School is back in session, which recently prompted me to reflect back on the years I worked at a local elementary school. While I did enjoy my time there, I decided to expand my knowledge and look into something that has always interested me – pediatrics! Having a degree in early childhood education, 30+ years of experience working with young children, and several years in the health care field, I hoped that pursuing a job at a pediatric therapy center would suit me well. I am pleased to say that it has!
In February of 2015, I become a rehab tech at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU’s Stafford Therapy Center. This job has given me an opportunity to use the array of skills I have acquired over the years. I love the variety of tasks I am responsible for, and the fast-paced nature of my job keeps me on my toes. Each day at work feels like an adventure! Maintaining a safe, clean, organized environment is the primary role I play. I also order supplies for our center, create projects for the therapists, assist therapists with their patients and cover the front desk as needed. Helping with patient needs that arise, and aiding with therapy sessions is by far my favorite part of my job!
While there are therapy facilities around the local area, what sets us apart from other sites, according to Alison Meletis, M.S. CCC-SLP, manager of Stafford Therapy Center, is that, “we offer speech, occupational, and physical therapy to children aged birth to 21 years of age, all under one roof. This allows for great collaboration amongst families and therapists to join forces to create the best treatment plans for our patients. Often times, therapy can be hard work for our patients and we find creative ways to make therapy enjoyable, motivating, rewarding, and successful!”
The rehab tech position I hold covers numerous aspects. I work hard to anticipate the needs of the patients and therapists. By gathering supplies and materials for therapy sessions, I help to keep our clinic running smoothly and efficiently. I am available to help transfer patients from their wheelchairs to therapy swings or other locations within our center, and then support them while the therapists facilitate the activities they have planned for their sessions. I love seeing the patients learn new skills while reaching the goals that are set for them. Not too long ago, a patient began walking for the first time in the gym where his physical therapy session took place. I cried along with the mother as she saw her son take his first steps! It was a moment I will always remember.
Kristen McBee, PT, DPT, shares that her focus during physical therapy sessions is to improve overall functional mobility and help each child rise to their individual potential. “By finding out the individual needs of the patients and families I work with, I provide tools necessary to meet those needs. It could be developing a new skill (sitting, crawling, standing or walking), providing equipment needs in the home (bath chairs, wheelchairs, gait trainers or walkers), or returning to sport after a concussion. My overall goal is to make the sessions fun, while teaching the kids and families how to promote development at home through enjoyable activities and exercises," she says.
In my role as a tech, often I am asked to play board games, hold toy pieces to encourage the children to reach for them, and blow bubbles as a way to distract and/or engage the patients as they do the hard work of therapy. My sensitivity and compassion are utilized as I hold conversations, laugh, and simply listen to children and parents talk about their lives. I instinctively comfort them when they are hurting or upset, as do the kind therapists that I work with.
I admire the knowledge that my coworkers have, and respect the level of care they provide to each patient they see. Kelly Williams, M.S. CCC-SLP, says, “In addition to teaching children to verbally communicate, I also work with teaching alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) to children with motor and physical limitations which impede their ability to verbalize. Several of my patients use dynamic AAC devices, which are tablet based and have pictures that represent words. When the child presses the desired icon, the device verbalizes the word aloud. The largest benefit to this device is the decrease in frustration exhibited by nonverbal children; they can now effectively communicate with others throughout their environment."
For each and every child and family that comes through our doors, my team and I strive to provide compassionate care to meet the needs they have. When asked what one of the most rewarding parts of working with pediatric patients is, Samantha Parker, M.S., OTR/L, replied, “I love seeing how excited and proud the kids are of themselves when they learn a new skill during their occupational therapy sessions. When they fasten buttons or tie shoes on their own that very first time, their faces light up! I feel so lucky to get the chance to celebrate these successes with the kids and their families. Nothing else will put a smile on your face like dancing silly with a five year old!”
It is such a blessing to work for an organization that is making such a positive impact in our community. Our highly trained, loving staff creates a comfortable, healing experience as we treat the whole child and family, not just the illness or injury. I am able to see how exceptional care is provided, and it is fabulous to be a part of such an amazing team! I am glad I took a chance and stepped out in faith into a new career. I’ve gleaned so much from the families we serve and I appreciate all I’ve learned from the fantastic staff I currently work with. I look forward to all that is to come in the future!