Human Services


Today I spoke with Ilisa Oman from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). She has a big job there and uses math every day. I think it’s pretty cool that even though she isn’t terribly comfortable with math, she’s been able to become proficient in the math she needs to get her job done.

Can you explain what you do for a living?

NAMI Maryland is the state organization for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. My overall job is to make sure our messaging gets out there – erasing the stigma of mental illness and letting people know about all our programs. I have multiple roles in my position. I plan our major events such as our Walk, Annual Conference, Annual Meeting. In addition, I am responsible for all of our communications and outreach efforts such as creating our print and electronic newsletters, messaging through social media, and maintaining our website, flyers, webinars and press releases. And, I am responsible for some fundraising such as our annual campaign and our Walk. In addition to planning the logistics of that event, I am also responsible for soliciting sponsors and recruiting our fundraising teams/donors.

When do you use basic math in your job?

I use basic math to create my budgets when planning all of my events. An accurate budget is critical, particularly when working for a small, underfunded non-profit. I need to be cognizant of not only what things cost but also the related service charges and fees and be able to accurately calculate them. I also use math in determining our fundraising goals – percentages, where we are in relation to last year, and where we need to go.

Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math? Why or why not?

Calculators and Excel spreadsheets are my best friend. I wouldn’t dream of trying to create a budget without those tools.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

As I mentioned, accurate budgets are critical for any event, but particularly for a small non-profit with little money. Math helps me do my job better because it keeps me on track. Seeing the numbers and an actual budget keeps me grounded and helps me realize the limits I have to work within when planning an event.

How comfortable with math do you feel? Does this math feel different to you?

Honestly, I am not comfortable with math. I never have been. It is probably harder for me to do this math, even with tools at my disposal, because the functioning of my organization depends on it.

What kind of math did you take in high school? Did you like it/feel like you were good at it?

I have never been good at math. My senior year in high school, most of my friends were taking pre-calc at a minimum. However, I took a class called “Pre-College Math” which basically was math to help me on the SAT.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job? Or was it something that you could pick up using the skills you learned in school?

The math I use is pretty basic. I just needed to become proficient in Excel.

Anything else you want to mention?

My daughter was diagnosed with a learning disability in math when she was in 2nd grade. Fortunately, in this day and age, there are so many resources out there to help people overcome such challenges, resources that I wish I had when I was young. Never be afraid to ask for help with math!

 Want to know more?  Please ask or comment below.

Photo Credit: chuck.taylor via Compfight cc

Man oh, man! You’re in for a treat today–especially if, like me your favorite character on Law & Order SVU is Dr. Huang. Jaime Adkins has been a forensic psychologist for six years. Basic math allows her to manage her time, so that she can meet those pressing deadlines.

Can you explain what you do for a living? 

I complete court-ordered evaluations of felony-level offenders in 11 counties. I complete interviews and psychological assessments to offer the court a professional opinion regarding issues of competency to stand trial, not guilty by reason of insanity, death penalty mitigations, intervention in lieu of conviction and bindover status for juveniles.

When do you use basic math in your job?

I use very little math in my profession. The majority of math is simple addition and subtraction for time management. We are allotted 30 days to complete our evaluations. This amount of time includes the interview, assessment, travel time, report writing, etc. I have to calculate the amount of time needed. Also, I have to report the amount of time that was spent on each portion of the assessment.

Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math?

No. It is simple math that I am able to complete in my head without a calculator or computer.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

Math contributes to time management. This affects productivity and the budget. By utilizing math I am able to determine if I am spending too much or too little time on certain aspects. Although my job is not always time specific (as some cases are more difficult), it still keeps a boundary.

How comfortable with math do you feel? 

I am comfortable with simple math that is required at work. In general, I do not feel comfortable with math. I have always had difficulty with higher level mathematics.

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I took Algebra and Calculus. I did not enjoy it and had difficulty with it. I often had to ask my older brother for help with my homework. I was thrilled when I completed my last class relating to mathematics.

Curious to know more?  Let me know any questions you have, and I’ll see if she can spare some time to answer.

Photo Credit Photo Credit: Jack Mallon via Compfight cc

You probably see your recycling truck driver every week and yet never think about the ins and outs of their job.  Sarah Penrod is one of those faithful people who picks up your recyclable goods on a regular basis so that you can help make the world a little greener.  I found it interesting to hear about her job.

Can you explain what you do for a living?

I work for South Utah Valley Solid Waste District. I drive a roll-off truck, and I haul recyclable cans and deliver compost. I also work the scale which weighs trucks as they come in and out.

When do you use basic math in your job?

We use math a lot in conversions. We convert pounds into ton and then calculate the price per ton. I also use geometry when I am loading or taking the container off my truck. I have to make sure that I have the right angle so the can is able to slide off correctly rather than on its side.

Do you use any technology (like calculators or computers) to help with this math?

We use a computer to convert most of the weights and dollar amounts for us, but I use geometric principles in my head.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

I have to understand and know my angles and conversions in order to do my job effectively.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I feel comfortable with basic math, but anything beyond algebra would require some refresher courses.

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I took Algebra and Geometry.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job?

No, the math was something that I already knew.

There may be more you’d like to know about Sarah and the job of driving a recycling truck.  This is something you may not have given much thought before. Now that you’re thinking…if you think of anything else you’d like to ask Sarah, just let me know and I’ll catch her in between routes.

There’s a lot of magic involved in Santa Claus’s annual journey around the world. Delivering presents to that many households can’t be done without it. But there’s also quite a bit of math. And I’m thrilled that Santa agreed to do this interview with us, revealing a few secrets of how math helps him in his work.

Can you explain what you do for a living?

