WCU Grad Loves OT’s Combination of Creativity and ‘Evidence-Based Science’

Returning to school is a challenge for anyone, especially for parents who are juggling big responsibilities. But West Coast University MSOT alumna Briana L. didn’t choose to study occupational therapy despite her responsibility to her kids; she did it for them. 

“Going through a full-time master’s program with two little kids was a challenge, to say the least,” Briana said. “But one I would do over again a million times to be here today.” 

Briana first learned about the occupational therapy field after her son Charlie was diagnosed with autism at age 3. OT was part of his therapeutic journey, and as soon as Briana got to know the field, it was like a bright light went off in her mind. “His OTs helped him by looking at him as a whole person, as a holistic being, and not just trying to fix him but trying to figure out a way actually to make him thrive as Charlie. It was really amazing to see, and it’s what drew me here.” 

Briana loved that OT was a field that combined creativity with evidence-based science. With a background in dance, Briana has always considered herself a creative person. “I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I can do both!’ I can be a scientist and a creative person, and I can help people live their best lives.” 

Inspired, Briana chose to go back to school for a career change even though it had been almost 20 years since she’d last been in a college classroom.

“Four years ago, I started doing my prerequisites that would let me apply to grad school, and it was so scary,” she said. “But I just kept telling myself, ‘In four years, I’m going to be four years older anyway.’ These years are going to pass by anyway. What you do with them is your choice, and this is a really good choice.”

Keep reading to hear what Briana had to say about her occupational therapy journey!

WCU: Can you describe what occupational therapy is? 

Briana: The word “occupation” is the thing that occupies your time, so that can be anything from eating to brushing your teeth, going to work, or even just walking to the bathroom. We help your body heal so that way you can do the things that you need to do or want to do again. If something has affected your body in a way that keeps you from doing those activities of daily living, then we work with you to rehabilitate your body or modify the activity.

There are some illnesses or injuries or disabilities that won’t allow someone to do things independently, so we can help them modify the activity so they can do it as independently as possible, which is really cool because you don’t always have to heal 100% to be able to enjoy the things that you do in your life.

WCU: What do you want to do in the occupational therapy field?

Briana: I want to work with kids. I want to do pediatrics. I’m not 100% sure what that looks like, yet I really love acute care. I really love working with my oncology kids. They have inspired me in ways that I never imagined. They are just tiny warriors. These kids are everything. They work so hard and have so much fight in them, and so far, that is what has inspired me the most.

WCU: What got you through tough times while you were in the program? 

Briana: My kids. Seeing them every day, knowing that this wasn’t just for me, that I was doing this to change all of our lives, got me through. I could go home, get hugs, look at their faces, and know why all of these challenges were so worth it.

WCU: How does it feel to be here now at your graduation with your kids in the audience? 

Briana: I hope that this is a moment that they remember because I want my kids to know that they can do anything with their lives. I want them to know that watching me today wasn’t just about me, that I did this, in very large part, for them too. Not even just to be able to give them a better life but to show them that no matter what they want to do, no matter where they want to go, if they work harder than they ever imagined possible and dream bigger than they ever imagined possible, that what they want, they can achieve.

They’re so little, but I want them to see. I want them to remember, ‘My mom did this. She was 44 years old, and she got her master’s.’ I want them to know how loved they are and that they’re worth every sacrifice that I’ve made. They’re worth it.

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.