Today’s spotlight features an occupational therapist who works as an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP). Learn about her career journey!
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What is your full name and title at your current job?
Janice Gross OTR/L, ATP (Assistive Technology Professional)
Where are you located?
Where did you go to OT school, and what year did you graduate?
University of WI – Madison, 1993, with a specialty in augmentative communication and technology through the InterAct research program with Trace Research.
What did you do when you first finished school, and for how long?
I accepted an OTR position immediately after graduating at Pitt County Memorial Hospital in Greenville, NC. I worked on the SCI team with the inpatient SCI rehab program for 3.5 yrs as an occupational therapist.
Since the rehab unit was part of a large, level 1 trauma hospital, I was able to float to help in acute care, but my primary position was inpatient rehab.
What did you do after that, and for how long?
I returned home to MN, where I accepted an OTR position in long term care. I wanted to expand my skills to different settings and populations.
What did you enjoy about your early roles? What didn’t you enjoy?
I enjoyed working with clients who sustained life altering trauma (SCI) and helping them find their “new normal.” I had a passion for helping people get moving again, getting back into life, helping them find their way…
I did like everything about that job, other than it was far from my family in MN. The most challenging part of that job was the tears of young lives changed forever.
When did you realize you wanted to become an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP), and why?
I was working in the long term care setting and worked with most of the wheelchair clients in the facility.
I had worked with many wheelchair providers (vendors) but became quickly frustrated with the lack of clinical skills the vendors, who were salespeople, offered.
I felt like the sales reps weren’t able to understand the “whole person” and were just trying to sell me whatever wheelchair they had in their showroom.
There was a lack of understanding of what the client wanted and how the proper fitted wheelchair/seating system could improve their quality of life and help them to achieve their mobility goals.
What are you doing these days?
I am currently working for Reliable Medical in Brooklyn Park, MN as an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP).
I offer assessment, training, and fabrication of CRT (Complex Rehab Technology) for clients requiring wheeled mobility, seating systems, or other rehab equipment. This includes standers, gait trainers, patient lifts, specialty beds, and positioning devices
Are you still treating patients, or are you solely non-clinical?
I’m solely a non-clinical OT.
How long have you been in your current role?
I have been an ATP since 2002 and have worked with different wheelchair providers.
A few years ago, I left the vendor side of business to work in home care as a clinical OT with a specialty in seating and mobility for my team.
I spent 3 years in home care and returned to the vendor side of business to continue with my real passion with pairing people and CRT. I really enjoy creating systems to help people be as independent as possible.
How did you find your ATP job? Did you apply or find it through a connection?
I was introduced to Katie Stevens, CEO at Reliable Medical, through a mutual colleague and wheelchair manufacture rep.
She and I discussed business ideas to improve access to clients in homes and the community to provide the best service and product within CRT.
We shared a passion to provide quality service and grow our business to reach as many people as possible. It was a natural fit, and I was offered a position.
Did you do anything special to your resume and cover letter to land the Assistive Technology Professional job?
I focused on my sales accomplishments since the job I was looking for was a sales position.
Since I had a connection and various meetings with the Reliable Medical group, I was able to judge if my personality and goals would be a good fit with the culture of the company.
I focused more on my elevator pitch than having a cover letter. In this situation, I was able to use my network to find a job and did not even need to create a cover letter.
What was the interview like for the role?
The process was really about getting to know each other.
Reliable Medical has a strong culture and values every employee. It was very important that my personality and vision aligned with company goals.
The interview was mostly conversations, brainstorming, and offering ideas on how to best reach clients. I researched the company’s vision and ensured I discussed how my skills aligned with the company’s mission and vision.
Did you get any special certifications or training along the way to help you get into your current role?
Yes. In a role like mine, you must have ATP certification, which is offered through RESNA.
How have people reacted to you leaving patient care?
My home care team was really disappointed I left the clinical field. Yet, they were glad to be able to continue to work with me as the wheelchair guru and vendor.
What’s a typical day or week in the life like for you?
I have quite a bit of flexibility, as this is a sales type of role.
I make my own schedule and follow company hours of M-F 8:30-5:00. However, being in sales can have long hours. I am able to work as much as I want, or need, in order to meet my budgeted goals.
My day consists of offering evaluations for CRT and assisting OT/PTs on documentation strategies needed to meet insurance coverage for equipment.
I see clients in their homes for equipment trials, or in clinics for equipment recommendations.
My days are never the same, which I love! I may drive a lot one week and less the next. I can set my own territory, but there are days where I do drive many miles to see clients in their homes.
After I complete a home trial, I have to complete the equipment order forms, communicate with therapists and physicians to obtain the necessary chart notes needed to meet insurance guidelines.
Once the equipment is recommended, prior authorized, and ordered, I deliver the equipment with training and set up.
Being an ATP is an active position, and I find myself working in numerous remote locations (my van, coffee shops, office, and home). It is a busy day, but I enjoy the energy and hustle. In my mind, it sure beats a desk job!
What are some of the challenges of your role? What are the rewards?
Rewards are helping people become mobile again. Everyone has somewhere to go! Even if it is only the next room.
I love working with pediatrics when they get their first wheelchair and they can finally run away from mom (showing their newfound independence), and I also love working with geriatrics so they can safely roll toward their loved ones for hugs and purpose.
Giving someone mobility is the greatest reward.
