The veteran occupational therapist
November 11, 2017
In commemoration of Veterans Day 2017, USC Chan alumna and U.S. Army veteran Jen Hermanson reflects on what it means to be a veteran occupational therapist
By Jen Hermanson MA ’15, OTD ’16
When I agreed to write this article I thought it would be pretty easy. Hey, I’m a veteran and an OT, so I feel like I’m highly qualified to write about being a veteran and an occupational therapist. When I actually sat down to start writing, however, I realized I had no idea what to say. I haven’t spent much time thinking about what it means to be an OT and a veteran. I realized that I don’t spend time thinking about these things because I am these things.
I spent four-and-a-half years in the Army. I shipped off to boot camp at the quite impressionable age of 19. Being in the military taught me so much about who I am and what I am capable of accomplishing. I know it’s cheesy, but this lesson is true: I learned that I actually can do the things I thought were too hard; I learned that I do have what it takes to persevere; I also learned that I do not like push-ups but that is a different story for another time.
Being in the military taught me that it takes literal blood, sweat and tears to reach your goal sometimes. I am hoping in civilian life that this is not the case for everyone. If it is, sometimes you just have to do what you have to do. That is just a piece of what I learned from being in the military. But more than that, I learned about what I am made of. When I was younger I thought it would be cool to do something like be in the military, however I didn’t think it was possible or I was capable. Turns out, I am. I don’t have the same skills that other people in the military have, but I have the skills unique to me and I played to my strengths.
Being an OT is very similar. As occupational therapists we utilize people’s strengths to help them reach their goals. I have done it in my own life and now I have the opportunity to help others do it in their lives. And more than that, I know I have what it takes to do this.
I got my Master of Arts in Occupational Therapy and I continued on to my doctorate. It was always a goal of mine to get a doctorate degree, but there was always that part of me that didn’t think I could. That belief, I learned, is false. Blood, sweat but mostly tears for that one. It’s amazing how doing something hard one time opens the door to all the other things that suddenly don’t seem impossible anymore. That’s what I try to help my clients see. Yes, it is hard! I won’t take that away from them but that doesn’t mean we can’t get there anyway.
Overall, I wouldn’t trade having been in the military for anything. I can’t explain, at least not in three to five paragraphs, how it has shaped me as a person and as a professional. Occupational therapy is the only profession I can see myself doing. It just makes sense.
Having been in the military gave me the tools I needed to push through the difficult obstacles. It also taught me the importance of believing in myself. Those are gifts I carry with me always and try to help my clients see in themselves.