Meet Emily Mock. Emily is a third-year student in Drake's Occupational Therapy Doctorate (OTD) program. In her last year at Drake, Emily had the opportunity to complete a fieldwork experience at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, TN.
When I was first applying to college I always thought I wanted to do Nursing (fitting as my mom is a Rehab Nurse). I applied to many of the top Nursing schools and accepted a spot in the Nursing program at the University of Missouri. After two and a half years of Nursing school, sitting at home during Thanksgiving break, I had a moment where I realized I wanted to switch my major. I loved the medical side of Nursing, however, I wanted to work in a field where I could let my creativity prosper, while also still using my passion to help individuals across the lifespan. During Winter Break of that year, I came home to Chicago and observed a Physical Therapist, a Speech Therapist, and an Occupational Therapist. While shadowing the Occupational Therapist on an inpatient rehabilitation floor there was a spark and I knew right away this is what I was meant to do. I had the opportunity to continue observing Occupational Therapists in different settings. Then, I worked as a rehab aide for MU Therapy Services, an outpatient pediatric clinic and at Athletico Physical Therapy where my love for this field and the passionate people I would get to call my co-workers grew. By my senior year of college, I knew without a doubt and no regrets that Occupational Therapy was the place for me.
There are so many areas of occupational therapy that I still feel drawn to, so it is hard to narrow down exactly what I would like to do post-graduation; however, at this point, I would love to be able to work with the oncology population. Ideally, I would love to work for a large hospital that specializes in oncology or has a well-developed oncology division where I could conduct research related to this population.
I completed my Level II B fieldwork experience at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. St. Jude was founded by Danny Thomas in 1962 with the belief that “no child should die in the dawn of life”. With this premise in mind, St. Jude treats children battling childhood cancers, as well as sickle cell anemia and HIV/AIDS without charging patients or families for any of the state-of-the-art care provided. Since opening its doors, St. Jude has raised the survival rate for childhood cancer from 20 percent to 80 percent. Also, all research that is completed at St. Jude is available to the public so institutions across the world can use the protocols developed at St. Jude.
My experience at St. Jude was based in a hospital setting. I was able to see children in the inpatient setting, “outpatient” setting (these children were still living at St. Jude in short/long term housing facilities on campus and were actively receiving treatment and coming to the rehab department to get services every day), and true outpatient children (traveling from all over the world to get follow up scans once every month to once every year and anywhere in-between).
A typical day at St. Jude meant arriving on campus at 7:15 am to begin chart review. This was a very critical component to my day, as undergoing chemotherapy, radiation, and other treatments can alter a child’s status, blood values, and vitals quickly. At 8 am, we would begin seeing patients. On average, we saw 8 to 14 patients per day. If a child was there for a treatment session the session would last 30 minutes; however, evaluations take roughly an hour to complete. In treatment sessions, I had the freedom to be very creative to enhance the meaningfulness and cater to the needs of the specific child. A few memorable treatment sessions include: decorating cupcakes, making slime (countless times), building a Mr. Potato Head to resemble Batman, and going on a hospital-wide scavenger hunt. I would finish my day by documenting and billing for all the therapy completed that day.
I felt during the didactic coursework I was provided a very strong base of pediatric knowledge both in the classroom and through hands-on experiences. Although at the time the rigorous expectations to be successful in these courses felt overwhelming, this provided an amazing foundation to support my learning at St. Jude. During labs, I was given the freedom to explore creative ideas for interventions for a wide array of diagnoses, which I was able to apply to the population I treated throughout my fieldwork experience. Additionally, I felt I was prepared holistically for fieldwork experiences through unique out of the classroom experiences. A specific experience that stands out was a project we completed in collaboration with Headstart. My classmate and I put together morning activities to engage with an entire preschool classroom (2-3-year-olds). This experience allowed us to use the creativity that drew me to this profession, as well as enhanced confidence in interacting with this age group.
The nature of St. Jude has the potential to be one of the hardest places in the world to be; however, from the moment you step foot on campus, it would be clear that no one there is going to let cancer win or let anyone take their journey alone. With this mentality, I learned that going the extra mile to make a patient’s day can provide the comfort they need to know they are not alone, build rapport, and provide more meaningful treatments.
