Healthcare leadership in Twin Cities a ‘culture shock’ for Gary native

Submitted photo Kimberly Anderson

Occupational therapy is an all-encompassing practice. The health profession uses mind, body, and environmental solutions to accomplish health and lifestyle goals. 

Occupational therapist Kimberly Anderson blends these solutions for her specialty as a hand occupational therapist. Hand occupational therapists like her help restore people dealing with orthopedic and physical disability conditions by utilizing other medical practices like occupational medicine, orthopedic surgery, primary care, and rheumatology physicians, said Anderson. Her work helps restore fractures, tears, arthritis, and general hand/arm pain so people can get back to school, work or back home. 

Anderson, who has worked for health providers like HealthPartners, said the patients she typically sees are suffering from post-surgical fractures of the fingers, wrist or elbow, thumb-hand arthritis, mommy thumb (of tendons on the thumb side of the wrist), golfer’s and tennis elbow, shoulder impingement, and pinched nerves from the hand to the shoulder like carpal tunnel from pregnancy. 

Anderson said she begins treatment of non-surgery clients with an evaluation to diagnose the actual condition and cause of the pain. “A high percentage of clients come from physicians with a ‘pain’ diagnosis, and my job is to do detective work and figure out the root cause and create a care plan”

Sessions with post-surgery clients include evaluation and treatment of surgical wounds, custom protective splinting, and post-operative exercises.

Few blacks in field

“My profession nationally is around three percent black and not nearly as diverse as the healthcare leaders and providers I was accustomed to growing up in Gary,” said Anderson. She was born and raised in Gary, Indiana. Her father was an educator and coach for 45 years in Gary Public Schools, and her mother was a library administrator for 30 years. 

“Education and reading were highly emphasized by my parents growing up,” said Anderson. “Their foundation remains a core in my professional work, which requires a lot of reading of the latest rehab and surgery literature.”

Anderson, who has been a hand occupational therapist since 2005, said her ambition to pursue a career as a health professional began at an early age. People in her family were nurses, social workers, and speech therapists, and the predominantly black community of Gary provided model examples of leaders throughout the health fields. 

Her current path was set in high school after she attended a sports medicine class and was drawn to non-medicine approaches to healing. 

Following the acquisition of her bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Indiana University, Anderson attended graduate school at the University of Minnesota. After grad school, she began practicing occupational therapy in the Twin Cities, an environment much different than her native Gary. 

“It was a bit of a culture shock to come to the polar opposite community in healthcare leadership and providers,” said Anderson. “I did not regularly see health educators or health professionals that looked like me or shared my cultural values.”

 Another barrier as Anderson entered the profession was her age; she often had to prove to clients that she did not just graduate from high school. “I have been told I look a lot younger than I am, and clients did not want a ‘Doogie Howser.’” Once she begins educating clients on what is happening with their body and what possible options they have, those “questions go away.”

Anderson said she is thankful to the preparation she received at the University of Minnesota and the connections she made there to start her career.

Students, schools or community members interested in learning more are welcome to contact Kimberly Anderson at