OT Stories From The Field | Taelor Millsap, OTS

This guest post is part of an OTinsight series #OTStoriesFromTheField.

Taelor is a final-year Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) student in Boston, MA where she is focused on childhood trauma in OT. Some of her OT passions include: pediatrics, childhood trauma, neuro, and complementary health. In her spare time, she runs a blog and associated social media accounts where she shares the raw and real account of her daily life as an occupational therapy student and future professional, along with some educational insights about OT. Taelor plans to practice in outpatient pediatrics in Arizona upon graduation.

You can contact her via email, taelormadeot@gmail.com, or on any of her social media accounts @taelormadeot. She’s always willing to connect with people and enjoys giving back to the wonderful OT community. 

How did you discover OT and why did you choose it?

In short, it started with a tragedy that turned triumph and opened me to a whole new world and inspired me to help others.

The extended version?

My youngest brother had a stroke at 18 months of age after a serious case of fungal meningitis that was sadly left untreated due to misdiagnosis. Once discovered, the doctors said he had a 50/50 chance of making it through the night and needed multiple immediate brain surgeries.

He lived (our miracle baby!) but lost the ability to walk, talk, sit up properly, or do anything functional. His prognosis was that he would be at a very low level of functioning his whole life, probably never talking or doing anything for himself, and would make few gains. 

I was 7 years-old once he returned home and I, without expectation or hesitation, jumped into the helper/mini therapist role for him immediately. I helped him with hand-over-hand feeding, encouraged him to engage with different toys, and stayed in his at-home therapy sessions — helping out whenever they would let me.

I continued this for years. He was my priority! When I was 12 years old, my brother’s home health OT offered me to shadow her for a summer. I did and absolutely fell in love. From that point on, I decided that OT was not only what I wanted to be doing the rest of my life, but what I had to be doing. The rest is history. 🙂 

As for my brother, he made a ton of progress in the hospital in inpatient rehab as well as over the years at home with his home OT. Currently, he’s 20 years-old, functions at about a 7-year-old cognitive level, can walk and talk, and can complete some ADL tasks with supervision.

He brings light to everyone he meets. That can all be attributed to his amazing therapists over the years. I call my brother my North Star, because whenever I need a reminder about why I chose OT, there he is showing me the way.

What do you think is the most important aspect of OT? What are you most passionate about within the field?

Can I say everything?! If I have to narrow it down, I think the most important aspect about occupational therapy is the ability to facilitate as much independence as possible in any area of someone’s life through adaptations, education, interventions, and even community programming.

That could mean anything from cognitive rehabilitation, mental health social/emotional work, physical rehabilitation, online resources, etc., all with the goal of functional independence and general wellness!

I also really love that we have the ability to create programs and work with emerging practice areas. My biggest OT passion is advocating for childhood trauma and finding ways to introduce a trauma-informed practice to other OT clinicians and health/education professionals. I’ve also really been drawn to writing/blogging and sharing OT ideas with others lately.

What does your typical day look like?

I just finished my level II fieldwork (12-week, full-time clinical rotation), which was approximately 35-40 hours a week on site creating treatment plans, facilitating sessions, documenting, gathering feedback, and communicating with interprofessional peers.

Right now, I’m working on my doctorate capstone, which means a majority of my day is spent with various professional development projects, the on-site project I’m facilitating, gathering and analyzing data, and working as a teacher’s aide for a school-based pediatrics elective at my school. Like fieldwork, OTD students must meet a set amount of hours on-site in order to be eligible for graduation.

At night, I come home and relax a little bit. Sometimes I go to a kickboxing class, some days I work on my OT blog, and some days I do nothing but watch Netflix. It’s all about balance.

What has your OT journey been like so far?

My OT journey started when I was 12 years-old and shadowed my brother’s home health pediatric OT for a summer. After that, I started focusing on working more with my brother, working hard in school to maintain a high GPA, and shadowing the OT as much as I could throughout the years. 

At 18, I worked as a respite and habilitation provider with individuals of different abilities at home and in the community. I continued that part-time throughout college.

Additionally, in my junior year of college, I worked as an independent contractor in special education for various charter schools where I gained experience working with the OTs, running the social/emotional groups, coordinating compliance documents (such as writing IEPs), and working with the children individually and in group environments with various diagnoses. After I graduated, I took off two years to continue that work full-time. 

As far as education goes, I graduated from Arizona State University with an Applied Biological Sciences degree and a minor in Psychology. I’m currently at an entry-level doctorate program in Boston, Massachusetts that I love, and I will be graduating in May 2019.

I’ve spent time as the Vice President of the Student Occupational Therapy Association there, did an independent study, and my clinical fieldwork placments were in outpatient pediatrics with animal-assisted therapy and inpatient neuro rehab. During level II fieldwork, I decided to start an occupational therapy blog and that has allowed me to connect with many students and professionals and even observe various clinicians to help me narrow down where I’d want to end up. 

My journey has been amazing and have had a lot of diverse experiences throughout! Most notably, I do believe my role as a big sister and understanding the client and family side of things has truly helped me become a better future professional. 

What do you hope for in the future regarding OT?

I really hope that “trauma-informed practice” becomes a norm that everyone is extensively trained in as much as you learn about ADLs or common diagnoses mentioned in education. I hope to be a part of that change by creating trauma-informed trainings for schools and practices, and eventually opening my own pediatric practice. I’m sure I’ll probably go back to teach at some point as well. 

Do you have a clinical story you’d like to share?

I’m sure I could share many stories that make me laugh (because, children), but I think the most interesting thing about my fieldwork was the nature of my first setting.

At my first rotation, I was placed at a small animal-assisted/hippotherapy pediatric OT practice for the summer that was absolutely wonderful. Kids, dogs, horses, and occupational therapy? What else could a girl need??

It was interesting because I learned how to incorporate the dogs and horses into sessions, saw the differences the animals made and how they positively impacted the children, and really just the value of emerging practice areas in occupational therapy.

The site I was with also contracted with a youth residential facility that was essentially an alternative placement to incarceration, so it was especially interesting to see how the dogs played a role in that population, too. I’m so grateful that I got to experience that firsthand.

What is your number one piece of advice for future OT students and practitioners?

For students, I would say the most important thing is to be proactive in your own life and education.

If you know there is an area or population you are interested in, volunteer with an institution working with that population one day a week or on breaks during school. If there is some place you’d be interested in working upon graduation, take a trip, shadow, and make connections. If there is something you don’t understand in school, go to your professors for extra resources or one-on-one assistance.

You have the ability to shape your own future with hard work, dedication, and putting yourself out there. If you don’t ask, the answer will always be no! 

This guest post is part of an OTinsight series #OTStoriesFromTheField.

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