Katerina Kucerova currently works at Visiting Nurse Service of NY (VNSNY) as a Team Leader in the Rehabilitation Services Department. She received her master’s in occupational therapy (OT) at Columbia University in 2003. Prior to that, she received her bachelor of science in health and exercise science from Wake Forest University in 1999. Prior to graduate school, she had worked for several years as an Exercise Physiologist in New York City.
When did you first decide to become an OT? Why?
I graduated from undergraduate school with a BS in health and exercise science and had never heard of OT before. Once I started working as an exercise physiologist, I researched health care fields and came across OT. The field made so much sense to me. Everything just clicked! My grandfather had multiple sclerosis, and although he could walk, he had given up emotionally and stopped doing things for himself, eventually losing his functional independence. He would have benefited significantly from OT in order to stay independent and have a more fulfilling life.
How/why did you choose the OT school you went to?
I had applied to two schools in Manhattan: NYU and Columbia University. I chose Columbia University because the program was a master of science degree and was part of the medical school. I really liked the research component of the program, as well as the option of doing a three year degree in combination with a master’s in public health. I absolutely loved Columbia University, especially for the great education I’ve received.
What surprised you the most about OT studies/school?
How challenging the program was surprised me at first. In the end, OT studies made sense since all of the classes had one root. They all worked toward a common goal. Every class was linked to the next, and all the knowledge acquired prepared OT students to be competent entry-level occupational therapists.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become an OT? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
Definitely! I really enjoy the field and appreciate the flexibility it allows. You can work in many different environments and in various capacities. Anytime you want to be challenged, you can apply for a slightly different role, especially at VNSNY where the staff has access to amazing career ladders. OT has endless options for a long and fulfilling career.
Has being an OT met your expectations? Why?
Yes it has met my expectations. I was hoping to make a difference in my patients’ lives and I believe I have achieved that expectation.
What do you like most about being an OT?
One of my favorite aspects of being an OT is the various hats I get to wear on a daily basis. Every client is different, and every case is unique in the way you approach it. You have the opportunity to meet many different types of people from all walks of life.
What do you like least about being an OT?
One of the difficult things for me as an OT is that I get attached to some patients and their families. That makes it difficult when it comes time to discharge my patients and say goodbye.
How did you decide to work in home health care?
After working in a hospital setting and a rehab setting, I decided I had acquired enough knowledge to work in a more independent setting. Home health care, in my opinion, is OT in its purest form. You are treating the patient in their natural environment.
Describe a typical day at work.
I am now in a supervisory position and although I still see patients regularly. I spend a good part of my day reviewing case placements and charts, and leading and supporting my team of therapists on a daily basis. When I am in the field, I perform OT evaluations and treatments, and document patient care on my tablet computer.
What kinds of activities do you engage in with your clients? What about the parents?
I work with adults one-to-one in the home environment where we engage in ADLS, transfers, home exercise programs, safety and falls prevention, community re-integration, and environmental assessments. Treating patients in the home allows you to work on patient-driven goals in their natural and most comfortable environment.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
In my current role at VNSNY, I work a regular 9-5 type of schedule. I am home at 5pm everyday, so finding free time is not an issue. VNSNY provides me with four weeks of vacation every year. It’s great and I try to take every hour allotted!!
Are you satisfied with your income?
Yes. This is not a field you go into for the money, but despite that, the income is enough to live on very comfortably.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
I am lucky enough not to have loans, but colleagues and friends of mine who do find it is not a problem to pay the low monthly payments.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
Don’t race into the future. When I was a new graduate, I always wished I was more experienced and had more years under my belt. Looking back, I wish I had enjoyed those first years more – learning, asking more questions, and experiencing as much as I could.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning OT studies/school?
I wish I had taken advantage of the combined MS/MPH program at Columbia. I would now have a master’s in public health allowing me have even more options with my OT degree.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
As a healthcare practitioner, I find it challenging to treat patients within the reimbursement rules. Often patients cannot afford equipment that is not covered by insurance, or they do not receive more authorization for additional visits. Luckily, VNSNY has a program that provides free care to such patients, allowing them to receive necessary services and equipment.
Where do you see OT in 10 years?
I’m really hoping that in 10 years the general public will have more awareness of the field – right now most people are not educated about OT. With continued work on state and federal legislature, we will continue to be an integral part of the rehab team.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I have done a few volunteer projects including Big Brother/ Big Sister and a 2-week medical trip to Haiti with Healing Hands for Haiti. They were both wonderful experiences that have enriched my career.
Do you have family? Do you have enough time to spend with them?
I am married and have a baby on the way, and have plenty of time to spend with them and my extended family.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing OT as a career?
My one piece of advice to students is to continue to be hopeful for all of your patients. Never look at someone and say to yourself that there is nothing you can do. You can always make a difference, whether it’s big or small. Even if a patient can do nothing else but wash their own face, it will be a great gain for their dignity and sense of self worth.