Helping People to Live Their Lives to the Fullest
TJ Pinto (OTD '24), a student in Tufts University's Entry-level Doctor of Occupational Therapy (ELOTD) program, didn't always dream of a career in occupational therapy (OT). Beginning in sixth grade, he set his sights on becoming a dentist one day.
In Pinto's junior year at the University of Delaware, however, his mother suffered a devastating injury. She was left intubated and bedbound and needed help with everything from getting out of bed to preparing for the shower.
"During her recovery, I'd hear about her experiences going through physical therapy and occupational therapy," Pinto said. "Every time I saw her or spoke on the phone, I'd learn about the progress she was making. Seeing her regain her independence was really inspiring to me."
Pinto subsequently shadowed a physical therapist and then an occupational therapist. He quickly realized OT — no longer dentistry — was where he wanted to be.
"I saw occupational therapists who were helping people with the kinds of things they had to do on a day-to-day basis, like getting dressed, buckling their seat belt, and driving a car," he said. "I like that OT gets people back to things they used to do or even things they've never done."
Service Learning a Highlight
Pinto went on to graduate with a bachelor's degree in exercise science in 2019. He then spent two years as an exercise technician in the rehabilitation sciences field while shadowing occupational therapists at a school, an acute care facility, and other settings. Hand and upper extremity rehabilitation soon became one of his primary areas of interest.
Upon visiting Boston for a weekend in October 2019, Pinto fell in love with the area and began considering Tufts for graduate school. During a virtual information session in 2020, he liked what he heard from OT admissions coordinator Jill Rocca — especially that Tufts is one the few schools offering a certificate in hand and upper extremity rehabilitation.
"Tufts jumped to the top of my list after that call," he said. "I was really excited to get accepted."
Since starting the ELOTD program in May 2021, Pinto has particularly enjoyed the service-learning component. In his first semester, he and his classmate Chloe Witt (OTD '24) were placed at Walnut Street Center, a nonprofit agency serving adults with developmental disabilities.
The experience was initially nerve-wracking for Pinto. He had never worked with this population before, and he felt that Witt had a much better knack for it. But a willingness to learn — and a class he was taking on running groups — eventually put him at ease.
"We're now able to create groups that are really impactful in these people's lives," Pinto said. "We went from mindfulness to arts and crafts, which works on fine motor skills, to now doing cooking groups — all with an occupational focus. It's cool to get the opportunity to be hands on with people and help them do things independently."
A Tight Cohort
Pinto appreciates being part of a tight cohort of 32 students, who take all classes and participate in many small-group activities together.
"Over the course of the first semester, I did some kind of group activity with every person in my cohort," he said. "You're collaborating all the time, both inside and outside the classroom. I had a small group of friends within a few weeks of coming here, and it's grown ever since."
Next up on Pinto's plate is the Hand and Upper Extremity Rehabilitation certificate program. He looks forward to being in classes with practicing occupational therapists and working on skills like splinting, burn care, and wound care.
Based on the progress he has made so far, Pinto is confident that Tufts is preparing him well for a career in OT — wherever it may take him.
"Ten years from now, I want to be an occupational therapist who is making a difference by helping the people I work with," he said. "It could be in a hospital, an outpatient clinic, or in the community setting. As long as I can make a positive impact, I'll be happy with myself."