Anne Dickerson graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree from Temple’s occupational therapy program. She is a professor of occupational therapy at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, and is director of the university’s Research for the Older Adult Driver Initiative. Dickerson also serves as editor of the journal Occupational Therapy in Health Care.
What drew you to OT?
When I was young, I volunteered for a camp working with some children who were disabled, and I really liked it. I also liked arts and crafts. In the 1970s, occupational therapy focused a lot on mental health, crafts, helping people do things with their hands to get them back to the activities of everyday life. My mother encouraged me to look into OT, and by the time I was about 13 I’d decided that’s what I would be.
What were some of your most important challenges as a student?
Temple opened my eyes to many things. I think that still happens – I think many students get beyond their own experience. And OT is a profession that opens your eyes to others’ experience. Ruth Schemm [former Temple OT faculty] used to assign us to visit people in their homes. Another student and I went to see someone in Kensington and learn about their day-to-day experience. It was really significant for me because I learned to look at everyone as an individual.
How did your Temple education help you once you got out into the professional world?
I think it was a solid education, and it had a good reputation then as it does now. When I was living in Texas, somebody offered me a job because of the fact that I graduated from Temple (and because I had a good GPA). I’m always proud to put it on my resume, that I graduated from Temple.
What is it about the program that has given it such a good reputation?
For me it was the faculty – the way they taught, and the fact that they were so committed to occupationally based education. When I was a student, and into the 1980s, many programs were going for the medical model of occupational therapy. The difference at Temple was that OT wasn’t doing exercises or range of motion – it was primarily about the activities that a client can do. Everything we did was about helping people do what they need and what they want to do. And there was a lot of communication – we did a lot of activities and classwork that demanded that we be good communicators. Now I look back and say, gosh, look how lucky I was.
In your experience, what makes a great OT?
Communication and commitment. This is another thing that my teachers at Temple really impressed upon me. They were such committed people, and I was always amazed at how they could interact with patients and with students.
Does that commitment also show up as support for students?
Absolutely. I was doing fieldwork in a rehab unit at Good Shepherd Rehab Hospital in Allentown [Pennsylvania], and I was struggling with the emotional strain that can come with working every day with people with physical disabilities. Helen Hopkins came to visit me and showed me how to work with the client, which itself was very unusual – students don’t typically get visits from their teachers during fieldwork placements. And I was truly amazed at how she worked with the client and with me. She was such a gifted therapist.