Catching up with Amy Early (WC ’12)

By Paul Batterson, Contributing Writer

In her pursuit of a doctorate in occupational therapy, Amy Early (WC ‘12) said one of the patients who had the biggest impact on her was also the one who frightened her the most. During a rotation at a psych unit, Early recalls recoiling in fear when she learned about her patient, “Charlie.” 

“I always read our patient charts before I treat them,” said Early, who will graduate from the University of Illinois-Chicago this spring. “His chart talked about his past legal record and that he was incarcerated for a couple of murders. My supervisor and I went into his room together because we weren’t sure what to expect.” 

Charlie was definitely not what Early expected.   

It turns out that he was one of the sweetest men I’ve ever worked with.  He was just looking for some hope,” Early said. “They taught me in school you cannot come into a certain situation with a preconceived notion about your client. We have to learn from them who they are and what they value.   

“Over the next couple of weeks, he was in every group session I ran. In the end, he was supporting all the other patients in their journey towards wellness. That really had an impact on me.      

During her three years at the University of IllinoisChicago, Early has made a lasting impression on the school’s occupational therapy department. She received the Master of Science in Occupational Therapy Achievement Awardand was one of three students to receive the school’s American Occupational Therapy Foundation (AOTF) Scholarship award.  

The achievement award is given to a student who has excelled in academic achievement, leadership, and service. Early was nominated for the award by her mentors, Dr. Yolanda Suarez-Balcazar and Dr. Gail Fisher. 

Receiving the honor topped off a near perfect master’s degree graduation ceremony for Early. 

“They announced it at the end of the ceremony, and I was just kind of sweaty and nervous,” said Early, who maintained a 4.0 grade point average while completing her master’s degree. “When they announced my name, I don’t know if I was thinking anything.   

“(Suarez-Balcazar) gave me the award and a huge hug and told me she was really proud of me. It meant a lot to receive it from her because of how instrumental she had been in the whole process.   

Suarez-Balcazar listed Early’s involvement with many activities which included working with a team of volunteers to build an adapted car for a three-year-old girl with Meningomyelocele. 

“Early is very deserving of the Academic Achievement award for her outstanding performance in the program, her scholarly work and volunteer work, and leadership contributions,” Suarez-Balcazar wrote. “Amy has a strong sense of social responsibility and commitment to underserved communities. Additionally, she took the lead role in working with El Valor’s day program for adults with intellectual disabilities as part of completing the Fellow requirements for the college’s Health and Diversity Academy.” 

Early can trace her interest in occupational therapy back to when she was in high school. She observed a pediatric occupational therapist near the end of her junior year at WC.  

“I was kind of interested in being an OT then, but I definitely knew I didn’t want to work in pediatrics after that,” she said.  

Upon graduation from Worthington Christian, Early enrolled at Wheaton College and earned her bachelor’s degree in four years. After completing her undergraduate work, Early then enrolled at UIC, earning a master’s degree in two years and then will complete her Ph.D. work this spring.  

Im very excited to be done with school,” she said with a laugh. “Occupational therapy is a unique profession. You can get different levels of degrees. 

Technically, I could be a practicing clinician right now, but my program allows me to earn an advanced doctorate too, so you can explore an area more in-depth that you don’t know much about so you can contribute more to a local hospital.