Occupational therapist Kate Turner returns to the classroom to help George Fox OT students advance their hands-on learning.

What do you do when the professional path you’ve chosen doesn’t fulfill you? Kate Turner, academic fieldwork coordinator for George Fox’s occupational therapy program, was faced with this question when she realized that being a businesswoman didn’t reflect her life goals.

“I was thinking, ‘There’s got to be more to life than this’,” recalls Turner, who felt unsettled after earning a business degree at Adams State University. “I decided that I needed something more. I wanted to help people.”

Kate Turner talking to student

But where to begin? Turner decided to start by enrolling in the EMT program at her local community college. 

“I trained for an EMT basic, and I loved it,” says Turner. “I loved connecting with people and coming into situations where help was needed quickly. It sparked all of my neurons, and it required me to be active and think about all aspects of the situation, including what was to come next and what happened before.”

After working as an EMT for a couple of years, Turner still felt like something was missing. She found being on the front lines of a medical crisis more fulfilling than working at the office, but she wasn’t exactly where she wanted to be yet. 

“It took a while of doing EMT work with its ups and downs of adrenaline rush and terrible hours on call for me to realize that the kind of patient experience I really wanted was more relationship based,” says Turner. “I wanted something more long-term versus just arriving on the scene, having a hectic interaction, stabilizing someone, and then handing them off to the next level of care without being part of the next piece of their story.”

It wasn’t until her husband showed her a brochure he had stumbled across about occupational therapy (OT) that Turner finally found what she had been looking for. 

“I knew right away after reading that brochure that I had a connection with OT,” says Turner. “Occupational therapy would allow me to build relationships with my clients and work with them as individuals, versus only treating a wound or a small part of their life.”

Before this moment, Turner had never heard of occupational therapy. She hadn’t known it was an option. 

“I grew up in a very rural area, and we didn't have occupational therapists,” says Turner. “I never saw or worked with any in the hospitals and clinics where I was getting EMT experience. Occupational therapy was completely new to me.”

Turner wasted no time immersing herself into the world of occupational therapy. She enrolled in the OT program at St. Catherine’s University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and excelled there. She finished her masters at St. Catherine’s, and eventually returned to complete her post professional doctorate. She had found her niche. 

A Versatile Profession

Kate Turner teaching a group of students

Over the course of her career in OT, Turner has worked with a wide range of people in a variety of different settings. She is especially passionate about working with the geriatric population, but that hasn’t stopped her from exploring all kinds of avenues. 

“Occupational therapy is a profession that has allowed me to reinvent myself if I wanted to or needed to,” says Turner. “There's always a path to gain new training and new skills to go into different specialty areas. There’s always ways to reinvent or reinvigorate your connection with your profession.”

A large part of OT work is encouraging clients to believe in themselves and their capabilities. Occupational therapists give their patients the tools they need in order to achieve their goals, and they cheer their clients on when the going gets tough.

“I view my role as an occupational therapist as being a facilitator of learning, doing, and independence,” says Turner. “Our job is not to fix people, but to show people the pathway for their own reconnection and how to fix themselves.”

Occupational therapy can be a long and grueling process, and progress is often only seen in the smallest moments. Resilience is key, both for the therapist and the patient. 

“The most fulfilling part of my job is when you have helped spark that internal motivation and internal drive in a person, and when they no longer need you to fuel that motivation for them,” says Turner. 

Empowering Future Occupational Therapists 

Kate Turner speaking to a student

Turner has loved the classroom ever since she was a little girl, so when she was offered the Academic Fieldwork Coordinator position in the OT department at George Fox, she jumped at the chance. 

“As academic fieldwork coordinator, my role is to facilitate students engaging in the hands-on portion of their education,” says Turner. “Regardless of the setting, this is an important part of education. We're immersing you in a community setting where you're going to be applying all of those things that you've learned to real people and real situations.” 

Accepting this job meant that Turner and her family had to move from St. Paul, Minnesota to Newberg, Oregon, but Turner is confident that she made the right choice. 

“Starting an OT program at George Fox feels so right based on everything that occupational therapists are about,” says Turner. “Occupational therapists treat their patients as a whole, and Fox embraces the wholeness of each individual student.” 

Turner wouldn’t be the professional she is today without those teachers who invested in her as an individual while she was a student at St. Catherine’s University. She realizes how crucial it is for students to know that someone is in their corner, rooting for them and their success.

“I think it's important for students to know that as a professor, as a teacher, I am there as a mentor for them,” says Turner. “They need to know that I have had many mentors— we all have mentors. None of their professors, none of the people around them got to where they were without help.”

As Academic Fieldwork Coordinator, Turner can’t wait to connect with students as she does what she can to enhance their education and professional development. 

“I’m so excited to be able to forge excellent community partnerships so that the opportunities that George Fox students have will be excellent,” says Turner. “They're going to be opportunities that will shape the future careers, the future skills, the future interests of each student. Being the field work coordinator here at George Fox is a huge privilege for me.”

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