RT Alumni Feature: Elizabeth Parker

Name: Elizabeth Parker

Degree & graduation year: Master of Science in Recreation Sciences, class of 2020.

How did you become interested in this field of work? 
I am a second generation Recreation Therapist! My Mom has been a Recreation Therapist for over 35 years! While a lot of people say that this is a “discovered or found profession”, I grew up surrounded by many people who have committed their lives to working within this field of practice.

What were some of your favorite courses while studying here at HHP? 
While I was at ECU, I was a graduate teaching assistant. Some of my favorite courses were actually the undergraduate ones I assisted with! I enjoyed having the unique perspective of educating others about a field that I was learning about myself! Some of my favorite courses that I assisted with were Assessment and Documentation and Physical and Movement Interventions.

What aspects of recreational therapy do you enjoy most? 
I love getting to see a patient or a participant do something that they previously thought they could not do. I often say that when things happen to people, the focus tends to be what they can not, or no longer do. It is amazing to be able to show people what they CAN do. Another great aspect of recreational therapy is that it is unique to each individual. What may work with one person, will not work with another. This job requires creativity and thinking outside of the box.

Tell us about your current career: 
I am a Community Recreation Therapist at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C. MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital specializes in treating persons with physical disabilities and neurological conditions. My position is unique in that it is brand new and I see patients/clients across the continuum of care: inpatient, outpatient and within the community. At my job, Recreation Therapists have dual roles: we work in patient care and manage at least one program in our Adaptive Sports and Fitness Program. I manage our Adaptive Cycling Program, Adaptive Tiny Tots and our “Pop-Up” Events. My department has five full-time Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialists, a TR Aide, a Spinal Cord Injury Peer Wellness Specialist and a Music Therapist.

 What is a typical day like for you? 
I like to say that I wear many different hats in my role which means that each day is different. As the Community Recreation Therapist working across our continuum of care, I have several focus areas: Community Outreach/Promotion, Adaptive Sports and Patient Care. Depending on the week, or even the day, “my typical” looks very different! Generally, I get a taste of each of my focus areas daily. I may assess a patient, facilitate an adaptive sports treatment session, work on a social media post and orient a new volunteer all in one day! Patient Care: I maintain an active caseload of patients in our Spinal Cord Injury Day Program. I will initially meet patients while they are inpatient at our hospital and see them once they have been discharged and come to our day program. Community Outreach/Promotion: I manage our Adaptive Sports Program social media accounts, our newsletter and our volunteers. Additionally, I am responsible for facilitating our adaptive sports program branding through flyers, calendars and registrations. Adaptive Sports: I manage our Adaptive Cycling program, Adaptive Tiny Tots and “Pop-Up” events.

What has been your favorite experience working in recreational therapy so far? 
It is difficult to choose just ONE favorite experience. I have had so many! However, if I HAD to choose….in Fall of 2021 my coworker (a physical therapist) and I got to complete the Army Ten-Miler with our patient who is in the Spinal Cord Injury Day Program who used a specialized adaptive bike from our Adaptive Sports and Fitness Program. It was an awesome experience to get to work collaboratively with another discipline and help our patient achieve a goal!

Where do you see the field of recreational therapy heading?
Over the last few years, particularly with COVID-19, I think that more and more people are finding themselves with tons of time and no idea what to do with it! The words leisure and recreation and free-time planning have come up more and more. I think that in a way the pandemic has paved a path for Recreational Therapy to step in and even further demonstrate just how valuable we are! I hope that this field continues to trend upward.

What is the greatest challenge you face as a recreational therapist?
I am lucky to work at a facility where Recreational Therapy is highly supported and valued. However, I know that this is not always the case, especially in physical rehabilitation. I find one of the greatest challenges that I personally face is constantly having to explain what Recreational Therapy is and why it is so important. It took me a long time to develop my “elevator speech”. However, I have learned to be ready with my explanation upon being asked!

What advice would you give to students who want to enter this field?
Volunteer, get involved, attend conferences and make connections! This is a small field but a very diverse one! Gaining experience in a variety of settings will allow you to develop an interest area and become more well-rounded.