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Chris Hedlich, OTR/L

From the time I received my Bachelor’s of Science in Occupational Therapy from Western Michigan University in 1992, I repeated my mantra that I would never return to school again.

I loved hands-on learning but returning to take tests and complete assignments for grades other than required continuing education credit did not appeal to me. I was happy being a generalist OT working with the elderly. I told myself – if I became bored with my current position, I could always change to another treatment venue.

Then the Affordable Care Act (ACA) came into the picture and healthcare changes began happening.

Vision of the Future

“Productivity” became the new buzzword and my various positions as an occupational therapist were becoming a chore rather than a challenge. I felt that I was more of a number and I never knew what new standard was going to come down from upper management.

A year prior to this I had attended a weekend course addressing vision deficits and brain injury that was presented by Mary Warren. During the course, Mary put in her plug for the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) Graduate Certificate in Low Vision Rehabilitation program. I listened, but again, I thought that going back to school was not for me.

However, once the pressures from the job changes became more intense, I recalled that course. What stood out to me was the potential of furthering my education and changing the direction of my career to something that I could enjoy. I visited the UAB website and started investigating.

Blended mix of learning: online meets clinical application

I was accepted into the program and started my coursework January of 2013.

I was hesitant about the online format initially as I have only taken coursework “in person” in the past, but I quickly realized the benefits of being able to study on my own time schedule. I could ask questions on the message board and receive feedback quickly.

The low vision curriculum covered many topics in low vision rehabilitation. I especially appreciated how clinical application was woven into the assignments.

At the end of the coursework, the “intensive” weekend on the UAB campus pulled everything together. It allowed me to work with the low vision adaptive equipment as well as test my skills that I had been studying the prior five semesters.

I also gained a new network of fellow low vision occupational therapists to connect with professionally. I still consult them by email for clinical questions. We also have an active journal club that allows us to stay up-to-date on the latest research and treatments in the area of low vision rehabilitation.

I completed my low vision graduate certificate in July of 2014.

Rejuvenated outlook, rejuvenated career

You won’t believe this – because I still don’t – I decided while taking my certificate coursework to continue on with my education and complete my post-professional Master’s of Science in Occupational Therapy.

UAB offered this option following the completion of the low vision rehabilitation program. Thanks to the coursework I already completed for the certificate, I am only 2 ½ semesters away from graduation with this degree.

I was unsure how I would be using my new learning and was considering starting my own low vision occupational therapy private practice after graduation. Recently, however, the local Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired offered me a position as the first occupational therapist to be hired by their organization.

I am working hand in hand with other low vision professionals and optometrists by assisting in running the low vision clinic and several mobile clinics that provide service to 13 counties in Western Michigan. I also see clients in their home for follow up visits after the clinics for further therapy.

I even utilize my coursework to educate local occupational therapy students about low vision rehabilitation as a guest lecturer at Western Michigan University.

This experience has rejuvenated my career as an occupational therapist. I have my sights set on applying for my Specialty Certification in Low Vision (SCLV) from the American Occupational Therapy Association.

I am so happy that UAB has coursework such as the online Graduate Certificate in Low Vision Rehabilitation for occupational therapists. The program has made my goal of moving from being a generalist OT to a specialist a reality.