Name: Raphaele Lataillade, 42
Position: Occupational therapist
What She Does: All of the simple tasks most people do every day — writing their name, getting out of bed, dressing themselves — aren’t always so easy. For patients who have lost the ability to perform these daily tasks or are having trouble learning them, occupational therapists offer help.
“Think of life — the occupation of life,” Lataillade says. “What roles in life do you have? My job is to make sure that I restore you to the highest functional level in all of those roles you have in life.”
While physical therapists focus on muscle tone and improve flexibility after an injury or surgery, occupational therapists work with patients — often the very young, the elderly or those recovering from injury — to help them regain or develop the ability to do everyday tasks.
For the past year, Lataillade has been working in D.C. public schools with elementary and middle school students. Many have intellectual disabilities, such as autism. Some just need a little extra help hitting certain developmental milestones. If a child is having trouble with handwriting, for example, Lataillade will look at how he or she grasps the pencil.
The kids have a good time in occupational therapy, she says. Building finger strength and improving dexterity often means doing fun activities such as picking up pinto beans with tweezers or threading Cheerios onto spaghetti.
How She Got the Job: In 1999, Lataillade finished a two-year associate’s degree program at Keiser University in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., to become an occupational therapy assistant.
Before she could treat patients on her own, she had to take a certification exam and complete clinicals — an internship at a health care facility. “You go and work for free for six months somewhere,” she says. “I moved in with my mom so I could do my clinicals.”
With her associate’s degree, Lataillade was licensed only to assist in treating patients under the supervision of a fully licensed occupational therapist.
Lataillade wanted to work with patients on her own — evaluating them and developing treatment plans — so she continued on toward a master’s degree. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 2002 and a master’s in 2004 from Barry University in Miami Shores, Fla. Both required more clinicals: six months for the B.S. and four weeks for the M.S.
Who Would Want This Job: If you like people and want to help those who really need it, this job might be for you. It helps if you want to work with people of all ages. Lataillade has worked with premature babies in hospital NICUs, elderly nursing home residents who have had total-knee replacement surgery, and others of all ages in between.
You need to have good communications skills and self-assurance, Lataillade says. “You gotta kinda own it. You have to have the confidence in yourself to be able to speak up and tell the doctor, ‘No. She’s not even getting dressed. If she’s going to go home she’s gonna need 24-hour supervision.’ ”
How You Can Get This Job: You must have at least an associate’s degree in occupational therapy to start out in the field.
The American Occupational Therapy Association’s website provides a list of accredited schools around the country. Nearby schools that made the list include Allegany College of Maryland, Towson University and Howard University.
Once certified, occupational therapists frequently find work through agencies such as Med Travelers, which match therapists with hospitals, nursing homes and schools who need them.