What led Jasmine Davis from her job as a nurse’s assistant toward a career in occupational therapy was her son, Stephon.
What got her through a grueling two-year grind toward certification? A village.
Stephon, now 7 years old, had a pediatric stroke that wasn’t diagnosed until he started to walk, which he did with a pronounced limp. The left side of his body had been affected, and part of the treatment was occupational therapy.
“All the things he did in OT helped him. Then at 4 he had open-heart surgery,” Davis said. “Nothing stops him, so I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.”
Looking online at Bates Technical College in 2010, Davis saw the school was about to offer an occupational therapy assistant program for the first time. There were some prerequisite classes, then six quarters of full-time schooling and internships.
And there was the cost — about $10,000.
“The four quarters with us are pretty demanding,” program director Denise Tremblay said. “The days run from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and there’s a lot of work. In the fifth and sixth quarters, we place them in full-time field work, under the supervision of an occupational therapist.
“By the end of that internship, they’re functioning with a full-time caseload.”
Davis, who was pregnant while taking her prerequisites, applied for a scholarship but didn’t get one. When she began the program at the downtown Tacoma campus, she worked on call as a nurse’s assistant at ManorCare Health Services in Gig Harbor, often getting the graveyard shift.
“There were times I’d get off work and go straight to school,” said Davis, a 1998 graduate of Foss High School. “My mom took care of Stephon and the baby (daughter), Sanaa. I’d go home at lunch to feed her.
“My teachers at Bates knew my schedule and understood that on Fridays I had to go to therapy with Stephon. They couldn’t have been kinder. They made what was hard seem easy.”
After the first quarter, Davis applied for a scholarship again; this time, she got one for the next three quarters. The father of her children contributed what he could.
“What stands out about Jasmine is, she has this beaming smile and exudes positive energy every day despite many challenges she was faced with,” Tremblay said. “Jasmine was very positive, very professional, and she modeled that for other students. Everywhere she went they loved her.”
Still, there were times she considered walking away.
“There were times I thought I took on too much. I’d lost so much time with my daughter, I felt overwhelmed at times,” Davis said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I should stop, finish this later. …
“My family kept me going. My mother, Anita, would encourage me. My twin brother, Jason, my older brother, Chris, they’d push me, help me. Some nights one of them would watch the kids to give me a break. They’d let me use their computer.”
Even the landlord of her Tacoma house helped out.
“There were times I fell behind in the rent, and he’d tell me, ‘Pay what you can,’” she said.
Davis was 33 when her final quarter began. Her internship was with the Good Samaritan Children’s Therapy Unit in Puyallup.
“They loved her,” Tremblay said. “They’d never hired an (occupational therapy assistant) before, and Jasmine was in our first graduating class. They created a position for her.”
When classes ended, one more obstacle awaited Davis and the other members of that first Bates group — the national licensing exam, which cost $540.
“I applied for a temporary license while I saved for the test,” Davis said. “I started work Dec. 3, 2012, and took the test in February. I got up three days later at 6 a.m. and looked online and saw a big ‘P’ for passed next to my name. Then I ran around screaming and woke the rest of the house up.”
After making $10 to $14 an hour as a nursing assistant, Davis began a career in which the median salary is $50,000.
Of the 15 students in the graduating class of 2012, Tremblay said, 14 have jobs as occupational therapy assistants, and the 15th is in the military.
“I tell people it’s never too late,” Davis said. “Every day means you’re one day closer to what you want to achieve.”
For more on the Bates occupational therapy assistant program, visit bit.ly/1iuGKpk.Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com