SPOTLIGHT Alum: Vanessa Duran, DOT on the Horizon

Somehow it has already been a few years since Vanessa Duran, class of ’20, graced the CoLab with her effervescent positivity and generous nature. But the COVID years have also taken a toll on her post-Earlham program requirements. Currently in her fourth term pursuing her doctorate in occupational therapy, at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences, she is just now able to be face-to-face with clients. 

Duran, and her DOT classmates, at the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in San Diego, CA.

Duran, to the left with her classmates says, “I’m finishing up my first field experience in pediatrics at a school on a reservation. So many experiences at Earlham come back to me because of the Health Externship Program. Because I shadowed a Pediatric Occupational Therapist, I felt prepared for the somewhat chaotic nature of this workplace setting. It is nice to experience a setting that is not clinical in nature but more aligned with community and population-based occupations.”

But it wasn’t just the shadowing experience that helped to ease any first-day jitters. She spent time immediately after graduation as an OT aide in an outpatient physical and occupational therapy clinic. Here she was able to hone her skills in building rapport and having a relationship with a patient. According to Vanessa, “Content from A&P [Anatomy and Physiology], Kinesiology, and some psychology courses were particularly helpful as I constantly need to refer back to movements of the body and a lot of biomechanics to ensure patient safety.”  The Earlham classroom also helped her when it came to looking at curriculum design for graduate programs, because she favored the team-based learning style present in so many biology classrooms.

Although Vanessa seems to have it all together, this wasn’t always so easy. As a first-generation, first-year student, she felt a little lost, even “accidentally taking two statistics courses [math and psych]” because she was unclear about what she wanted to do—which is why she is a big proponent of sitting down with advisors early. She was able to use her Epic Advantage for the Global Health Abroad experience in Costa Rica and completed an internship at the Indianapolis VA Clinic because of the relationship she had with the Center for Global Health.

Vanessa’s Top FIVE for pursuing a career in OT:

  1. Keep in touch with those you shadowed—they are excellent references.
  2. Ask OT’s questions and be clear about your interests, it shows them you care about them and the profession.
  3. Be open—take people’s advice and run with it.
  4. Get used to being uncomfortable. As an entry-level practitioner, you may be less familiar with some topics than your clients are.
  5. Oh—and GO TO THE WRITING CENTER! Get used to a lot of professional writing, including various styles, like policy work. You can also expect a heavy load of essays on which you will receive critiques, so don’t take it personally.

Up next, Vanessa is nervously awaiting her fieldwork 2 placements, which could send her almost anywhere in the country (in any setting) to complete six months of service under a licensed OT. Although she was able to list her top five choices for both location and setting, none are guaranteed. She said, “I’m hoping for a placement in hospice, especially as I’m approaching the research component of my doctorate. I really want to support family caregivers.” Sadly, Richmond, Indiana, did not make her short list, but we will continue to root for her success from afar.

Interested in connecting with more alums and hearing their stories? Visit EC Connect!

By Jessie Pilewski
Jessie Pilewski Associate Director of the Center for Global Health