Martin Bergschneider: transforming experience into compassionate care
Martin Bergschneider, a student in the Radford University Carilion (RUC) Master of Occupational Therapy (MOT) program, is the true definition of a renaissance man. Before joining his cohort at RUC, Bergschneider spent over a decade exploring the United States, working as tramway mechanic at Portland Aerial Tram in Oregon, a project manager at an eco-friendly landscape construction company and a coffee roaster, among other occupations.
“I’ve enjoyed countless opportunities and met thousands — maybe hundreds of thousands — of interesting people across the country,” Bergschneider recalled, “all with their own stories of challenges and victories. It’s been a great ride, and I’ve learned a lot.”
At RUC, the graduate-level programs depend on students like Bergschneider to bring their unique life experiences with them, which they share with their classmates. This exposes students to the diversity of people and potential experiences they may encounter as healthcare providers, making for more well-rounded graduates and professionals.
While Bergschneider’s path may be non-traditional, the value it brings to his fellow students and the program is invaluable.
Bergschneider began his journey to RUC by following his then-girlfriend to her master’s program on the West Coast. It was during that time that he worked a wide variety of jobs and gained experience, supporting the two of them as she worked her way through school. Bergschneider said several years and a wedding later, “she chased me back across the country as I started my program here in Roanoke.”
Bergschneider had already earned a bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry and a focus in environmental conservation. He had already decided that OT was what he wanted to study. He discovered the field while volunteering in the rehabilitation services department at Oregon Health and Science University, where he volunteered alongside occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech and language pathologists.
When he began exploring where he wanted to earn a graduate degree, he could have gone anywhere in the country, but he discovered RUC and quickly decided to apply.
“I came to RUC because of the strength and focus of the MOT program here in Roanoke,” Bergschneider said. “Additionally, I’ve lived in urban areas for a large part of my life, and Roanoke provides a good pace of life for me and my family. Becoming part of this particular program was a no-brainer.”
Bergschneider is currently in his first year of the MOT program, set to graduate in the fall of 2022. He says he’s found the MOT curriculum to be an effective balance of foundational concepts and inclusive, progressive material presented by instructors with solid experience of OT application and an expansive understanding of where OT is moving in the future.
“I’m excited to see where my professional journey will take me in the long run,” he said, “but for now, I’m focused on supporting communities through service, with an abundance of exposure gained from this program.”
Like many college students, Bergschneider acknowledges that the past year has been unusual, to say the least.
He began his OT education at a time dominated by the COVID-19 global pandemic that necessitated a fundamental change in the way students learn in the classroom, the lab and in clinical settings.
Bergschneider said that the constant threat of the virus has been stressful, but he has found solace in the strict safety protocols in place at RUC. He said that COVID precautions are taken very seriously by the University and clinical community the students learn in. Plus, he said, with the robust vaccine rollout and the persistence of everyone to support their neighbors, there is hope for finally moving past the pandemic with lessons learned and a clarity to construct systems that support every member of our communities.
Additionally, Bergschneider finds inspiration in those he is learning with.
“Despite the safety protocols we have to undertake, it’s heartening to learn physically alongside my cohort,” he said. “I respect my peers greatly for contributing the experiences that brought them here and their hopes for the future. They’re intelligent, interesting, and passionate about what we are learning, which is tremendously motivating and affirming. I like that.”
Bergschneider said that he has found occupational therapy to be a rewarding and rapidly expanding field in healthcare and wellness.
At RUC, the MOT program is dedicated to educating future OT practitioners who are responsible, ethical, creative and bold. The program offers students interprofessional collaboration opportunities, in which students present with, learn from and network with students and faculty from other disciplines across Radford University; community-based practice, including the chance to work with occupational therapy faculty in innovative practice settings such as primary care clinics and correctional facilities; and international learning opportunities, where students participate in therapeutic service and travel opportunities with occupational therapy faculty and students.
Bergschneider is excelling in the program so far and is quickly finding recognition among his peers and within the healthcare community. This spring, he was elected vice president of RUC’s Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA).
“We’re ramping up for a year filled with community service and initiatives to broaden our relationship with the hospital community in Roanoke as well as our fellow students here at RUC,” he said.
He was also recently awarded a scholarship from Area Health Education Centers (AHEC), a federally funded program established in 1972 “to improve the supply, distribution, retention and quality of primary care and other health practitioners in medically underserved areas.”
“AHEC is a thrilling and informative program geared towards deepening the understanding of the health and wellness needs of rural communities in southwest Virginia,” Bergschneider said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to broaden my exposure to the needs of communities in my new home region.”
Bergschneider said it is also humbling to have the opportunity to work with interdisciplinary learners and professionals across the medical field to better serve the needs of those around him, especially those in rural parts of Appalachia.
As for the future, Bergschneider plans to carry on the work he has begun as part of the AHEC scholarship.
“When I graduate, I’d like to bring my skills and experience to people in need where they are,” he said. “OTs are tremendously helpful in supporting transitions of life experience for people who are living it. You have no idea the impact you can have on a person who’s trying to keep on keeping on — the smallest gesture can change a person’s life. I’ve seen it.”