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OT Spotlight: Making Travel Therapy A Permanent Gig….13 years and counting with Erica Hamel

This winter, I had the opportunity to work in an overflow COVID hospital just outside of Washington D.C. All the patients in the facility were COVVID positive and needed acute care. This was one of the hardest, but also most rewarding contracts I have completed in my time as a traveling therapist. The entire staff were contract therapists, and the rehab team was fantastic. It was incredible to know that two travelers (A PT and an OT) were leading the whole brigade!

Erica, the lead OT, was a true inspiration to work alongside. Her passion and enthusiasm to step up to the plate during a pandemic was inspiring. While she was the first OT on-site, she would put in 14-hour days to make sure all the patients got the care they needed. As staffing began to catch up with patient demand, she took the time to be a true leader and ensure that everyone felt they had a good orientation and clinical support. Many of the OTs working at the COVID overflow hospital had never worked in acute care before and she did whatever was necessary to help them be successful in this challenging environment.

As I got to know Erica during the contract, I became more and more impressed by her story and wanted to feature her here in honor of Occupational Therapy Month!

I would have never known that Erica became an Occupational Therapist by accident! For her entire childhood she wanted to be a marine Biologist. She went to a bunch of different colleges to check out their programs before applying. On her tour of the University of New England, she was shown around by an OT student. She showed her the biology program, then she showed her the OT program. Erica ended up falling in love with OT and decided to switch her major.

Erica has been an OT for 15 years and has spent all that time in clinical roles. Thirteen of the fifteen years, Erica has been doing contract work. As soon as you start working with her, it is easy to tell that she genuinely loves her job. She loves OT because she loves working with people. She loves learning about their lives, forming a relationship with them, and helping them get home. It is her passion, and it shows!

In her 13 years of doing contract work, she has worked in every clinical setting apart from the outpatient setting. For Erica, it has helped her to develop quite the toolbox of skills and allows her to hit the ground running from day 1 on a new job. In 2008, she moved from Colorado to begin doing contract work. Her first assignment was in Alameda, CA. She loved the area and wanted to stay on in a per diem capacity. She decided to apply for a per diem position in SF at CPMC and got the job. She worked there for 13 years, taking red eye flights to fulfill her commitments, and just recently resigned d/t the pandemic.

Contract work has enabled Erica to have the ability to travel for pleasure half the year. Her normal year consists of working per diem until the 2nd week of January and then raveling to Asia for scuba diving, finishing the trip in March or April in Australia. She comes home to do more per diem in either SF, or Maine, and then takes a contract for 13+weeks in MD or DC. In the summer, she takes 2-3 more months off to travel throughout Europe and Eastern Europe.\ In the fall, she will take another contract assignment. After her fall contract, she will go home to Maine for Christmas and work per diem until it starts all over again.

Her lifestyle is truly enviable and her passion for what she does is inspiring. As a tenured traveler myself, I look up to her and feel so fortunate that our paths crossed!


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