She told me about her volunteer work with stroke patients, watching them relearn how to perform daily tasks safely and independently. How to transfer from a wheelchair to a bed. How to manage pulling on a pair of socks. How to make a cup of coffee in the morning. “The things that improve the health and functional performance of a patient when they get home,” she explained to me. In other words, the things that make them feel less like a patient when they get home. “That’s the true essence of rehabilitation, where patients can live independently.” That one-on-one connection, that empathy for the things that make us independent, is what drives Kasey to become an Occupational Therapist.
Kasey Hermens is a second-year at Spokane Falls Community College working on a transfer degree. She’s pursuing a Bachelor’s in Exercise Physiology, but, ultimately, she will go to graduate school and focus on Occupational Therapy. Kasey’s got a plan, one that leads her all the way to working one-on-one with patients. A dedicated plan like this is pretty striking for someone in their early 20s, but it’s Kasey’s passion for her future that stands out the most.
“There’s a few things that interest me about Occupational Therapy.” She shadowed a speech/language pathologist when she was a barista downstairs from the pathologist’s clinic, and she was really moved by the nature of rehabilitation and the way a clinician supported a patient, enhancing their development and increasing their independence. This led her to research professions surrounding rehabilitation, and she learned about occupational therapy, where she could help people re-learn the daily tasks that make up their life. She’d always been interested in health care as a future profession, and this struck her as the best way to combine her passions: she could connect with people one-one-one and she could really help them to live an independent life.
Kasey’s empathy also keeps her passionate about rehabilitation. She’s managed her own health issues, which unfortunately included struggling to make her voice and her pain heard. These health problems have also taken a toll on her life, and she’s had to adjust her activities, hobbies, and work accordingly. “It became a personal thing,” Kasey explains. And it validated her decision to go into rehabilitation, because she could offer that empathy and perspective to her patients and their families.
With a plan and passion behind her, Kasey started at SFCC. “I love being around other students who are driven and motivated about their futures.” Her studies have allowed her to join a real community at the Falls. “That community helped shape and push me, helped me grow in confidence. I don’t know if I would have gotten that anywhere else.” She hopes she can keep that same confidence and energy when she transfers for her BS. Classes will be bigger, she’ll have less time one-on-one with faculty, but she’s determined.
That determination has already seen her through her first year at SFCC. Health problems led her to only being able to work part-time, and that financial stress has been hard. One evening last year, she decided to do something about it. She got comfortable at home, opened her laptop, and logged into the Foundation’s scholarship application. “I was just really honest.” She told her story and talked about her future. And a few months later, she was awarded the Johnston-Hanson Foundation Scholarship, which would cover her whole next year at SFCC.
“I didn’t even realize how much it would mean to me to receive a scholarship until I got one. I was emotionally overwhelmed by that generosity.” She said that that’s something donors don’t get to see, the meaning of their gift. For students, it means being able to focus on school more than just making ends meet. “Donors do something really, really special,” Kasey said.
“I think about having a degree that won’t be weighed down by debt when I think about this scholarship. Even at a community college, you have to work full-time to pay that quarterly tuition. Being able to work part-time, which I need, and have school covered makes me think, “OK, I can go even further with my education.”
A future where she transfers from SFCC and gets her Bachelor’s. A future where she attends graduate school and graduates with her master’s. This scholarship and her passion for the subject inspires Kasey into patient care, to days of supporting patients and their families as they rebuild their independent lives. And she starts to see a future even further yet. Kasey talked about wanting to give back to the community that supported her.
“Someday I’d love to teach.” You can hear her smile. “That could be a nice way to bring my story full-circle.”