JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-FORT SAM HOUSTON, Texas –
Army and Navy students in the Medical Education and Training Campus Occupational Therapy Assistant program held an open house at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston Dec. 10, 2021, to showcase their interactive class projects and explain how they are applicable in military rehabilitation.
Occupational therapy assistants, or OTAs, help individuals who struggle with everyday tasks, either due to injury or illness, by providing treatment to improve motor skills, balance, and coordination. OTAs can help anyone at any stage of life and work in settings such as skilled nursing facilities, school systems, children’s clinics, rehab facilities, and orthopedics.
In creating their projects not only do the students come up with an idea and design, but they create most of it by hand using tools and materials found in the OTA program’s carpentry workshop. The workshop is a laboratory where students learn therapeutic techniques that patients can use to increase tolerance to specific activities, improve motor control, and increase strength and balance. Woodworking is one such activity that can be used to treat OT patients.
The workshop is introduced to students as part of the Methods and Media section of the course during the fourth week of Phase 1, the instructional phase conducted primarily in the classroom and simulation laboratories. Phase 2 is the clinical, or hands-on, portion of the training that occurs in a medical treatment facility.
“Methods and Media have various therapeutic values that are essential in the lives of clients,” said Army Maj. Cheri Ruiz, OTA program director. “The students consider what their clients’ interests are, what the therapeutic goals are, and combine the two to enhance the clients’ rehab potential. OTA students no longer look at a craft as just a craft, but an actual experience that enhances a client’s capabilities.”
Ruiz explained that students work on their projects throughout the program and present them to senior METC and service component leadership during the last week of the program right before graduation.
“The students share the relevancy of their intervention for service members in rehabilitation; physical, cognitive and emotional,” said Ruiz. “They describe what client factors, performance skills and the occupations in the military their intervention would assist in facilitating independence with function.”
Army Sgt. Jazmin Johnson created a project for memory recall and finger dexterity aptly titled "Recall the Lights."
“It’s a fun little game,” Johnson said, in which small LED lights that change color on demand are attached to a strip hidden inside a plastic container. The container lid contains several rows of small holes through which the light can be seen. When Johnson activates the lights the holes light up a different color in a random sequence.
“We start with a five-light sequence with four colors. It can turn red, green, blue or white,” Johnson explained. “Once I show the patient the first five in sequence, I would turn off the color, and they would have to remember those first five colors and put the colored pegs in that same order. If they get the first five right they take out the pegs and we add two more.”
Johnson said that Recall the Lights is designed to help Soldiers with traumatic brain injury. Although her project will remain in the classroom for the next OTA class, she’d like to see the concept used in a clinical setting. “Hopefully when I get to my clinic I can create a game like this and make it more professional and be able to use it with active Soldiers.”
A variety of other rehabilitation projects were also on display. Spc. Ashtin Josey’s project, a puzzle that requires the patient to match a sequence of various-sized pegs into boards with corresponding holes, focuses on mental readiness.
“What you need in order to do something as simple as a puzzle, you’re going to need that cognitive processing, you’re going to use those fine motor skills, and hand-eye coordination,” Josey explained. "These are things we use every day in the military.”
Sgt. Chantel Brown wanted to incorporate a fun way to get patients to work on building their strength and finger dexterity. She created the Have a Slice of Pizza activity for her project.
“Who doesn’t love pizza,” Brown said. “We’re going to be focusing on applications of dressing, working, meal prep, and clean up. For the client factors, we want to focus on memory, joint mobility and muscle power.”
The object is to add “toppings” to the “pizza” by using either snaps or buttons, with buttons being more of a challenge.
“We’re going to use this to help the patient button their blouse back up, button their pants in the morning, maybe being able to button their kids’ clothes,” said Brown, adding that it will help patients build the strength and mobility in their fingers they need to perform a variety of tasks.
The open house helps prepare the students to assist occupational therapists with providing health-related services, Ruiz said. “This is an opportunity to combine theory with practice and demonstrate the students’ overall understanding and application of occupational therapy.”