By Tom Brandes
Sometimes, literally going the extra mile is so worth it. Jessica Lochen, an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) who has earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Healthcare and Human Services Management, could have attended a college closer to her home near St. Cloud, Minn., but chose Saint Mary’s University due to the program’s structure and support.
“Saint Mary’s had the best program, and it was laid out nicely. All the classes are accelerated with 16 weeks of instruction covered in 8 weeks. It was challenging but it seemed feasible to finish in two years,” Lochen said. “I always had the support I needed, and the teachers were super supportive even though I wasn’t on campus the last 14 months.”
An OTA for the past eight years with an Associate of Arts degree in Applied Science, Lochen has worked at the St. Cloud Veteran Affairs (VA) Hospital for the past year and a half. She finds it very rewarding to provide patient rehabilitation and help veterans through their struggles so they can regain their independence and return to their homes.
Lochen previously saw patients all day, but since the start of the pandemic, she provides rehabilitation and performs patient assessments via video and issues appropriate safety equipment.
“I never thought I could work virtually, but now I do video visits in patients’ homes. I have them walk around, help problem solve and assess their equipment needs,” said Lochen. “Like everyone else I had to adapt during the pandemic. I do assessments and explain things remotely, but I’m starting to see more out-patients now.”
In healthcare, having a Bachelor of Science degree is more desirable for employers and offers additional advancement options. Lochen loves doing rehabilitation and having completed her bachelor degree will allow her to take on more responsibilities and move into a more managerial role within rehab.
If things aren’t working smoothly for patients, Lochen wants to make changes to improve their care, and she credits Saint Mary’s for equipping her with the career skills she needs. Lochen is planning to enjoy this summer with her husband and two kids, but she’s also very interested in the school’s Master of Arts in Health and Human Services Administration degree.
“I loved Saint Mary’s. The classes are structured to help people who haven’t taken classes recently, and I liked the collaborative learning style. Having meaningful conversations and presentations and experiential learning was very helpful,” says Lochen. “I particularly enjoyed an ethics and diversity class taught by Said Mohammad. I loved all my professors, but Said stood out. He’s such a fabulous professor.”
Lochen sees much diversity at the V.A. hospital and believes she can now approach things differently based on what she’s learned, including how to communicate more effectively. For example, patients might want their whole family present to learn about their care, or maybe have their grandfather’s help in making decisions.
“I’d absolutely recommend Saint Mary’s University. I looked at a lot of programs and I was willing to travel farther for this program,” Lochen said. “It was very challenging but the professors wanted you to grasp the learning more than just work for a grade. They were always there to support us.”