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Want a non-desk job that helps people? Consider Occupational Therapy Assistant

Follow your passion for a career in healthcare and make a difference.


Karen_and_Carlos_working_insetKaren Heslop and Carlos Lopez work with a child on mobility.

Occupational Therapy Assistants (OTAs) play an important role in helping people with challenges and disabilities participate in everyday life activities. OTAs are not confined to an office or desk for their work and sometimes they aren’t even confined to the indoors. With the increase in creative alternatives to treatment, one area seeing a rise is hippotherapy.

According to the American Hippotherapy Association, Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational, and speech therapy that utilizes the natural gait and movement of a horse to provide motor and sensory input. It is based on improvement of neurologic functions, and sensory processes, and used for patients with physical and mental disorders.

Karen Heslop is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant. She is also a graduate of our Mesa Campus’ Occupational Therapy Assistant Associate Degree program. Heslop went back to school after her children were grown, and says while she did face some challenges as an older student; it was well worth the struggle.

“I raised my kids, I went back [to school] at 44 and so I was one of the older students there, which was kind of a unique experience. All these kids knew how to use computers really well, submit their papers, and power points and that is something I had to learn,” Heslop said. “What I loved about the program at Pima Medical, is that it starts from the ground level by just introducing what occupational therapy is, to body systems, how things work and how our body moves. Everything was just really great,” she added.

Heslop’s love of helping children led her to Able Acres in Queen Creek, Arizona. Able Acres, is dedicated to helping special needs children through therapy. One of the therapies offered is hippotherapy, something Heslop loves. She believes she gets more out of the children with the help of the horse. She said, “From my experience, they are much more focused on the horse rather than just sitting in a clinic at a table. I can get more work out of the kids, and they’re more successful on the horse.”

Carlos Lopez is completing his Occupational Therapy Assistant associate degree at Pima Medical Institute’s Mesa campus.

Carlos_with_Patient_insetIn addition to Karen Heslop, Able Acres is also an externship location for many Pima Medical students preparing to graduate. Carlos Lopez is one of those externs. He has been working as a certified nursing assistant for the past decade and says his love of helping people drew him to the OTA program at Pima Medical’s Mesa campus. “The instructors are amazing. They really break it down for you. They’re amazing, and the help they offer, they offer a lot of resources as well.”  While Lopez says he will likely move on to work with geriatric patients, he says his experience with Pima Medical and his externship with hippotherapy has been a rewarding and great learning opportunity.

Heslop loves having Pima Medical externs like Lopez assist her at Able Acres. She says, “I feel like they’re prepared, and they’re ready for this. I think Pima Medical definitely prepares the students for what to expect with different interventions and what to expect with anything that comes their way.”

For anyone who is interested in a career that offers creative and fun ways to help people, a career in occupational therapy might be the right fit. And, Heslop says, you can’t go wrong with Pima Medical.  She says her education at Pima Medical has helped her be the person she is, someone who can teach other people and bring goodness to the world.

“I would encourage anybody to go to Pima [Medical]. I have been really impressed with the program as well as the overall support system. It’s the best thing I’ve ever done for myself,” she added.

May 10, 2021

Pima Medical Blog

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