- Associated Press - Saturday, March 4, 2017

CRYSTAL LAKE, Ill. (AP) - Michelle Hascup arrived this week at McHenry County College in a wheelchair, and then with her arm in a sling a few days later.

However, the MCC student was not in an accident, nor were her legs and arms broken. Hascup was assigned to those items for 24-hour periods as part of her occupational therapy assistant class.

“It was to put us in the mind frame of what our patients go through,” Hascup said. “It just opens your eyes and (you) realize, ‘How do I change this for my patient and help them accomplish a task?’ “

With the health care industry surging, MCC is training future health care workers in high-demand careers, such as through its OTA program.

MCC’s two-year OTA degree program trains students to work in a variety of health care settings, including at hospitals, nursing homes, clinics, private homes and school environments.

Hascup is in her third semester in the program and plans to graduate in December with an associate in applied science degree in OTA.

“I was looking for a career I could make a difference in my life as well as others’,” Hascup said. “So I found occupational therapy, saw MCC had an assistant program and applied.”

After Hascup graduates, the 26-year-old McHenry resident said she needs to take a certification exam.

“Our graduates have a great pass rate for the national exam they take to be certified occupational therapy assistants,” said Terri Berryman, interim associate vice president of Career, Technical and Workforce Education at MCC.

According to the National Board of Certification for Occupational Therapy, MCC’s December 2015 OTA graduates surpassed the national average for the certification exam scores with an average of 509.

“The majority of our graduates either get full-time or part-time work right after they graduate, depending on what they are looking for,” Berryman said. “We’re one of the only occupational therapy assistant programs in the area, so we have high demand for that program, and most of our graduates land jobs in the community.”

OTA classes average about 16 students and are led by MCC instructor Becky Smith, who also is an occupational therapist. The OTA classes consist of a mix of instruction, hands-on activities and fieldwork.

Smith said the two-year program starts with OTA students getting three semesters of in-class instruction.

“Throughout those semesters, they also get fieldwork experience where students actually go out and work with some in occupational therapy or a related profession,” Smith said. “And then the fourth semester they actually go out for longer fieldwork where they are with an occupational therapist and the students act as interns.”

Smith said her classes consist of a lot of simulations, such as trying to get dressed while wearing a sling, so the students can teach what they learn to their future patients.

“Occupational therapy is focused on function, such as everyday things that we do like dressing, eating, toileting, driving,” Smith said. “When someone has a disability, they’re not able to do as much as they hope to. So our goal is to figure out how we can fix the situation, change the environment or introduce equipment to them so they can still function and be as independent as they want to be.”

For those who want to learn more about the program, the next OTA informational session will be at 5 p.m. Feb. 28 in Room E217 at MCC.

“The health care industry is a great market right now, and it’s very fulfilling if you’ve got the heart for helping others,” Smith said.

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Source: The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald, https://bit.ly/2lDHK2Q

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Information from: The Northwest Herald, https://www.nwherald.com


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