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YU News

For This OT, Empathy is Another Pair of Hands in the Healing Process

By Dave DeFusco

OT Doctorate student Yoheved Zion demonstrates wrist stretching exercises for her daughter Elisheva.

Joe, a New York City cab driver, had a serious injury. He crushed his index finger in a door, severing the tip of it. After surgery to reattach it, he was in immense pain. As part of his recovery, he sought out an outpatient hand clinic at East End Occupational Therapy in Massapequa, N.Y. Yoheved Zion, a student in the Katz School’s Occupational Therapy Doctorate program who was completing an internship at the clinic, was assigned to his case.

Yoheved’s first priority was to build rapport with Joe, to gain his confidence for the grueling rehabilitation that would take place over several months. When Joe first arrived at the clinic, his finger was so sensitive to the touch that therapy progressed very slowly. Still, he was motivated to recover.

“He was in real pain and doing his best to tolerate it,” said Yoheved. “Now I really know why we’re called therapists. Yes, we’re practitioners, but we must be attuned to how our patients are feeling in the moment and their motivation level to facilitate their healing.”

Under close supervision, Yoheved performed a series of assessments, which she learned in the Katz program, to evaluate range of motion, finger dexterity and gripping capability, and overall function in Joe’s hand. Yoheved’s treatment plan consisted of implementing an exercise routine for Joe by performing a series of techniques, including finger mobilization and stretching, on his affected hand.

“There were moments when I thought, ‘Uh-oh, I hope I’m not pushing him too much or making him feel unduly uncomfortable in any way,’” said Yoheved. “I remembered what Dr. Zesarae Bodie said in class: ‘Read the room.’ I talked to him as I treated him—'Is this okay?’ or ‘You just tolerated that; good for you’—to reassure and encourage him.”

Occupational therapists (OT) are skilled health-care professionals who work in many specialty areas, from neonatal intensive care units to skilled nursing facilities. The goal of all treatment is the restoration of function. OTs help people of all ages gain greater independence and confidence in performing the tasks of everyday living.

Located in the Rousso Building on Yeshiva University’s Bronx campus, the Katz School’s Occupation Therapy Doctorate program was recently accredited for a full seven years by the Accreditation Council for Occupational Therapy Education, becoming the first fully accredited OT doctorate program in the New York metro area.

“Seven years in the first round of application is exceptional. It shows the confidence the accrediting body has in the program, our faculty and outcomes,” said Dr. Paul Russo, vice provost at Yeshiva University and dean of the Katz School of Science and Health. “The program aligns perfectly with the Katz School’s commitment to making our world smarter, safer and healthier.”

Yoheved likes that occupational therapy is client-centered and that she was able to tailor her interventions to whatever Joe wanted or needed.

“I love that it’s a strength-based profession,” she said. “We’re always looking to see what clients can do and then build on that, to maximize their abilities. We analyze, assess and intervene to give clients the best life possible. It’s a very special role to play in a person’s life.”

At her husband’s encouragement and with her family’s support, Yoheved, a former schoolteacher, enrolled in the Katz program in September 2020. She said that going back to school at first was “scary,” given that she has six children ranging in age from infancy to elementary school. But her husband, Natanel, has pitched in, ferrying the children to and from school and social activities, tucking them in at night, and making sure that dinner is served. The Katz program, for its part, has also shown extraordinary flexibility.

“What I love most about our OT program is the faculty support,” she said. “Whether it was structuring a class a certain way or adjusting the timing of assignments, they’ve always been willing to work with me. One time Dr. Alexandra Wagner came in on a Friday just to give me a test.”

At the end of her internship at the outpatient clinic, Yoheved had not only secured the admiration of her client, Joe, she was asked by another client to share her phone number and encouraged to apply for a job there after she graduates in May. She credits her Jewish faith for her ability to juggle marriage, graduate school and motherhood.

“In whatever I do, personally or professionally,” said Yoheved, which means ‘God is my glory’ in Hebrew, “I hope to bring honor to God’s name. One day at a time. God’s going to get me there. Prayer is my guiding light.”