At age 13, Julie Grant already knew what she wanted to do — she’d torn some ligaments in her ankle and needed to work with a physical therapist. “I thought, this is the coolest job ever! You get to help people and you get to do sporty things,” says Grant.
Unfortunately, her first quarter at the University of Oregon was interrupted by a serious car accident that left her with a spinal cord injury. Grant returned to school after a year of rehabilitation and had to learn how to navigate life with a wheelchair. She was struggling. Her advisors didn’t think she’d be admitted to a physical therapy program, so Grant switched her major to psychology.
After graduation, Grant’s physical therapist asked why she hadn’t considered occupational therapy. “I didn’t even know what that was,” she says. “I started researching it, and as I found out more about it, I thought, wow, this is a great fit for me!”
It quickly became clear that occupational therapists were professional problem-solvers. “They figure out how a client can do the most with what they have,” Grant says. She realized she had been problem-solving since her accident — whether figuring out how to access out-of-reach washing machine controls or trying out new ways to pursue outdoor activities. “The opportunity to do that as a career was something I couldn’t pass up,” she says.
Grant applied to the master’s program in occupational therapy at the UW School of Medicine because of its excellent reputation for research. While the
academics have been rigorous, some of Grant’s biggest challenges were physical — no surprise to anyone who has visited the UW’s sprawling medical school.
“It’s such a big place,” says Grant. “On some days I’d have class on one end of the building, then 10 minutes later, another class on the other end, and it would take three elevators to get there,” she says.
However, Grant has no doubt that she chose the right school. She particularly enjoyed taking classes with physical therapy and prosthetics and orthotics students. “In the real world, especially if you work at a hospital, you’re working with those professionals,” Grant says. “Having us in classes and doing a few projects together is a really neat aspect.”
But it was the six months of field work placements following her classes that pushed Grant in a new and unexpected direction: to considering a career in pediatrics. Working with adults, Grant often felt she had to explain or prove herself. But for her second placement, she worked in the Lake Washington School District with children who had all types of disabilities.
“They didn’t care that much that I was a wheelchair user,” she says. “It didn’t bother them at all, and I really liked that and appreciated it.”