Occupational therapy (OT) is a profession with a lot of options. Many OTs work in traditional settings such as hospitals, clinics, and schools. But one of CUW’s OT alumni is branching out and paving her own way.
Whitney Kees was recently recognized with The Society of Advancement for Gerontological Environments (SAGE)’s David A. Green Award, which supports individuals looking to “improve physical environments for older adults.” Take a look at her journey in this amazing profession called occupational therapy!
What led you to become an occupational therapist?
It was simple for me: I always share that I knew I wanted to be an OT since I was 8-years-old. Who even knows what an OT is at this age? This was because at 8-years-old, my Dad endured a farm accident that resulted in him losing two fingers on his dominant hand and nearly two years of hand therapy, which he always credited as being life changing. The man still farms, operating a successful dairy! Little did I know, God would use my Dad at that time to influence me to serve others in all the ways I have and aspire to with this career.
How did your education at Concordia University Wisconsin impact you?
Growing up attending an LCMS school and church helped to lead me to CUW. My value of faith grew when I experienced the joy, gratitude, and connection that came with attending “Haven Worship” on Sunday evenings; or the new playlist of contemporary Christian artists I came to know; or the three years of attending Camp ReStore with Dr. Paavoala and friends, rebuilding homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana. My foundation of faith was built upon by attending CUW, and I came to better understand it. Not to mention the several lifelong friends I’ll forever have and an amazing degree from the best OT school in the nation! Ok, that’s my opinion.
How did your professional journey in occupational therapy start (FW and new grad)?
I got my “dream” fieldwork experience with a very elite hand therapy group in northeast Wisconsin and enjoyed every minute of it. I dreamed of working there since my Dad’s accident. My second experience was in a setting I never dreamed of liking: acute care and inpatient rehab. That fieldwork landed me my first job where I came to discover new things about myself; I learned I can do hard things because there’s little that prepares you for how to act or what to say to a 56-year-old who endured a fatal car accident in which the spouse died on the scene. Or, how to ask what’s meaningful to a 44-year-old woman (and mother of three) who just got the diagnosis of stage 4 metastatic breast cancer. The scenarios go on. I’m sure there are similarities amongst all practice settings, but I began a ritual upon walking into that hospital every morning. It was a prayer in which I asked God to use my heart, hands, mind and mouth to serve these people as He would. He never failed me.
Fun fact: My first-born son, Jensyn, is named after an 18-year-old patient I worked with the summer I was 24 years old! His story of healing and recovery was remarkable!
How did COVID impact your professional well-being?
My career in the hospital setting during that time led me to become burned out. I acknowledge this. I had a young family at home. I was newly navigating my mom’s diagnosis of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s), at age 53. Patients and families were scared of recommendations to skilled nursing or senior living communities. Families were struggling to care for their spouse/loved on at home and home health was a questionable service; everyone including the interdisciplinary team could have benefited from mental health support. I could no longer create the change I wanted to see in the world. I felt so small and insignificant to the greater needs. I made the decision to resign after 6.5 years and ultimately pursued development of my own mobile, private practice, which refilled my cup.
What are you doing now? What are you planning for the future?
My private practice still exists in Northeast Wisconsin. It’s just me! Check it out at www.transitionsathomellc.com I love that I can be the OT I want to be in all the ways by providing consulting and coaching services to support aging in place! My anthem in this life is a Chris Tomlin song. The lyrics go like this: “Where you [God] go, I’ll go… Where you stay, I’ll stay… I will follow you.” Since summer 2022, I continue to feel God’s nudge stronger than ever to embark on a dream I’ve had since beginning that career in the hospital back in 2015. This quite possibly will be my last endeavor in this OT field… it’s crazy…and daring… but I know God is equipping me with what I need to persevere, including the people He’s been aligning in my life. I am currently creating, through design and operations, a new active adult Life Plan Community (independent living, assisted living, and memory care) in Northeast Wisconsin. It will be a community designed for:
- PEOPLE (including the staff so burn out does not exist)
- PURPOSE (through so many occupational opportunities)
- POSSIBILITIES so engagement and well-being in life can still exist
Sneak peak: It’ll be rural, contain an “agri-hood” with small animals, child care center, and dog park! Stay tuned…
What advice would you give to new Occupational Therapy practitioners?
Rhiannon Crisp, OT, always reminds me to “be the change you want to see in the world.” If you discover you have a yearning to do something more or different than what exists, start your own practice! Chances are, you have a lot to offer this world and the only person that will stop you is yourself.
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