Occupational Therapy

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Occupational Therapy Spotlight

Meet Matt Schimek.  Matt is a third-year student in Drake's Occupational Therapy Doctorate program.  In his last year in the OTD program, Matt had the opportunity to complete his Doctoral Capstone at Drake University with one of our OTD faculty. 

Name:    Matt Schimek
Hometown:    Oswego, IL
Degree Program:    OTD, May 2020
Capstone Organization:    Drake University
Location:    Des Moines, IA
Type of Experience:    Program Development and Community Practice

Matt is from the southwest suburbs of Chicago where he attended Oswego High School. He then began his undergraduate academic career at Drake University and received a BA in Psychology in 2015; additionally, he was on the Drake Track and Field team and was enrolled in the ROTC program. Matt commissioned as an officer in the Army Reserves following graduation. Matt then worked full-time as a certified brain injury specialist at Community NeuroRehab of Iowa. Currently, he is a third-year Occupational Therapy Doctoral student and will graduate in May of 2020. Matt completed his Level IIA fieldwork experience at the VA Hospital in Des Moines, and his Level IIB fieldwork experience was at Dallas County Hospital with 21st Century Rehab in Perry, Iowa. His capstone is focused on driver rehabilitation, accessible gaming, and inclusive athletics.

What is it about Occupational Therapy that attracts you?  Why did you choose to pursue OT? 

When I graduated from Drake in 2015, I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do with my life; in fact, I am pretty sure I wanted to enroll in law school at some point. It turns out enjoying to argue about politics should not be the sole motivator behind attending law school. Fortunately, I was able to find a job at Community NeuroRehab where I thoroughly appreciated working as a brain injury specialist. While there, I was able to observe the importance and daily application of occupational therapy, and just like that, I found my career. I learned that Drake University would be offering an OTD program, and after finishing some prerequisites, it was a no brainer to apply and enroll after being admitted.

What are your professional goals as a future OT? 

Occupational therapy has many incredible areas of specialty, and it really is difficult to set your sights on just one. I never thought I wanted to work with children, but my pediatrics observation at the Youth Emergency Shelter and Services was one of my favorite Level I rotations. However, if I had to choose a dream job at this point, I suppose it would either be in driver rehabilitation (thanks to Dr. Wuebker) or hand therapy (thanks to Dr. Plutschack). Of course, I have my roots in brain injury rehabilitation, so that is always an option!

Tell us about your capstone experience at Dake University.  What were your responsibilities and what did a typical day/week look like?

My capstone site is rather unique; I am actually at Drake University, and my capstone is comprised of three distinct areas: driver rehabilitation, accessible gaming, and inclusive athletics. Completing my capstone at Drake University allowed me the opportunity to be mentored by Dr. Wuebker, specifically delve into the details of each idea, and learn more about program development. Furthermore, I had the freedom to research and advance accessible gaming for individuals in the community who otherwise would not have the opportunity to participate. I have been able to work with various community partners to promote the use of adaptive gaming equipment and determined a process to garner funding as well. Finally, Madeline Hanno and I created the Universal Blue Oval Invitational which is an event held during a collegiate-level track meet at Drake Stadium. Our goal with this awesome event has been to promote health and wellness as a universal concept through participation in an athletic experience for individuals of all abilities. Last year, we worked in collaboration with the Drake Relays committee to develop an awe-inspiring experience. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the original plan for the 2020 Universal Blue Oval Invitational was understandably dissolved, so we developed a completely virtual event.

One of the hard aspects of my capstone experience is that no day looks the same; I always begin each day with a plan and goals to achieve, but oftentimes I will need to adapt to certain responses or novel situations. Of course, this is also what makes my experience so enjoyable and rewarding. The changes that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic have only enhanced the challenging aspects of my capstone experience; however, I will always remain dedicated to accomplishing daily goals and fulfilling my vision.

How did Drake prepare you for your capstone experience?