What stands out to me the most about St. Jude was the culture and community that everyone on campus has built. It was very apparent that every single employee and volunteer wanted to be at St. Jude every day. From the sweet security guard who opened the gate for me each day to some of the top surgeons in the world, they all made me and each patient feel welcome, and like we belonged there as part of the St. Jude family. I spent most of my time in the rehabilitation department, which has created a community of their own. I felt valued as a student and the therapists from every discipline took the time to learn who I was and valued my opinions throughout my entire 12-week rotation. This type of interdisciplinary communication and collaboration set the bar very high as I look for a future career.
One of my favorite memories during my time at St. Jude was Halloween. This holiday is taken very seriously by all St. Jude employees and patients. In the morning, each department dresses up and participates in “reverse trick or treat” visiting the patient’s rooms who were unable to meander the halls of the hospital. Then, in the afternoon, the hospital is transformed into a maze of booths decorated by each department to fit the theme of their costumes (which are all flawlessly made and over the top). The patients form a line and navigate their way around to each booth, while also dressed up. Everyone was smiling and laughing, and just enjoying a typical holiday.
I chose to attend Drake because as I was applying and interviewing at different programs throughout the country the interview process at Drake was vastly different and unique. From the second I arrived on campus I felt welcomed by everyone. The interview process addressed my abilities and strengths beyond just my ability to perform in the classroom. Leaving interview day, I knew I had already met some of my lifelong friends and future coworkers (and of course, Griff, sealed the deal). I felt very passionately that Drake’s core values aligned with mine and I knew that being able to represent Drake in the field of occupational therapy would be something to be proud of while out in the community. Additionally, the urban feel of Drake’s campus provided opportunities to engage in activities outside of the classroom. For example, as Des Moines is the capital of Iowa, we were able to lobby for our profession on multiple occasions to promote occupational therapy and issues regarding our areas of practice.
While I learned a great deal through classroom lectures and the expertise of each of my professors, I learn best through hands-on experiences. During nearly every class the professors arranged countless community-based experiences to enhance our learning. I am very grateful for these opportunities, as they provided a safe space to apply what we were learning in the classroom to real practice settings. Through these experiences, we were provided constructive feedback which has helped us to further refine our skills and prepare to meet our future career goals.
Throughout my time at Drake, I was able to work for Drake Recreation and Athletics as a Lifeguard, Swim Instructor, and Open Rec Monitor. As a lifeguard, I was awarded Aquatics Employee of the Year for both 2018 and 2019. As an occupational therapy student, I was elected to represent my cohort as a Student Governance Association representative during my O2 and O3 academic years. Additionally, I was selected to serve on the Admissions Committee for the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences during my O2 academic year. As a part of this role, I was able to assist during the interview process and training volunteers. Academically, my research study completed by myself, my classmates Callie Brown, Mariah Roe, and Lindsey Schulz, our professor Dr. Kelsee Hove, and local Physical Therapist Dr. Jillian Jones, was accepted as a poster at the American Occupational Therapy Annual Conference in Boston, Massachusetts in March of 2020. Lastly, I was inducted Pi Theta Epsilon, a national honor society for students enrolled in accredited programs.
My favorite Drake OT memory was advocating at the Capitol with the Epilepsy Foundation of Iowa. My classmates and I worked all semester to advocate for this foundation and to conclude our work, we joined the organization’s Hill Day event. During this event, we participated in virtual reality seizure simulators and discussed the pertinent issues affecting the 1 in 26 individuals who experience seizures and seizure disorders with senators and house representatives. At the end of the day, we all gathered in Iowa Governor Kim Reynold’s office as she signed a proclamation to officially mark the day as End Epilepsy Day in Iowa.
Outside of the OTD program, I loved being able to work as a student employee. I developed so many lifelong friendships and created memories that I will carry with me in my future. I had mentorship and support from the pro staff that helped guide me academically, professionally, and personally.
You are going to be surrounded by such passionate and caring individuals: take the time to learn and grow from them, and get to know them well. Do not be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and join new groups around campus, and most importantly be sure to make new friends. Grad school can be hard but with the right group of people supporting you will have so much more fun and make memories in and out of the classroom. My time at Drake was made so much more enjoyable by the tight bonds I formed with my classmates, my peers in SGA, and my Drake Rec Services family.