The challenges are provided by limitations in funding sources. CRT is expensive, and it makes me sad that people can’t get the equipment they need to enrich their lives due to financial restraints enforced by insurance providers. Other challenges are pressures to make budget, increase sales, and find new referrals.
How do you think working as an OT prepared you for this role? Which skills transferred?
I am able to leverage my OT skills into this role easily. I understand medical diagnosis, can speak intelligently with medical professionals.
I can build strong relationships within the rehab community to increase referrals. As an OT, I truly understand how equipment can improve MRADLs and help clients be as independent as possible.
What type of person do you think would do well in your role?
Sales can be a challenging role. You must be confident, ambitious, compassionate and understand that clients come first, then the sale. It is important to be organized and have good time-management skills.
Since this work is not in a clinic, you must be able to prioritize an efficient route to your day. There can be a lot of driving, depending on how you develop your territory.
In CRT sales, we are working with people who are challenged with daily mobility. They may act out towards you as the bad guy when the product is denied or delayed. So, a thick skin, understanding, and ability to navigate their emotions is all part of the job. It can be stressful and frustrating, but we must remember that we are trying to help them and can’t take their frustrations with the system personally.
At the end of the day, I have something tangible to look back on and feel rewarded by my efforts. It is fun to see people in their new mobility device.
Do you work remotely or on-site?
Both. I office from anywhere I can: my home office, van, coffee shops, parks, or main branch location. Basically I am working anytime I am not driving.
Does your organization hire PT, OT, or SLP professionals into non-clinical roles? If so, what type of roles?
Yes!! We have ATPs that are not required to be a OT/PT, but it definitely helps! Other jobs may include rehab support, technician, coder, biller, intake, or any other job where their skill set matches the role.
Did you read any books, take any courses, or do anything special overall to get you where you are today?
Manufacturers offer many CEU courses and other training opportunities to provide necessary information and skills to excel as an ATP.
RESNA offers study programs to help prepare for the ATP exam. I am where I am today by networking within the rehab community. Reliable Medical also offers on-site training to help you develop to land the role you are seeking!
But I do listen to many books while I drive. It keeps my mind sharp and occasionally a good sappy story will help break up the stress of my day.
Here are just a few MedBridge courses that can help introduce you to the world of assistive technology while you earn CEUs!
- Assistive Technology for Individuals with Specific Impairments
- Dementia: Using Assistive Technology to Improve Functional Performance
- Wheelchair Seating Assessment: Positioning the Upper Extremities
What is a typical career path for someone in your role?
I see it as the sky is the limit!
Typically, someone will start with an interest in working with people in the community. It takes an active person to be a good ATP. You must be a go-getter and have a passion for helping others.
Many start out in rehab centers or special-needs programs and naturally progress in the ATP role.
Universities don’t teach enough about rehab equipment, so many therapists/ATPs learn on the job or through a specific training process.
Once the ATP certification is achieved, you may use that to partner with equipment vendors. There is opportunity to continue to move up into leadership and management roles. I feel being an ATP has lots of forward and upward opportunities!
What is next for you? What do you want to do with your career long-term?
I am rather new at Reliable Medical, so I plan on staying with them a long time.
The culture of the company is “people-centric.” Employees are greatly supported and respected. My colleagues that work there genuinely like their work and the environment and are all pretty happy.
My long-term career goal would be to continue in the CRT industry and work into a leadership role with training new ATPs while refining the skills of the experienced ATPs, including business development and growth of the company.
What would you recommend to someone who is considering going into a role like yours? Do you have any special words of wisdom for the readers?
Never lose sight of your clinical skills and compassion for others. Being in sales can be extremely stressful: making budgets, timelines, deliveries….
Always be compassionate and remember why we do what we do. In the end, it’s extremely rewarding when you give a person the ability to independently get around once they have lost the ability to move, or never had the ability to try!
What would you like to change most in your profession, and why? How would you propose doing so?
OTs are experts in viewing a client as a “whole person.” OTs are trained to evaluate physical and cognitive functions, values, personality, and life goals. OTs are innovative and creative and advocate for independence.
However, I have heard multiple times that OTs don’t get the information in school that is needed to help clients accomplish their goals to be truly independent.
I would like educational programs to offer more training to OT students on wheelchairs, seating/positioning solutions and CRT (Complex Rehab Technology). The common complaint I hear from OTs is “I am not comfortable working with CRT and wheelchairs because we didn’t get much opportunity to learn about them while in school.”
I hope that, by advocating for our profession and supporting CRT agencies, we will increase the awareness and education that is necessary for OTs to excel in the CRT industry. OTs should feel confident in promoting safe mobility by any means possible, as long as they are appropriate or desired by the client.
If you could give yourself one piece of career advice you wish you had during school, what would it be?
Nothing is impossible! Follow your dreams or create new ones as you develop new experiences.
Be open-minded and flexible within each situation because there is opportunity everywhere; you may just need to open your eyes to see it.
If you could teach anything to today’s graduate students in your profession, what would it be?
Be open-minded, creative, and think outside the box. Follow your intuitive skills and be true to yourself. Don’t try to do a job just because you can; find something the feeds your soul and make it happen.
Head spinning from all these career options? You’re not alone! Find support, community, and the tool kit you need to successfully determine what’s next for you…and how to get there! Enroll in Non-Clinical 101 today for LIFETIME ACCESS!