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Quick-thinking occupational therapy student earns high praise in clinicals

Amanda GagnonOct. 28, 2019

The patient, an elderly woman in her mid- to late-80s, suffered from such severe wrist pain she could no longer swing a golf club, a pastime she enjoyed for years with her two sons.

She had sustained a fracture, which forced her to seek treatment at the Avalon StoneRidge Health Center in Stonington, CT, where a chance encounter with Community College of Rhode Island occupational therapy student Amanda Gagnon helped her rediscover the joy of her favorite leisure activity.

Gagnon, a Coventry RI, native in her first semester of clinicals as part of CCRI’s Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant program, used utensil grip and duct tape to modify the club to fit her patient’s grip. With the patient finally able to hold the club properly and swing pain-free, she resumed her normal lifestyle while allowing her hand and wrist to heal properly.

Gagnon’s quick thinking earned her high praise from the staff at Avalon, who applauded her for “carefully listening to the patient’s needs and concerns” and “placing the desires of the resident at the forefront.”

“These are the skills you need in real life in this profession,” Gagnon said. “We practice them in the lab and practice on each other, so these are all things we have to do on the spot, on the job, but it’s nice to refine the skills we learned ahead of time and utilize them when we do go out into the field.”

Gagnon has fine-tuned her ability to think outside the box for the past year and a half in CCRI’s COTA program at the Newport County Campus. She enrolled at CCRI in 2015, a year after graduating the University of Rhode Island with her bachelor’s degree in Health Administration. After waitressing for nearly six years, both in college and after graduation, she accepted a position as a Claims Follow Up rep with Lifespan, but decided she wanted to work more closely with patients instead of a traditional office job.

“I’m a people person,” Gagnon said, “and I realized I would be more productive out in the field than sitting behind a desk.”

Gagnon continued to work full time while taking part-time classes at CCRI until she fully enrolled in the college’s COTA program in 2018. She has since transitioned to a once-a-week, part-time job as a Behavioral Health Specialist at Providence’s Bradley Hospital, where she works with autistic children, handling everything from scheduling day-to-day events to organizing structured activities.

While there are plenty of options for employment in the healthcare industry, Gagnon chose occupational therapy because she enjoys making personal connections with her clients and following their progress from beginning to end.

“If a patient has a stroke, you can work with them from when they have the stroke up until however long it takes for them to progress to the point where they finally become more independent,” Gagnon said. “Or, with children, you can start working with them when they’re young, and in two or three weeks you can see some improvement in their development. It’s rewarding. That’s what drew me to this field. I want to see that progression.”

CCRI was the perfect fit for Gagnon because of its affordability and flexibility. She took night courses for more than two years while working full time and is now taking five classes per semester in anticipation of graduating at the end of 2019. Working with OTA program director Linda Gatewood, an occupational therapist throughout New England for more than 30 years, has helped Gagnon make a smooth transition from the classroom to her clinicals.

“Linda is one of the most amazing, knowledgeable women I’ve ever met,” Gagnon said. “She gives you real-life examples from her own experiences. Some of them make you say, ‘Wow, that really happened?’ It’s nice that she gives us her life experiences, along with the dos and don’ts in the industry. She really gives us the knowledge and the personal, individualized attention we need to succeed in our clinicals.”

“It has been exciting to observe Amanda's growth,” Gatewood added. “Her enthusiasm for the profession continues to flourish as she moves through the OTA program. Amanda is a student who takes responsibility for her learning, which has contributed to the development of her clinical reasoning skills. That is how she problem-solved how to address the needs of her client. Our entire faculty is excited to see her further contributions to the profession upon graduation in December.”

Gagnon recently finished her eight-week clinical at Avalon, where she worked with patients dealing with a variety of issues from hip and knee replacements to those suffering from dementia or a stroke. She is now working her second clinical at Stonehill Elementary School in Rhode Island, again working with children, which is her ultimate goal once she graduates CCRI.

“This field offers so many opportunities,” Gagnon said. “I am thankful for the opportunity to work with children in this setting and thankful for the faculty at CCRI, who really have helped prepare myself and other occupational therapy students for these real-life experiences.” 

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