By: Melissa Coon
1996, Loma Linda University, Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy
Sonja is an Occupational Therapist who has been a practicing for more than 17 years and specializes in hand therapy. She provides education and marketing for hand therapy and assists in developing team hand therapy protocols for various treatment programs.
Sonja loves being outdoors. Some of her favorite hobbies include hiking, biking, fishing, camping and golfing.
Why did you decide to pursue a career in Occupational Therapy (OT)?
I chose OT because it allowed me to incorporate my passion for education, training and making a difference by helping others help themselves. I did not have money right after high school to complete my degree, so I worked for twenty years taking classes here and there. I finally decided it was now or never and wrote Loma Linda University in hopes of being accepted into their OT program and was admitted right away.
How would you describe what you do?
My job is 95% about teaching and encouraging patients to invest in themselves and 5% physical, manual work. If all parties (physician, case manager, adjuster and employer) understand and support the ‘why’ behind a certain exercise, it makes it easier for a patient to achieve the best possible outcome.
What does a typical workweek look like for you?
I usually arrive at the clinic a little after 7 a.m. each day and sometimes work through lunch up until 4:30 p.m., treating patients, making splints and communicating with referral sources via phone calls and/or emails.
What do you like most about what you do?
Hands down, my favorite part of my job is treating patients. There’s nothing more rewarding than seeing a patient ‘get it’ on the reason behind a certain exercise. I also enjoy working with my fellow ARC Physical Therapy+ friends and colleagues.
What is the greatest challenge you face as a workers’ compensation specialist and how do you overcome that?
There are many barriers that we face as clinicians dealing with patients that have been injured in work-related accidents. Fear, distrust, pain…all of these things create challenges to providing an effective treatment and achieving a great outcome. Often overcoming the barriers can be as simple as discovering what task is of value to a patient. For example, a patient may not see returning to the assembly line as his or her most sought after goal of rehab but being able to grip the handle bar of his or her off-road vehicle may be a better motivator. I often use these personal goals to motivate patients during the rehabilitation process.
Another barrier we often face is when a patient “becomes” his or her diagnosis. What I mean by this is that on a rare occasion patients associate the increased amount of attention and care they receive after experiencing a traumatic injury as the “best thing” that has happened to them because they’ve never had that kind of attention before. We really try to break that cycle by instilling confidence in our patients’ abilities to return to normal, functional tasks. Often times that requires us to act as confidants and counselors as well as clinicians.
What is a common misconception (if any) that people have about what you do?
Contrary to popular belief, I do not do nursing care but rather teach, educate and train patients how to perform self-care through the use of certain tasks that are meaningful to them and their daily life.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The relationship patients have with their hand therapist is personal to them. They become emotionally invested into how the therapist moves their hand/wrist/forearm.