OT Spotlight: Haley Krug, OTR/L
It is officially OT Month! What better way to celebrate all of the Occupational Therapists who are making a difference than to share the perspective of one of our own? We recently had the chance to speak with Haley Krug, OTR/L, a AMN Healthcare OT currently working at a school in North Carolina. Haley was gracious in illustrating her field experience, along with how the COVID-19 has changed the therapy landscape in her district—and here’s what she had to say:
Where are you from originally, and where are you currently on assignment?
I was born and raised in the small town of Loretto, Pennsylvania. I took my first travel contract in Laurinburg, North Carolina, and live about 45 minutes away in Pinehurst, North Carolina (if you golf, you’ll know where that is!). I started in Laurinburg in August 2019 and was beginning to look at different contracts for the 20-21 school year when Covid hit. I decided that staying put was the best option for myself-- and to make sure my kiddos had someone to serve them! -- and I am now going on two years in North Carolina!
What made you decide to go to that location and to do travel therapy versus permanent work?
I have dreamed of travel therapy since the day that I first heard it was a thing-- and although I haven’t made it many places, yet it has absolutely lived up to those dreams! Central North Carolina was a great middle-ground for exploring mountains and beaches.
And quite honestly, I was nervous about moving and taking on my first real job too far away. Eight hours from home base seemed like a safe bet at the time and has been the transitional piece I needed to build my confidence in myself and my abilities for branching out further in the (hopefully near!) future.
Outside of schools, have you worked in any other settings as an OT?
Since becoming a licensed OT, the schools are the only setting I have worked in. I remember my recruiter suggesting when I shared my interest in pediatrics and finding myself not sold on the setting. Now that I have experienced it, I will never go back. I love the opportunity that this setting gives you to work with a population that may or may not be able to access private therapy. My service may be all some of these kiddos get, and it keeps me constantly motivated to be the best therapist I can be. Not to mention that walking through halls full of smiling children can’t help but bring joy to every single day.
What does a day in the life of a school OT look like? Can you take us through a typical day for you?
I usually start my day around 7:30 at a Central Office building. I gather what activities I have planned for the day, check-in with the other related services, and then head to school for the day. Last year, I was at multiple schools a day, but I get to be housed at one per day this year. I usually start pulling kids for therapy sessions right away at 8:00, and over the course of the day, see on average 7-10 kids for 30-minute pull-out sessions.
In between pull-out sessions, I will stop in some of our self-contained or exceptional children’s classrooms to check in on my support kiddos and see what functional/sensory adaptations or techniques I can supply. I finish my mixture of push-in/pull-out services around 2:30 when the kids leave and will work on documenting services, updating IEPs, or attending meetings until it is time to check out for the day. Of course, I have learned that you have to be flexible in schools, and honestly, no two days are ever the same!
How has your role changed in school due to COVID-19?
I have to say that the biggest change I have noted is that communication with the family has skyrocketed alongside the need to be proficient with teletherapy and technology. We didn’t always keep the family in the loop, but parents and even siblings seemed less involved because the service occurred at school.
When the initial switch to teletherapy occurred, I was suddenly right there in their living rooms. The family got a much clearer picture of my role, and I was able to form relationships and build rapport that wasn’t there before. Because of this, I have seen a lot more involvement and carryover at home, which makes me so happy!
How have you felt about the transition into distanced and virtual learning?
I won’t lie; the initial transition was rough! I went from what I considered a very hands-on career to sitting behind a screen and learning how to cue other people to provide the appropriate tactile assistance. One of the other major challenges was being creative. My school district is very rural, and households may not have a surplus of supplies like play-doh, exercise balls, or TheraBand.
Suddenly, I learned to adapt and complete motor tasks with takeout Chinese chopsticks and play catch with rolled-up socks. Forcing myself to be more creative made for some very fun sessions. At times, I developed activities engaging enough to get the whole family involved, which was fun to be a part of and something I would never have experienced otherwise.
It was not an easy transition - and I have to admit that I am happy to have my kiddos back face-to-face - but I think it really taught me to be adaptive and to focus on activities and skills that benefitted the student in their natural environment - and isn’t that what occupational therapy is all about?
Do you have any advice for OTs or other Clinicians looking to work as school travel therapists?
I remember pinning the quote “Occupation: Aspiring Beam of Light” to the board behind my desk on my first day of work. I thought I would have the opportunity to come into a new town and change people for the better. To really make a difference. And in ways, I feel like I have done that. But more so, these past two years have changed me.
You get the chance to see genuine kindness from strangers you would never have met otherwise, to teach kids with bilateral coordination issues things as simple as playing catch and then watch the joy on their face at recess as they finally succeed with their peers, and wake up every day to a building full of joyful hearts that work and fight through circumstances your fortunate self has never had to worry about. And it changes you.
Suddenly, I wasn’t the light anymore. The kids that I have met and the relationships I have made along this journey are pure, unfiltered sunshine in my life. So, I guess the advice is: If you are looking, I wholeheartedly encourage you to take the chance and dive in headfirst!
Hopefully, this spotlight allowed you to get to know Haley better as a person and an OT. We want to thank Haley for her candid answers, which will help to give all of the other OTs out there a behind-the-scenes look at what travel therapy life can look like.
Interested in working as a AMN Healthcare OT in a school or another setting? Visit our website to explore our current OT job openings!