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Zakia Muhammad

Hometown: Montgomery, Alabama

Undergraduate school and program: Auburn University at Montgomery (AUM) – Bachelor's in Psychology

Graduate school and program: Alabama State University (ASU) - Master’s in Occupational Therapy

Expected graduation year: 2023

Will you tell me how did you come to learn about occupational therapy?

At first in undergrad, I was a nursing major. I stopped doing nursing because of a test. So, if I had known that you could get a certain grade or score for that test, then I probably would have still been in nursing. And so, after changing over to psychology, I was just trying to figure it out and thought "Ok with psychology, I can't really get a secured job straight out after undergrad,” so I thought of doing research on different careers I can do.

I found occupational therapy really interesting because there are so many things you can do with people and help them get back to doing their meaningful occupations. It was something new for me, especially since I'm kind of introverted. Also, I like helping people. But I like to be in my comfort zone, so I thought occupational therapy would help me get out of my comfort zone.

Why did you think occupational therapy particularly was for you?

Occupational therapy was for me because for every other discipline you have, you can work in different settings. I'm thinking just to help people do their ADLs (activities of daily living) and not just tasks for physical therapy, where you have to work on strength, etc. But with occupational therapy, you can help with their motor skills in addition to what they like to do on a daily basis, such as dressing or driving. So, I thought there was a broader range of things you could do with occupational therapy.

What are some obstacles you had to face to get where you are now?

I applied to three occupational therapy programs. I didn't get into one, but I got into the other two. I was unsure about going to UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham) because of the distance, and I'm engaged and literally getting married Sunday (October 10). So, I think that trying to balance a relationship and applying to all these schools would be considered an obstacle. And then I had a job. I worked here in Montgomery at a skilled nursing facility.

You spoke earlier about taking a gap year after undergrad and the difficulty you experienced. Could you talk a little bit more about that?

For ASU, we had to take anatomy, and I took anatomy back in my sophomore undergrad year. With taking that big break without studying—just strictly working and focusing on social life stuff—as soon as this semester started, anatomy had hit me like a truck, I'm telling you. So, I think changing the way I did things back in undergrad, like for studying and for us taking notes...I knew with grad school, it wasn't going to work. I thought, "What do I need to do differently for me to move forward in this program?"

What is something you would say in grad school that you're still adjusting to since you've been in a few weeks now and you know you've seen some things?

My grades have been reflecting how I've been studying, so I’m just trying to find new habits and creative ideas of studying to bring my grades up. That's something I'm going to have to really, really focus on and try to change.

What’s something you say you love or you're good at while you're in grad school?

Really just having a listening ear while being able to listen to the rest of my cohort because we're all in this together. There are some of us on the fence, and there are some of us doing well, but all of us are stressed out. It’s being able to listen to them whenever they have things they want to talk about, like what's happening at home or while in grad school. Just listening to them and me being there for them as well as them being there for me.

What’s something you enjoy doing outside of school?

Outside of studying, I like to enjoy my free time by sleeping and binge-watching shows or documentaries. I also enjoy getting fresh air and hiking with my soon-to-be husband.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In five years, I am married working in a skilled nursing facility and traveling. I am also accumulating more sources of income.

My last question me: what advice do you have for others who are interested in entering an occupational therapy graduate program but they are either doubtful or they're having difficulty entering?

Advice I would give them is to not feel or be discouraged. Whatever you desire in your life, whatever you want to pursue, keep believing it. Keep manifesting what you want to pursue. Don't let anybody tear your world down. Continue striving for the best and the betterment of your life. 

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