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OTDs: Behind the Doctorate

OTD private practice profiles

Vol. 28 • Issue 4 • Page 10

Being an OTD requires a unique dedication to your profession and academic advancement. So does having a private practice. When the two combine, the occupational therapy world is presented with one-of-a-kind, hardworking, intelligent practitioners. Their common thread is a love for occupational therapy and an ever-hopping schedule. But they are still their own individuals with their own stories. Thus, here is a glimpse into the journeys and work of two OTDs, currently practicing in the United States.

Carol Just: The Door Opener

Carol Just, OTD, OTR/L, has been an occupational therapist since 1973. Today, the way in which she describes the field, the people within it, and the work she does, you know that she is a woman born for this vocation. You would think that she is also a woman who, by the time she was 8 or at least 18, knew that she would pursue occupational therapy. It is that good a fit. However, that's not the case.

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Carol Just, OTD, OTR/L, plays Connect 4 with a young patient in her home-based clinic in Bryn Mawr, PA. Once part of a small, corporate multi-therapist practice, she now works alone by choice. But, she says, "I'm never alone!"

As a sophomore at Temple University in Philadelphia, Just received notification that she needed to pick a major - she needed to decide what to do with the rest of her life. In order to make that decision, "I took a job test," she said. "It came out that I should be an OT. I had no idea what it was!" Suspiciously, the psychologist who administered the job test also worked in the occupational therapy department at Temple. But, suspicions or no, "It worked! I'm really happy with what I'm doing," Just stated.

Just saw and continues to see occupational therapy as a combination of art and science, focused on people and helping to make people better, which matches her perfectly as she describes herself as an "optimistic, happy, help-you-out kind of person."

Building a Practice

After Temple, Just looked for jobs in which she could work with children. "I've spent most of my career in pediatrics," she explained. "Although I did dabble in adult rehab, when I decided I needed a new car ."

Her second job out of school was with the Philadelphia school district. From there she continued working in academic environments, and, as she came in contact with more and more families, Just found that she was building an independent client base. "I thought, 'Wow! This is kind of interesting! Let's see what I can do with it."

Just started seeing people in her home - not quite willing to take the financial leap an external office would require. She wanted to wait for her appointment book to be filled first. "It took a couple of years, but once all six days were filled with therapy kids, I took a big map and I put pushpins in it - to see where my clients were from. Most were in the Main Line, so I rented an office in Bryn Mawr," she explained.

That office served Just for 11 years, at one point expanding into a cooperative practice with a second occupational therapist, a speech-language pathologist and an office manager. But the atmosphere didn't suit Just, as she realized that she acted more as a boss than a collaborating partner. Therefore, in 2003, Just went back home, rehabbing it so that it could be more conducive to her practice and her living. "It's just me. And I'm the kind of person - I would hate working alone, but I'm never alone," she described. "I have visitors all day, every day. It's a constant flow of guests and an endless supply of little snacks, water and paper cups."

Back to School

Amid the hustle and bustle of starting and maintaining her private practice, Just continued her education. She received her master's degree in the 1980s. "And then there was this new thing called a 'clinical doctorate,'" she said. "I thought 'That sounds really fun!'" However, when Just was ready to devote herself to a doctoral program, she found that there were no schools locally offering one. She ended up attending classes at Rocky Mountain University in Provo, Utah - a long way from Philadelphia, where she continued her private practice.

Fortunately, the program was scheduled so that she only had to spend a few days at a time in the Beehive State for classes and could return to Pennsylvania to complete assignments and continue working. It was a huge commitment and a great deal of work but Just loved it, not only because she was advancing academically and professionally, but also because it moved her out of her comfort zone.

"I've always practiced in Philadelphia, and I wanted to find out what other people did and what their opinions were. Now I know people all over the U.S. [It was perfect] I got to meet people face-to-face and then go home and do my own thing." Just completed the OTD program in 2009.

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Just traveled back and forth from Pennsylvania to Rocky Mountain University in Utah to obtain her OTD. "Now I know people all over the U.S.," she says. "I got to meet people face-to-face and then go home and do my own thing."

Next Steps

Just's "own thing" continues to expand after obtaining her doctorate, She has met numerous people who have given her the opportunity to try and learn new things. One of Just's guest lecturers at Rocky Mountain was Lucy Jane Miller, a top OT researcher in sensory processing. Just got to know Miller, and in the summer of 2009 worked for her at the STAR Center in Denver, Colorado.

