practice walking to and from the bathroom a whole bunch,” she says. “Those types of things are our focus. It really is those life skills. If we’re in the gym, it’s because we’re working on life skills in a different way. We focus on balance. We want to make sure they leave at less of a fall risk than when they came. For us, our focus has to be – what can they do now because their balance is better?”
Though she thought she’d be working in pediatrics, she says she now enjoys working with the geriatric population.
“I love their histories, their stories, their personalities,” she said.