Drake instilled the necessary confidence and trust within me to go forth with my unique capstone experience. Furthermore, many of the classes included in the curriculum enhanced my knowledge to better understand how to develop and adapt my ideas. Also, the fieldwork experiences were highly beneficial for furthering my professionalism and evolving my ability to nurture mutually reinforcing relationships with members of the community.

What was your biggest lesson from this fieldword experience?

It is perfectly acceptable to start before you are ready, and when you do not know something, go ahead and reach out to anyone who has the information. More than likely, they will be willing to share their knowledge. It has been so invigorating to reach out to experts around the country and learn from their experiences. Of course, I also realized that rejection is not the be-all and end-all; setbacks occur and I just needed to pivot while still remaining focused on my goals.

What was your favorite part of your capstone?

It was such a motivating experience to see my ideas come to fruition and cultivate genuine joy in people. There was one moment in particular that I will always hold dear, and it occurred when presenting the adaptive gaming equipment during the ALS Caregiver event. I had the opportunity to meet an individual who absolutely loved to play golf, and the reality of their diagnosis meant that enjoying golf, as he knew it, may not always be a possibility. However, the adaptive gaming equipment allowed this individual to still relish many aspects of golf while playing video games; it was such a pleasant surprise to observe them appreciate the realistic gameplay and picturesque scenery that adapted video games have to offer.

Why did you choose to attend Drake?

I trust Drake University. I trust the entire Drake community to help me bridge the gap between who I am and who I aspire to be. I completed my undergraduate degree at Drake and those four years were truly transformative. I was confident that Drake University would continue to instill confidence and empower me to become an influential professional in the field of occupational therapy.

How are your experiences at Drake helping you to pursue your career goals? 

There are many features of the program that assisted me in pursuing my career goals. The direct hands-on experiences are imperative for me to successfully transpire the classroom material into real-world, clinical application during my fieldwork experiences. Professors make a substantial effort to ensure a myriad of hands-hand practice, and it unquestionably makes a difference. Also, each professor includes comprehensive community engagement in all of their classes. I absolutely loved this aspect of the program, because seeing how classroom knowledge can be applied to service the community is inspiring. Finally, the mentorship offered by the professors and their willingness to foster your ingenuity while providing professional advice is a game-changer; it is the reason why Drake OT students possess the clear and commanding confidence to inspire change in their respective communities.

What are some of your accomplishments at Drake and in the OTD program?

During my first year, I was inducted into the OT Honor Society (Pi Theta Epsilon). I was especially gracious to have been selected to receive the 2019 Occupational Therapy Leadership and Professional Development Award. Above all though, the relationships I built with my classmates, professors, and community partners will forever be my most significant accomplishment.

Share a few things you've liked most about your time at Drake and in the OTD program.

Honestly, it is difficult to discern what my favorite memories are from the OTD program. It is funny how you try so hard to remember all the class material and yet those simple, unassuming moments of laughter during the time spent with classmates are the most memorable experiences. The collective togetherness was seriously awesome, and it is something I will miss most but always cherish.

What is one piece of advice you would give to future OT students?

I offered three important pieces of advice for the class of 2022 during their white coat ceremony and below is what I remarked:

  1. 11:58 pm is still technically early, and the pressure is way more fun.
  2. Enjoy your time as a graduate student.  Pay close attention and find joy in every lecture – it will be so worth it; there will come a moment during fieldwork when you wish you listened a bit more intently during class, trust me. Besides, you get to spend the majority of your day with like-minded, passionate individuals, who make you a better person; take advantage of this experience. Spark off-topic, genuine conversation during breaks; play Nintendo 64 during lunch. Please just enjoy yourselves, because I firmly believe that success emanates from happiness, not vice versa.
  3. And finally, never underestimate your purpose and the value of your knowledge. You may treat individuals whose lives have been dramatically altered. They may be residing in dim space, lacking hope; yet you desire to become an occupational therapist, in part, because of your willingness to join them in that space; an inspiring act of compassion and courage. What you will learn in the Drake OTD program is how to actively and effectively guide them out of that space - from hopeless to hopeful. That is valuable knowledge and truly a remarkable purpose.
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