Beth Anderson Gibson, Occupational Therapist Registered/Licensed (OTR/L), Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist (CDRS), is the Driving Program Director for Freedom and Mobility in Marietta, Georgia. Prior to working at Freedom and Mobility, Gibson was a certified driver rehabilitation specialist at both DeKalb Medical Center in Decatur, and Shepherd Center in Atlanta. She also worked as a staff occupational therapist at Shepherd Center and as a senior occupational therapist at Crawford Long Hospital of Emory University in Atlanta.
Gibson earned her bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy from the University of New Hampshire in Durham, where she graduated summa cum laude in 1983. She went on to serve an internship at the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research. She is a licensed Occupational Therapist in the state of Georgia, certified by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, licensed as a driving instructor in the state of Georgia, and a member of both the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists and the American Occupational Therapy Association. Gibson is also a member of the Task Force for Older Driver Safety sponsored by the Injury Prevention Section of the Dept. of Public Health for Georgia and Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. She has been published by the Brain Injury Resource Foundation, and currently she serves as national newsletter editor for the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists.
When did you first decide to become an OT? Why?
I think I was destined to be a therapist from an early age. When I was about five, my grandfather suffered a stroke and lost his speech (aphasia). I would visit him and try to teach him to talk again using my alphabet flash cards. All through elementary school, I had to attend speech therapy for a lisp and thought I might do that. In high school I narrowed it down to physical therapy, but after an observation session at a local hospital I decided it was too much exercise and walking people around the room. My mother is a frustrated OT wannabe and she gave me information on the profession. I did observations at a few rehab facilities and I was hooked. The profession matched my interests in medicine and science but also my talent for problem solving and my creativity.
How/why did you choose the OT school you went to?
I attended the University of New Hampshire. I was interested in a program that would allow me to enter school as an OT major. At that time the entry level was a BS. We started OT classes in our sophomore year. I loved New England and liked that UNH was in a small town.
What surprised you the most about OT studies/school?
When I went to school the profession and education was transitioning. My class was the first that was not required to take woodshop and weaving. OT in the past had used crafts extensively so those types of courses were required.
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?)
I would absolutely still become an OT. After 27 years I still love the profession. I have been able to work in different area and I always find something interesting. It really matches my natural skill sets and work is always a challenge.
Has being an OT met your expectations? Why?
It has met my expectations. I have always been able to find a job and there are always new challenges. I have had the opportunity to participate in education for my peers and the community.
What do you like most about being an OT?
I enjoy problem solving and working to make my clients more independent. In my current role, there are times when I have to decrease independence like when I have to tell an older driver that they cannot drive any longer. Even then I do my best to help them with the transition.
What do you like least about being an OT?
Paperwork and insurance regulations, but that is true for the medical profession at large.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
At the time I graduated the job market in Atlanta was strong. I had six interviews lined up when I arrived in town. I was offered my first job the same day I interviewed only three days after finishing my last internship. It was in an acute care setting, which was not my first choice. I was offered the one I accepted at Shepherd Spinal Center during the interview. My final internship had been at the Texas Institute of Rehabilitation and Research working with the spinal cord injury population so I was excited to get a job at a model spinal cord center.
How/why did you decide to specialize in driving evaluation?
I have specialized in driver rehabilitation for 16 years. I kid that I was the only OT who did not laugh in the manager’s face when he asked if someone would take the position but that is true. Shepherd was trying to start a program and it did not appeal to many. I had the opportunity to attend a lot of continuing education the first year (over 100 hours) and I was mentored by some local driving specialists. I was looking for my niche and I really found it with driving. I feel like I use all my skills and training. I have to break down tasks, recommend appropriate adaptations and counsel clients when driving is no longer realistic or safe. Driving is considered a right by most adults so returning to driving is an important milestone.
Describe a typical day at work.
I usually see two clients a day. In my practice I see clients all over the state of Georgia so at times I am traveling up to four hours to see a client. Most days I evaluate clients to determine if they can begin, resume or continue driving. Evaluations include a clinical component where I assess their strengths and deficits and a behind the wheel component. I also do some training sessions primarily with adaptive equipment. Report writing completes the day.
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?
I probably work 40 to 50 hours per week when you factor in travel. I usually sleep six to seven hours per night. I probably take two weeks of vacation.
Are you satisfied with your income?
It is reasonable.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
I paid off all my loans early. My payments were under $100 per month and except when I first began to work it was not a strain.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
Learn more about business. Consider becoming an entrepreneur.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning OT studies/school?
I don’t think we were taught enough about the business of medicine. While we usually enter the field because we want to help people, it is important to understand the economics and to learn to value your time as a commodity.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
Costs and litigation. We have to get costs down if we are to keep health care from running away with the economy. Too much medicine is practiced in a method designed not only to solve the patient’s problem but to cover the practitioner to avoid law suits. There are many unnecessary tests just to make sure no one questions things later. It is also about the latest and greatest. Sometimes an older drug or a simple procedure can fix something, but people come to expect the latest technology and it costs money to keep up.
Where do you see OT in 10 years?
With the aging of the Baby Boom we will be in great shape to meet their needs.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I am the national newsletter editor for ADED, the association of driver rehabilitation specialists. I serve on a task force for older driver safety sponsored by the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. I have been involved with Habitat for Humanity.
Do you have family? Do you have enough time to spend with them?
My husband and I have three daughters. We just became empty nesters with two in college and one in the Navy. Now that we are no longer attending the girls’ performances and sporting events, we are working on our grown up life.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing OT as a career?
You will learn from your clients and you never know how you will touch their lives. I remember reading an article that profiled one of my former clients. I had treated her after a catastrophic injury 10 years previously. She was a high school science teacher. She was understandably depressed about her inability to walk and play tennis again. She said that she was changed by my telling her that she had a choice. She could focus on the 100 things she could no longer do or on the thousands of things she could still do. After she completed her rehab she ended up returning to college for an advanced degree and becoming a research scientist.