Erika Schnaps, OTR/L, CHT was the 2016-2017 Hand Therapy Fellow. Carol Page, PT, DPT, CHT is Senior Director at HSS Rehabilitation and directs the fellowship program. Questions about the program can be directed to Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Carol: What led you to pursue the specialty of Hand Therapy?
Erika: I studied neuroscience in undergraduate school and thought outpatient neuro rehab would be the perfect setting to work in. During a fieldwork placement at an outpatient neuro rehab center, I had the opportunity to shadow the manager of the rehabilitation department who happened to be a hand therapist. I soon began to realize that I didn’t find the neuro rehab setting to be the best fit for me, and I became very intrigued by hand therapy. I found it fascinating how detailed and specific it was, and how many diagnoses and injuries could occur just in the hand itself, let alone the elbow and shoulder. I felt like the profession allowed the therapist to really get to know her patients as individuals. I loved the creativity in splint making and developing therapeutic activities, and I especially appreciated the psychology involved in an upper extremity injury and how detrimental it can be to one’s identity and wellbeing. After this experience, I knew I wanted to pursue hand therapy.
Carol: Why did you choose to participate in a Hand Therapy Fellowship program?
Erika: Where I was working prior to the HSS Hand Therapy Fellowship, I was able to see a decent variety of upper extremity diagnoses. However, I mostly worked alongside one other hand therapist and had very limited opportunities to learn and grow. After attending the Philadelphia Hand Conference in 2015, I realized that there were many diagnoses, treatment approaches and even just hand therapy concepts that were beyond my grasp. I decided to seek out a residency or fellowship program to enhance my skills and to be given the opportunity to learn from multiple therapists, all with varying backgrounds and approaches. I wanted to have a solid foundation as I began to work towards my goal of becoming a CHT, and I felt like the best means of developing that foundation would be by completing a fellowship program.
Carol: Tell us about some of the experiences you have had as the HSS Hand Therapy Fellow.
Erika: As a fellow, one project you get to work on is a case study presentation. The patient I chose to present had his first set of surgeries elsewhere prior to coming to therapy at HSS. During the process of working with him, it was determined that he would need another surgery which I had the opportunity to observe. It was an amazing experience to be able to treat someone, see him go through surgery, and then continue to treat him. This opportunity gave me the chance to really understand the details and severity of his injury. Seeing all aspects of his care in the OR, the doctor’s office, and therapy was an amazing experience I will never forget.
Carol:What have been the most valuable aspects of the program for you?
Erika: One of the most valuable aspects of the program has been the incredible therapists I’ve been able to work with and learn from. Each of the hand therapists is unique and talented and has a skill set that makes this a well-rounded, excellent team. From splinting, to case review, to research and special projects, to wound care, to technology and manual techniques, they have each made a contribution to the fellowship and to my development as a therapist. Another aspect that I found to be incredibly valuable was the opportunity to work with the surgical fellows each week. Over time, I realized how much I could contribute in a way that was helpful for patients and informative for the fellows. I was able to learn from them about reading imaging, treatment options for patients, and diagnosis and surgical details.
Carol: Where do you imagine yourself a year from now?
Erika: The fellowship prepared me really well for the CHT exam, which I took in May and passed! Now that I am a CHT, I hope to be practicing hand therapy in a similar setting to HSS with a variety of incredible therapists, great educational opportunities, and options to participate in and conduct research, as well as mentorship opportunities. I hope to be attending a multitude of continuing education courses and conferences and to become an educator myself!