Susan N. Schriber Orloff, OTR/L (Occupational Therapist, registered, licensed), currently serves as CEO and Executive Director of Children’s Special Services, LLC (www.childrens-services.com) in Atlanta, where she was awarded Georgia Woman of the Year in 2006. Orloff, who has over three decades of occupational therapy experience, earned her bachelor’s degree in education from the University of Maryland and her graduate certification in occupational therapy from the University of Pennsylvania.
Orloff’s work history includes Norristown State Hospital, Lafayette Clinic, and William S. Hall Psychiatric Institute, where she was senior OTR in charge of the adolescent substance abuse program. She went on to Crafts-Farrow State Hospital, where she was Chief of Occupational Therapy. She has also worked at Central Wisconsin Rehabilitation Associates, and Advanced Rehabilitation Services. Orloff has been a guest lecturer at Kennesaw State University and Emory University/Emory College.
Currently, Orloff is on the guest faculty of the Medical University of South Carolina School of Occupational Therapy. She is graduate and field work supervisor to occupational therapy students at several colleges, including St. Louis University, University of St. Augustine, Medical College of Georgia, Medical College of South Carolina, Southern Indiana University, Barry University and Brenau University. An approved (Georgia OT Association) continuing education mentor, Orloff works with OTRs wishing to practice in the area of pediatrics inclusive of handwriting and learning disabilities.
When did you first decide to become an OT? Why?
In high school, it was required that you do some sort of community service if you were in the college prep/honor group, and so having grown up in Washington, DC and practically living at the museums, it was a natural for me to want to volunteer at the Smithsonian. I applied and got accepted. I was all set to go on my first after-school experience and a friend came bounding down the school hallway asking if I wouldn’t mind going to the Jewish Home of Retarded Children (it was socially acceptable in those days to use those terms) because my father’s office was right near, and he could pick us both up on the way home. I have a hard time with “no.” So I went…There was the red-haired boy named Tyler in a wheelchair with severe cerebral palsy, drooling, about 10 years of age, in a diaper, and barely responsive (so I thought), and I got through that afternoon dreaming of dusty treasures at the Smithsonian.
Next week came and once again I got talked into going back to the Home and not to the Smithsonian. I walked in and Tyler very painstakingly and with all his effort said, “Hi Susan” (it took about three minutes to get it all out) and his caregiver said he had been practicing all week to greet me. All I could think of was what if I hadn’t come….and the rest is history. I stayed at the Home for my community service, majored in education at the University of Maryland, and got selected to be in the prototype of the first Head Start group in southeast Washington DC.
How/why did you choose the OT school you went to?
University of Pennsylvania was one of the only seven schools in the country. It gave me a full scholarship, and Claire Spackman, one of the OT originators, was teaching there.
What surprised you the most about OT studies/school?
How hard the sciences were and how much the underlying research of neurology and physiology really came into the application of activities.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become an OT? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
Absolutely yes, it has become a passion and has kept me on a daily learning path.
Has being an OT met your expectations? Why?
Met them and more–I was expecting a job/career, and I got a life that brings me into the lives of others in a way that no other situation could have. I am here to create the lives that individuals want to have. I am their facilitator and they are the “doers.”
What do you like most about being an OT?
I love seeing someone “bloom.” I like to see fear melt into confidence. I like to see optimism where there was despair.
What do you like least about being an OT?
As someone who runs a private practice…marketing.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
I could have been a special education teacher and had a “safer” life–more predictable, less taxing, but a whole lot less creative. I have to create a plan of treatment daily for seven to nine children, and that makes every hour a whole new situation.
Do you work with mid-level providers? If so, what kinds?
I work with teachers, para-professionals, principals, doctors, etc.
Describe a typical day at work.
Start with reviewing email from staff and families. Then return calls if needed, and then off to schools to see children, and then kids from 12:30 p.m. to about 6 p.m.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
It is my own business, so I work a lot. I am responsible for all the parents being contacted if they have questions, scheduling the children, doing the evaluations, so I would say with the “grabbed time” here and there, I work about 50 hours plus per week. I try to sleep about six to seven hours per night, and vacations well, not as many as I should.
Are you satisfied with your income?
Parents seem to think because you own the company that discounts are always available. But they do not get that the telephone, the advertising, the fax machine, the games, toys and supplies their children get all cost money. And then there are salaries of the other OTs. As an OT, you know the kids need the service and your heart breaks, and so I wind up saying yes a lot more than is fiscally responsible as far as the discounts go.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
They are all paid back but it was a concern.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
Get a doctorate!
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning OT studies/school?Really pay attention to the core sciences–they will be your guide for understanding development. And for gosh sakes do not think this is a 9 to 5 job. And learn how to write! Evaluations are your “billboard” of expertise, and you need to be able to put thoughts together coherently.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
COST, which is why I do not understand the reactions to Pres. Obama’s plan. It gets services to those who really could not afford it otherwise. I think a lot of people are in a panic over nothing. We have to have car insurance, why not health insurance. The economy is a mess and it will take a bunch of time more to get it all right, and in the meantime folks need to be taken care of. It is not socialism, it is social responsibility.
With regards to OT and health care, well the AOTA needs to really lobby here because the more people we can keep from being institutionalized, the better it will be for the economy. Ninety percent of all inmates in prison have some sort of learning or mental health disability. What would be the future if we didn’t let these people slip through administrative “cracks”? It is shameful that schools will not give services to children who are “getting by” by the skin of their teeth. These are the kids that drop out because they are so tired of trying. I work with these kids and I know this for a fact. Teach children how to succeed not how to cope with failure.
As for those that are opposed to it, I just guess they have no clue what damage can be done to a life neglected. I still meet families who want to “pray away” problems. I am faith based and believe in the power of prayer, but I also believe that God put people here so that we can work together and help each other.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I have volunteered with community services that outreach to those in need of mental health services.
Do you have family? Do you have enough time to spend with them?
All my children are grown and live around the U.S., so going to visit them and seeing them pursuing their dreams is a delight. And of course, you never get to see your children enough. But I have always worked, and even when they were little my employers knew that if they were in a program, play or whatever, I was going to be in the audience. Your children are life’s greatest gift and they should be your major passion. I did get a lot of “flack” from stay at home moms who thought I was neglecting the kids by working, but I think they got a great example of love and how this helped the family provide for them the things that single income families were not able to do. Today, of course, is different, but the early 70s was a different atmosphere.
How do you spend your free time? Any hobbies?
Reading, going to plays, and walking. I love the outdoors.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing OT as a career?
Be flexible, be open, don’t have too many pre-set rules, be ready to see that there are as many applications of OT as there are people who need it, and then ..