When her family moved from South Africa to the U.S. in 2012, Hermien Sauermann, MS, ’17, had been working as an occupational therapist for more than a decade. While in the process of moving, Sauermann asked the Secretary of State’s office about requirements to continue practicing in the U.S., but she didn’t get complete information, as the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy (NBCOT) changed the requirements around the same time. NBCOT evaluated her undergraduate work and concluded more than half the requirements for her to take the exam were deficient.
“It was quite a shock at the time,” she says.
Upon learning she couldn’t sit for the NBCOT exam, she thought perhaps she would pursue another career path. Then, she heard about someone else’s experience getting a master’s degree in occupational therapy.
Sauermann began researching master’s degree programs. With none available near her new home in Atlanta, she knew her studies would have to be through an online program. She then found the Advanced Master of Science in Occupational Therapy program at ATSU-ASHS and Bernadette Mineo, PhD, OTR/L, program director.
“Dr. Mineo patiently and selflessly mentored me through this process, even before I signed up for the master’s program at ATSU,” says Sauermann.
However, it was a shot in the dark. Even with the master’s degree, there was a chance she wouldn’t be able to take her board exam since no program, including ATSU’s, focused on qualifying for the board exam.
She decided to enroll in ATSU’s program anyway. The curriculum had to be adapted to fit Sauermann’s unique situation. It also required her to do additional research and studying outside her courses to learn about U.S. occupational therapy systems.
After graduating with her master’s in occupational therapy in August 2017, she again had her qualifications evaluated by NBCOT. Remaining deficiencies required her to travel to complete other hands-on courses as well as additional online courses.
Finally, in May 2018, Sauermann was granted permission to take her board exam. One month later in June, she learned she passed.
Now, Sauermann works in a private practice and contracts with two small companies in different parts of Atlanta to provide pediatric occupational therapy. After many years of reading about the U.S. occupational therapy system, she is experiencing it firsthand.
“The systems are different, but the practice is the same,” she says. “Since I started practicing, the philosophy behind occupational therapy has changed everywhere, but there are so many more opportunities in the U.S. for occupational therapy.”