From Brooklyn, New York, Gertrude Robertson OTR/L is an occupational therapist.

What do you love most about the industry you are in?

What I love is how I get to contribute to helping make a difference in a person’s daily function. I love the fact that I’m working with people that are in need. I’ve always been someone who helps people, so, for me, this particular profession fits my overall personality and lifestyle.

What keeps you motivated?

My motivation roots from every small amount of progress I see in my patients. I work in both geriatrics and pediatrics, and the people whom I work with have various types of illnesses or disabilities. Many are dependent on help with everyday things. When I see a child trace a letter or read a word after working with them for months, it fills me with satisfaction and motivation to see how happy they are with their progress. In geriatrics, to see a patient of mine who’s had a stroke and lost function in a limb be able to pull up their zipper or button their shirt without assistance, it’s very rewarding.

How do you motivate others?

I motivate others through words of encouragement to help them find their inner strength. Sometimes when I am working with a patient, they can become easily discouraged; they don’t want to try harder or keep going. You have to continuously let them know that yes, they can do this, they just need to try a little harder or try a different way. Then when they do, I praise them with words of encouragement and let them know how proud of them I am.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

My inspiration comes from the clients that I serve because each patient’s needs are unique, and it challenges my creativity. It pushes me to look for new ways to help them function, to better their everyday lives, and become more independent. The role of an occupational therapist is to help people become more independent. When it comes to occupational therapy, the term independent has a different meaning. For example, for someone who has had a stroke, they cannot pick out what they need, but you can give them choices. Would you want to wear the red dress as opposed to the white dress? Do you want an apple or grapes? This person may not be able to speak, but we can ask them to use their eyes or for a simple head movement to answer. This provides them with the opportunity to still have their own say. It’s something that we take for granted, but for them, it’s major because it gives them the ability to make a choice.

How do you maintain a solid work-life balance?

I maintain a solid work-life through my spirituality and leisure activities. I keep myself busy with community involvement because it helps to keep me balanced and perform my duties accordingly. I don’t go to work with a stressful mind because I have extracurricular activities to help me relax.

What traits do you possess that make a successful leader?

I believe I am an excellent communicator and that I lead by example by setting a good example for others to follow. I am very committed when it comes to my job. I am honest, humble, passionate and empathetic. I am also innovative, creative, and honorable.

What suggestions do you have for someone starting in your industry?

Always make sure that you put your patients first and foremost. If you are unable to manage this, it may not be the profession for you because you will be working with people who have many needs.

What is the biggest life lesson you have learned?

The biggest life lesson I have learned in this profession is to never take anything for granted. Appreciate every hour, minute, second that you’re able to function independently because many people are entirely dependent on others to do everything for them. 

Outside of work, what defines you as a person?

I believe what defines me as a person is my commitment to my spirituality and serving those in need. I’m a humble, caring and respectful person. I believe in giving back to your community and to those who are in need.

What trends in your industry excite you?

New developments and discoveries are happening every year, and this helps to keep me on top of my craft. I attend conferences and seminars to learn about them throughout the year. Perhaps a treatment I learned last year will now have a new and better way to implement it this year to help my patients. This field is continuously changing, and I never get bored of it.

Explain the proudest day of your professional life.

The proudest day of my professional life was when one of my pediatric patients was able to write his first name, legibly on a lined paper. I was his second occupational therapist, and between his first OT and myself, he had been working with us for approximately two to three years. He knew that he had written it well, and he began crying happily and hugged me. His parents and I all started tearing up. It was a beautiful moment.