OTA Student Pushes on Through Pandemic to Complete Program, Graduate
In January, as the new spring semester began, Katelyn McKinney was like thousands of other college and high school students: counting down the months until a May graduation ceremony and excited about all the activities leading up to that special day.
Likewise, her classmates also were completing their fieldwork requirements and found themselves unable to continue when their sites closed, and Kent State no longer permitted them to continue their fieldwork because of COVID-19 concerns.
McKinney and her classmates missed the May graduation, but. because Robert Bycroft is contracted for occupational therapy services with East Liverpool City Hospital, McKinney was able to return to her fieldwork at the hospital on June 15. As a result, she met the requirements for the August graduation and received her associate of applied science degree in the OTA program.
OTA’s work under the supervision of an occupational therapist and help evaluate and treat individuals with injuries, illnesses, cognitive impairments, physical disabilities and other disorders of conditions. It’s a hands-on discipline and the precautions that resulted from COVID-19 often made it difficult to perform all the necessary duties.
“In fieldwork, there were many increased safety procedures to keep everyone safe,” McKinney shared. “Not only did it cost time and resources, but it was very difficult to communicate with staff and especially patients through a mask and face shield. I had to work much harder to make those vital connections with my patients because they were unable to see my facial expressions and, at times, unable to hear my instructions.”
McKinney said that while the hospital was treating COVID patients, she felt safe and did not risk her health treating them.
“To limit the number of people exposed to COVID patients, only the occupational therapist treated them. It still affected the mood of the staff to know that patients were suffering behind closed doors,” she said.
“Little did the COVID patients know that they had a support system rooting for them throughout the entire hospital. It was also challenging to see patients suffer from the effects of being unable to see their friends and families. Visitors were prohibited for the majority of my fieldwork experience and the connections made with patients became even more important than they were before.”
McKinney feels well prepared to begin her career as an OTA because of the challenges she faced to earn her degree and because of the high standards set by Kent State’s OTA program.
“I have learned to adapt in ways I never thought possible and will be a better practitioner for it,” she said. “I was exposed to a wide variety of topics and options that our field has to offer. I was also able to expand my communication skills and make tough decisions, and I made connections with people who helped me grow and succeed.
“The world has changed so much this year and I know many are struggling. Long term, I hope to find a job that not only helps support my family, but one that I love. I have always had a passion for the geriatric population and would be so happy to work with them.”
Graduation is not the only milestone event that was delayed for McKinney in 2020. She also postponed getting married.
For future OTA students, McKinney offered this advice: “Always be prepared and ready to ask questions. Take advantage of the resources and opportunities provided to you. Even when it is challenging, you will make it through it. Keep studying and pushing yourself in new ways. Be confident and ready to get hands-on. Finally, don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it.”
McKinney is a Boardman native and graduated from Boardman High School. She is the daughter of Robert and Darlene McKinney. Her brother, Matthew, is a teacher in Cincinnati.
Cutline A: Katelyn McKinney trying out a therapeutic swing at the American Occupational Therapy Association’s national conference in New Orleans.
Cutline B: During one of her fieldwork experiences, Katelyn McKinney helped decorate the gym at the Lawrence County C.A.R.E.S. Center for a carnival she and fellow students hosted.
Cutline C: OTA students Ryan Bost and Katelyn McKinney presented their community-based project at the Ohio Occupational Therapy Association’s state conference.
Cutline D: Katelyn McKinney and her cat, Griff.