Katelyn Kiermaier, MSOT/S 2013
What advantages does WUOT offer you that other programs don’t offer?
I think one of the main advantages of the Program in Occupational Therapy at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is that it offers a special balance between research and clinical work. Research is such an important part of everything we learn from day one, but the program also manages to keep a focus on clinical application of what we’re learning. I think this balance helps keep the Program’s students at the top of our field.
I also think our program is unique in that we began learning clinical skills right off the bat. When we did our first Level I fieldwork, many of my friends were told by their fieldwork coordinators that they knew as much as some 2nd or 3rd year students (and this is when they were 1st semester 1st year students). I think this goes to show the strength of the program in preparing us for clinical work.
The cadaver lab is such a great way for occupational therapy students to learn hands on. Reading about a muscle in a book is so different from getting in there with your hands and figuring out, “Okay, if this muscle attaches here and inserts here, why would it move the way it does?” The learning experience of cadaver lab is truly remarkable, and while some students are squeamish going into it, by the end no one wanted to stop!
Why did you choose WUOT?
When I came to Washington University in St. Louis and took a tour of the program, I was so sure I was going to attend here that I bought a sweatshirt at the bookstore that day (and I hadn’t even been to visit any of the other programs I was accepted into yet!). I was that sure that the Program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis was the place for me. When I visited, I got an immediate sense of the academic excellence of the Program, and I also got a clear sense of how dedicated the faculty are (as well as equally dedicated students). These factors all made the choice an easy one for me, and I have never looked back on that decision.
What can you say about the quality of education you are receiving?
Honestly, I can’t say enough about the academic excellence of the Program. Every day, I am surrounded my students who care about what we’re learning because everything we learn will make us better occupational therapists when we finish this program, and the faculty strive to make every learning experience valuable to us. There is no such thing as “busy work” in this program, because everything we do is designed to have clinical or research value, and I think the program is very successful in that regard. When I visited other schools, I didn’t feel like students were as motivated to learn and to succeed as clinicians as the Washington University in St. Louis students I met on my tour.
What is the learning atmosphere like? (people, resources provided, attitudes of faculty and staff, approach to teaching, quality of mentorship relationships, etc.)
The learning atmosphere is incredibly collaborative. I think my faculty mentor, Kathy Kniepmann, OTD, MPH, EdM, OTR/L, says it best when she describes the phenomenon of students learning from faculty and faculty simultaneously learning from students. The faculty are also always striving to make sure that we are presented with the most cutting edge material. Furthermore, the information that we are given is always presented by an expert from that field, which really keeps us on the forefront of knowledge. For example, if we are having an audiology lecture, it will be from an audiologist from the Med School. I think this is really indicative of the high level of academic excellence here at the Program.
I also cannot say enough about the quality of the mentor relationships. My lab mentor, who is also Dr. Kniepmann, is so wonderful at making me feel engaged, challenged, and supported not only in the research process, but also as a student and a person as a whole. I had an unfortunate experience with my undergraduate faculty mentor, and the strength of the faculty relationships has definitely reaffirmed my confidence in the power of faculty relationships to help students feel valued and supported.
What do you like best about attending WUOT?
As trite as it may sound, I really love everything about the Program! I sometimes joke that I feel like I am the poster child for this program, because I have loved every moment of my education here thus far, and I wouldn’t change a thing about my experience. I think what I love the most is the sense of pride I get from being part of such a prestigious program, and knowing that when I graduate and go off into the world I am going to be so well-prepared for clinical work and to succeed as an occupational therapist.
As a group, how would you describe your classmates?
We are really an incredibly diverse group of students, which is one of the great things about being part of a larger program! We have students who are in 3-2 programs who just finished their senior year of college, and then we also have students who are middle age and are coming back to occupational therapy as a second (or even third) career. We have students from literally every corner of the country (from Maine to Florida to Hawaii to Washington). We also have students from every conceivable educational background: from the more standard psychology or exercise physiology majors to theater majors and accounting majors and even creative writing majors like I was, there is just such diversity in what we bring to the classroom experience, which is so valuable. What I find so inspiring is that all of us, no matter where we came from or what we did before, were drawn to occupational therapy and want to help people with the occupations that are valuable to them, and this is a really powerful commonality with the occupational therapy classes at Washington University in St. Louis.
What do you like best about your classmates?
I think what I like best about my classmates is that every single one of us wants to be the best occupational therapist we can be. I know this sounds cheesy, but a girl who I spoke to on my initial tour of the Program said that to me, and I have found it to be completely true. The passion that we all bring to this field and to learning is really inspiring, and even outside the classroom my classmates are always helping, learning, and reaching out to others.
How would you describe the faculty?
The faculty are truly experts in their fields. They are also incredibly diverse in the backgrounds that they come from, including social work and biomechanics, which really speaks to the history of occupational therapy and how it emerged from several distinct disciplines. The faculty are also engaged in their own research, which is exciting to witness and be a part of in lab experiences. They are motivating, personable, and they truly care about the learning experiences of their students.
What do you like best about the faculty?
What I really value about the faculty is how accomplished they are. I can’t tell you how many times I’m reading along in a textbook or a research article and I recognize one of our professor’s names. I think this is such a testament to the strength of the faculty here, and I’m so honored to be working among such accomplished individuals.
What about the school do you most want prospective students to know?
I think it’s important for prospective students to know that there is a reason The Program in Occupational Therapy at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis is consistently rated one of the top occupational therapy programs in the country. There is not a day that goes by while I am in this program that I am not aware of academic excellence here, and I think the reputation that this program has is testament to that.
What do you think of living in St. Louis?
I have been really pleasantly surprised to find out that I love living in St. Louis! I was living in a larger metropolitan area before I moved here, and I really wasn’t so sure initially, but I just wanted to move somewhere new and try something outside my bubble. St. Louis has really been a terrific surprise; there is always something to do here and so many things are free! My favorite thing about St Louis is definitely Forest Park which is half a block from my apartment, and in the park there are running and biking trails, a fantastic zoo, weekly outdoor concerts, an art museum, a science museum, and a history museum…ALL FREE! For someone like me living on a grad school budget, it is so nice to have things to do that are fun and don’t cost a lot, and that is one thing about St. Louis that I really love.
What degree are you pursuing?
In what year will you receive your degree?
What do you plan to do after graduation?
One of the things I love about this program is how I keep gaining interest in more and more areas of occupational therpay as time goes on. When I started the program last year, I thought that I wanted to work in pediatrics, but I had a really remarkable fieldwork experience on a brain injury floor of an in-patient rehab program, and it really changed the trajectory of my education. I now see myself working with brain injury in the future, which I never could have predicted at the start of this program, and I can’t wait to be exposed to even more areas of occupational therapy as I continue on with the program.