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Sharing Our Stories - Hermine Plotnick
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NYSOTA member Hermine Plotnick reached out to us after reading October’s issue of NYSOTA News. She had been so moved by our new feature, Sharing Our Stories, and the article that Christie Bucchieri had written about the stigma of mental illness and her own personal journey, that Hermine felt compelled to share her own story.

After reading it, we in turn were moved. We just had to meet her. NYSOTA President-Elect, Flo Hannes, and I spent a lovely afternoon with this incredibly dynamic woman. Ninety years old and a fantastic storyteller, she shared her thoughts about her family, her professional life, her community, and her hopes and dreams for occupational therapy. She has seen many changes in the course of her rich and rewarding career, and continues to remain involved and tremendously proud of the profession to which she has dedicated her life.
- Michelle Scanlon




An afternoon with Hermine Plotnick


Her father’s job as a mechanical and chemical engineer took Hermine Plotnick to five elementary schools in three different states. It was during a fortuitous afternoon at the library of PS 35 in Queens, New York that Hermine discovered the book that would change the course of her life forever. The book was called Betty Blake, OT: A Story of Occupational Therapy by Edith Stern and Meta Cobb. Hermine fell in love with the profession, and knew that she had found her calling.

“I call OT ‘a miracle’. You can get inside of people without using invasive methods. You can ignite in them what’s been there all along that they weren’t even aware of.” She is passionate about the necessity of embracing the whole person, and helping them from cradle to grave.

Hired right after her graduation, she worked as an OT at various locations in New York before landing at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. After only three short years, she was promoted to Management, and it was in this role that she discovered her true purpose - shaping and nurturing the next generation of practitioners.

“I really enjoy helping clinicians discover what’s inside of them that’s so unique and will equip them to bring out their own amazements. This is the soul of OT.” As the Founding Program Director of the OT Programs at York, LaGuardia Community College, and NY Institute of Technology, Hermine has shaped and nurtured a great many hearts and minds.

Hermine is immensely proud of the advancements that have been made in the field of mental health. “With the use and sophistication of medication, we’ve learned to stabilize mentally ill individuals so that someone with mental illness can remain with their families, function, and lead fulfilling lives.”

But there is much work still to be done, and Hermine encourages practitioners to get involved and be part of the change. Hermine has been a member of NYSOTA since the first day of her first OT class. She stresses the importance and the rewards of belonging to the Association. “NYSOTA is the representative body of the profession. You can’t be without it. If you’re without it, you’re not a professional.” She talks about the strength that can be found in numbers. “Some things cannot be done by individuals - you need a collective voice. It is critical. One person is a professional, but not a profession. A profession can only be created by members. No one is exempt. If you pull back from the Association, you’re diminishing the work of the profession."

She encourages others in the field (from practitioners to educators to students) to keep their dues up to date, read journals, follow trends, and be aware of the laws affecting the profession. “Get to know who’s there at NYSOTA, and let your voice be heard.”

Hermine is excited about the future of occupational therapy, the next generation of practitioners, and all of the ways she believes the profession will continue to develop and grow. When asked what changes she’d like to see, she answered without hesitation. “We need to increase the number of males in the profession, we need to increase awareness of OT - it’s still amazing to me how many people haven’t heard of it, and we need to collaborate with other disciplines.”

Collaboration is a hot topic, and one that Hermine feels extremely passionate about. She would specifically like to see collaboration with physical therapy. “OT and PT together can accomplish so much more than OT or PT alone. By joining instead of competing, we can open up possibilities and increase the productivity and efficiency of both disciplines. 1 + 1 could be 2, but it SHOULD be 11 if we do it right."

Hermine Plotnick is an inspiration, and a true role model for OTs and OTAs everywhere.

In her own words, here is the story she shared with us...

     My story is so humble, following Christie’s. However, I feel the need to share it, as it may provide for some readers, “another side of a story”.

I must begin by letting my readers know that I celebrated my 90th birthday this past March, blessed with strong physical and mental health. I am living alone in a wonderful house which provides for my need for space, bedrooms for my two grandchildren (Raphaela and Uriel), and their mother, my blessed daughter-in-law, (Paola), when they visit from their various, physically far locations, as well as for my two grand pianos(!) - a Steinway and a Baldwin - gifts from my parents many years ago.

I was the middle child in a family of three children - I have an older brother and younger sister. I was born unplanned (at home!), unable to wait for my mother to get to the hospital, on March 21, 1928 in Solvay, NY. My grandparents immigrated from eastern Europe to Cincinnati, Ohio before they knew one another. My parents were both college graduates (University of Cincinnati). My father had an impressive career as a mechanical/chemical engineer. My mother majored in "liberal arts” following her high school graduation, where she learned shorthand. Girls were thought to be adequately prepared for a “career” as wife and mother at that time. She was able to record conference meeting information her entire life.

My father’s employment moved us from Solvay to the other company sites in Lake Charles, LA, and Saltville, VA. We finally settled in Queens County (part of NYC), and then in the summer of 1944, just one year prior to my high school graduation, we moved to Rye, NY.  I graduated from Rye High School and although my interest had always been for science, I found myself enrolled at Alfred University as a major in ceramic design.

The terrible World War II ended the summer before I began my college career at Alfred, which was known for its beauty. I celebrated the small size of the school (enrollment was about 1400), where both students and faculty were able to get to know one another. While at Alfred, I made many friends and learned a lot about being “on my own”, almost 200 miles away from home. There, I also discovered the importance for me to sing classical choral music, a “necessity in my life” which continues to enhance my life today!

My parents continued to support my education at Columbia University where I completed the (then) bachelor degree in occupational therapy (OT). Hired right after graduation, I embarked on the beginning of my life-long interest in rehabilitation; first helping our patients adjust to whatever their limitations were for living an independent life, and then combining my clinical work while treating the mentally ill, as a graduate student. I was fortunate in my choice of career as it met my need to serve the physically and mentally ill, as well as fulfill my passion for choral music, an interest I am blessed to continue with to this day as I sing in two very high level choral groups.

I had a splendid, loving relationship with my husband, Samuel, a dentist who had a private practice for many years, and then became a full time practitioner as the Nassau County Dental Commissioner until his retirement. Sadly, we lost both of our sons, David and Michael, who died fairly young (as young adults) of cancer, although both had successful careers prior to their illnesses.

Still choral singer in two groups, and always searching for new ideas, and working hard to keep up with today’s “younger generation”!

- Hermine Deutsch Plotnick, OTR


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