When Ashley Brooks, OTR/L, began her career as an occupational therapist, hand therapy was considered very specialized and not a track for new graduates. Now a resident with OrthoCarolina’s 18-month, post-professional Hand Therapy Fellowship Program, Ashley is working to significantly develop her skills as a specialty provider of orthopedic upper extremity and hand rehabilitation services. Because complex hand injury recovery can be challenging, coursework is complex and hands-on work is precise. Ashley offered a peek at her background, thoughts on being an OT resident, and what a typical day for her in the clinic is like:
Tell us a bit about your background and how you got into this specialty of OT:
In school, I studied psychology and got my Master’s in occupational therapy. I was told over and over that hand therapy wasn’t for new graduates because it was so specialized, but being hard-headed, I started working part-time in a small private clinic and eventually full time. A few years later, I decided I needed to hone my skills and started researching residency and fellowship programs. I had heard about OrthoCarolina’s Hand Therapy Residency program from a former resident applicant who encouraged me to apply.
You worked a regular, full-time therapy job before deciding to enter the residency program at OrthoCarolina. What’s different?
I worked in a private practice with an emphasis in hand therapy for four years prior to starting my residency. As a resident in this program, I work with physicians to help map out a specific course of care for each individual patient. This opportunity is great because I learn a lot of different skills and work with many different people on therapeutic interventions to help return patients to their best level of function. I also get the opportunity to participate in and design research projects.
What might people not know about hand therapy?
Structured residency programs for all specialties (including hand therapy) are actually new to the field of occupational therapy; only a few have been established. They range from six months to 18 months and everything in between. OrthoCarolina truly is a pioneer of this type of residency.
Tell us about a typical day for you at work:
A lot of our days start very early, normally 6:30 a.m. or so. We are often sleepy-eyed wandering in! We have classes with the hand surgery fellows in the morning. The morning conferences are a good opportunity to learn about each other’s fields. Interacting with the physicians and hand fellows affords us, as hand therapy residents, the opportunity to learn about hand surgery and practice, not just about therapy.
Afterward, I return to the clinic where I have my own caseload. I evaluate and treat patients, make splints and participate in one-on-one mentoring sessions. Being here affords me the opportunity to have back up when needed and continue to learn. I never feel alone. Most OTs here have 20+ years of experience so there’s a wealth of information and people to learn from.
At lunchtime, I may get the chance to more casually interact with other therapists and discuss our cases of the day. It’s not structured but it’s crucial to be able to bounce around and exchange ideas.
In addition to treating patients, I have weekly coursework that includes lecture, PowerPoint presentations, article analysis, case studies, and assignments.
Structuring the day is important for a resident to make sure you get everything in while staying balanced; making sure to carve out time for rest and fun during the week.
The OrthoCarolina Hand Therapy Residency Program helps advance a medical provider’s performance and expertise in the focused area of hand therapy, making them more specialized practitioners.
The program is in the final stages of national accreditation and when it achieves accreditation, will be only the 10th occupational therapy residency program in the United States to have achieved full accreditation to date. It will be the only Hand Therapy Residency in North Carolina.
Occupational Therapy celebrates its centennial in 2017. For more information on the profession including history and stories of how it has changed lives visit otcentennial.org.