"I worked with Lucy!" she says with excitement. "I learned their model, and I brought it back here. I am doing the STAR Center model at my tiny little practice."

And that's not where it ends. In the fall of 2009, Just attended a conference in New York City. There she connected with another Philadelphia OT who teaches at Thomas Jefferson University. One thing led to another, and "I'm now adjunct at TJU," she said.

What's next for Just? That's hard to say. She will continue with her private practice and teaching while remaining open to more opportunities. She has to, as her private practice is private pay, and with the current economic crunch, "It's a little challenging," she said. Besides, Just loves new things, new people and new possibilities. But no matter what, she doesn't doubt she'll have fun, as she already has as an OTD.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful life."

Elissa Longo: Renaissance Therapist

How does one transition smoothly from puppies to kids? Ask Elissa Longo, OTD, OTR/L. When she first started college, she was pre-veterinarian, in a one-track program that would take her from under grad to doctor. But then she realized, "I needed to be with people. I felt like animals are really helpless and couldn't tell us what was wrong," she explained. She switched to pre-med and then human physiology and nutrition, in which she earned her bachelor's degree from Cornell University. From there, she applied to physical therapy schools.

At this point, occupational therapy was nowhere on her radar - until she deferred graduate school for a year and began working in a hospital.

"I discovered occupational therapy because I saw a lot of it in the hospital . I decided to apply to OT school for the following year, and I went. If I hadn't fallen in love with it before school, I fell in love with it then." Longo attended Mercy College for her graduate program, where she also received a second bachelor's degree in health science.

Two Worlds

With her master's degree in hand, Longo began to straddle both the academic and the clinical worlds of occupational therapy, which she continues to do today. She joined Sacred Heart University in Connecticut at the request of a faculty member. "I started as a lab assistant; then I was a lab instructor. I took on more and more courses as I became an adjunct." Eventually, Longo became a full-time staff member at Sacred Heart. She continues to teach a variety of courses ranging in subject matter from pediatrics to neuroscience.

However, academia isn't Longo's only professional landscape. She's also worked clinically since obtaining her master's, focusing primarily on pediatrics. "I was naturally drawn to pediatrics," she said. "When I was pre-vet, I was still doing a lot of work with children. I was doing some camps . Play is sort of a passion with me.

"I also really loved in school all the neuro stuff. Childhood is a great time to watch that all develop."

Longo worked in school settings, also seeing clients in need of sensory integration in an outpatient setting. She worked primarily with younger children, though Longo did transition at one point to a school for adolescents with dual diagnoses of mental illness and autism. "That was a really great atmosphere and really challenging," she said.

Her private practice developed as she did secondary evaluations for schools and saw clients privately. Much of her private interventions have been community-based, she explained, as working independently allows for a certain level of flexibility that she appreciates and embraces.

"Anywhere that the client is performing occupations is important to be," Longo explained. "Many of my interventions are family-based; I try to include the parents/guardians.

"So I am in the community, the home or places that are natural to the family's needs and allow them to participate."

Longo also has been integral in creating sports programs within her community for children with disabilities.

Continuing Education

As a faculty member at Sacred Heart and an active clinician, it's no surprise that it did not take Longo long to decide that she wanted to advance her degree. The question was, what should she do? Similarly to the predicament she faced as an undergraduate, Longo was unsure of what subject she wanted to pursue. She considered PhD programs in neuroscience, public health, rehab and occupational therapy. "I was thinking about what would serve me both clinically and in a teaching capacity," she explained. Longo ultimately chose to pursue her OTD, because it provided her with more options.

"If I had gone PhD, I would have ended up looking very in depth at one subject and not overall occupation. They [the school and OTD program] tailored the program to what I wanted to do, knowing that I was a practicing teacher and a practicing clinician."

Hand in hand with her education, Longo dived into research. She has had research studies and collaborative books published (some under the name Elissa Miller). Currently she is working on a few "strands" of research, including play dyads and the relationship between mother and child

Making Time

Longo has two sons. "I have to work hard to find balance," she says. "I do what I do with clients - I make an occupational profile and a time-use schedule. I can tell when I'm not using it well. I've learned to say 'no.'"

Sue Coyle is a freelance writer in Bucks County, PA. Reach her at


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