Serving Those Who Served: A Journey in Occupational Therapy with Veterans
by Luc Leech, MOT, OTR/L, DOR
This year at IOTA’s annual conference I was humbled and grateful to have received the Becki Stephens Excellence in Occupational Therapy Award. This award celebrates Occupational Therapy Practitioners (OTPs) who demonstrate the passion, dedication, creativity, and ethical character that makes them a valued team member, role model, and a respected provider to the communities they serve. As part of this honor, I have been given the opportunity to share some of my experiences, my mindset as an OTP, offer advice to my fellow OTPs that share a dedication to patient advocacy, and share my hopes for the future of this profession.
Over the last five years I have worked as an OTP, and now also as the Director of Rehab, at the Idaho State Veterans Home in Pocatello, Idaho. The facility serves as a short-term rehabilitation facility and long term care home for Veterans and their spouses who have served our country across the branches of the armed forces. In my role I have the privilege of working with Veterans from all different walks of life daily. This setting is unique in its own right, and it has taught me a lot about the resilience, determination, and strength of our Veterans.
My work primarily involves helping Veterans regain their independence and improve their quality of life. Many of them come to us facing various challenges, both physical and psycho-social, which demands creativity and patience when developing plans of care. Every day I see firsthand the impact of occupational therapy and how it can enhance the well-being of our residents.
To me, part of being an excellent OTP is not just about providing quality and evidence-based therapy, it’s about understanding and connecting with the wide variety of people that we serve. Here are some key aspects of my mindset:
- Empathy and Respect: I believe in treating every person I work with as an individual, with their own unique history, experiences, and needs. This means that I consciously approach each case knowing that the patient brings just as much value to the professional relationship as I do.
- Holistic Care: Exceptional OTPs recognize that a person’s well-being goes far beyond their physical health. We must consider the whole person, their environment, and the intersectionality between their mental and physical state— all while developing treatment plans to address how we can help them engage in their daily occupations.
- Continual Learning and Creativity: Staying up to date with the latest advancements in occupational therapy is vital. It facilitates OTPs being able to provide the best care possible to our patients while also allowing us to be able to educate the patient’s interdisciplinary team effectively. For me, staying up to date has included learning about a new robotic adaptive equipment that assists patients with variable needs to self-feed more independently. The device can be used in their own home or out at a restaurant. I’ve found that the patients I have trialed the device with are more excited to re-engaging independently in this daily activity while still affording them the flexibility of being in multiple social environments.
- Advocacy and Collaboration: I consider myself a strong advocate for my patients as well as other residents at the ISVH. I collaborate often with, physicians, nursing, patient families, and the Veterans themselves to ensure that they are receiving the care and support they both need and deserve during their time in ISVH.
- Remember Quality of Life: Above all, my mission is to improve the quality of life for our patients. This means finding creative ways to ensure that they can engage in activities they love, whether it’s fishing, gardening, or spending time with their families. Sometimes this can be challenging, but the reward of helping patients thrive is worth it.
I believe there is a strong need for the skilled application of the OTPs ability to observe, problem solve, and collaborate with patients across all healthcare settings. As Occupational Therapy continues to push the boundaries and exemplify how dynamic and multifaceted our profession can be, I am excited to see how OTPs will be at the forefront of championing each patient’s unique needs. I look forward to seeing our profession help expand the approach of improving the management of chronic health conditions, help create accessible homes and spaces that meet diverse needs, and lead the way on how to integrate developing technology into activities of daily living. Lastly, I hope that we can all keep our passion for this profession fueled. We must “practice what we preach” and take the time to engage in activities that we enjoy outside of work. If we are able to do this in conjunction with providing the highest quality of care, I’ve found that we can easily enjoy and celebrate the value that being an OTP can bring to our own lives as well as the lives of those we serve.