Well, throughout the year, my main job is to oversee a large toy production facility at the North Pole. This includes supervising thousands of elves, who are responsible for toy manufacturing, as well as management of the reindeer stables, grounds work, sleigh maintenance and other smaller details.

But my main responsibility is only on one night of the year. On Christmas Eve, I pilot a large, flying sleigh, driven by eight reindeer and Rudolf, throughout the world to deliver presents to all good boys and girls. It’s a big night, and I usually take off the entire month of January to recover!

When do you use basic math in your job?

There’s a surprising amount of math involved in my work. These days, the naughty-and-nice list is in a database. A sophisticated set of formulas help me map out my once-a-year trip, which determines how the sleigh is packed. If Los Angeles gifts are on the top of the pack when I land in New York City — well, that’s a big problem.

I also need to manage my time, since I have so little of it that night. The different time zones help me stay a little ahead of the clock in most cases, but I sometimes have to do some on-the-spot figuring when weather becomes a problem.

But the real math is in the sleigh. Much like an airplane pilot, I must maintain a steady speed and take into account things like wind and visibility. The elves have helped equip the sleigh with state-of-the-art equipment, like gauges for altitude and speed. However, there have been some times when I’ve need to apply distance/speed/time ratios on the fly.

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

Absolutely. As I mentioned, we depend heavily on databases on the North Pole. These are housed in a large server, allowing us to manage our manufacturing quickly and easily. If a formula needs to be changed — for example, we need to greater ratio of purple bicycles to red bicycles — that alteration can be made in the database and applied throughout the facility. It streamlines the process considerably.

And I couldn’t fly to as many houses as I do today without my computerized dashboard in the sleigh. Each year, it’s calibrated to the specific weather conditions that are expected and even the current weight of the reindeer. Being able to customize these variables means making the most of those 20 hours that I’m in the sky.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

I’m sure many people have said this: I couldn’t do my job without math. From the elves’ payroll to the naughty and nice list, every point of this whole operation hinges on how well we’ve done the math.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I’d much rather talk to a child about what he or she wants for Christmas than sit down and solve a bunch of algebraic equations. But I’ve learned that in order to accomplish all that I do, I need to do some computing, too. I feel pretty comfortable with math, but it’s not my favorite thing in the world.

What kind of math did you take in high school?

School was a lot different way back then. You have to remember, I’ve been around for a long, long time! Heck, calculus wasn’t even invented yet, and forget about the calculator! But I did fine with the little bit of math I did take in school.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job?

When you’ve been in a job like mine for this long, you definitely have to pick up some new skills. The biggest changes have been technological. And once computers came on the scene, all of my operations had to be redesigned. I’ve even brought on some elves who are experienced with math modeling, so that we can stay ahead of any climate changes that will certainly affect our work. They’re developing up several models now with regards to the North Pole itself.

Thanks so much to Santa for taking time out of his incredibly busy schedule to answer a few questions. Happy holidays to everyone! In honor of the season, I’m going to take the rest of the week off. I’ll see you back on Monday, December 30, when we’ll kick off a really cool month designed to help you meet a special New Year’s resolution: brushing up on your basic math skills.

Leah Davis is tough as nails. She’s been a firefighter in North Carolina for 17 years. These days, she is a Captain EMT — intermediate. I had never really thought about the math required to fight fires, but reading through Leah’s responses, it all makes perfect sense. If your little guy or gal is interested in firefighting as a career, this interview is a must read!

Can you explain what you do for a living?

I am a Captain on a fire engine. This means that I respond to and mitigate emergencies ranging from motor vehicle accidents, fires (all sorts), medical emergencies and rescues. In addition to providing emergency response I complete preplans of existing businesses; the preplans are walk-through inspections which provide information of a buildings layout and any hazards that might be associated with the business. As a member of the fire service I am responsible for participating and providing training in all aspects of the job.

When do you use basic math in your job?

Within the fire service there are many opportunities to use math. The first one that comes to mind is calculating pump pressure to determine the PSI (pounds per square inch) on the end of a nozzle.  Basic math skills, like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, are necessary. A basic understanding of hydraulics and good understanding of formula usage is vital.

In order to calculate the amount of nozzle pressure is necessary, the engineer must find the friction loss of hose distance, along with appliances and elevation. Only then can the the pump be set up properly. Engine pressure is the sum of the nozzle pressure plus the friction loss plus any elevation or devices. Based on the engine pressure formula EP = NP + FL, if we need a nozzle pressure of 100 psi to flow 100 GPM then the engine pressure needs to be greater then 100 psi.

When determining how much water will be required for any given structure that is 100 percent involved in fire, the fire engineer must calculate the area and divide by 3. This gives the gallons per minute required to extinguishing the fire.

Math is also used when providing medical care. Division is used in calculating the correct dosage of medications to administer. Many medications are calculated milligrams per kilograms or mg/kg.

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

I use a calculator when finding the fire flow or GPM needed on the preplans.

Technology is not usually used on the fire ground when calculating the engine pressure. The engineer needs to be well trained and able to calculate the engine pressure in their heads.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

Having math competency provides me with additional problem solving skills. The fire service is about problem solving.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

Although I am not a math whiz by any means, I do feel relatively comfortable with math most of the time. The math that is used within the fire service–like area of a structure, GPM needed, nozzle pressure, medication dosage–helps insure the safety of firefighters and others.

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I did not take much math in high school because I did not like it and did not feel successful. However, in college I was required to take remedial math courses and then was able to move on to taking more advanced classes, including calculus. I graduated from college with a good understanding of math and problem solving. I also found that I enjoyed the problem-solving aspect of math.  Too bad I didn’t pay more attention when I was in high school.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job?

I was comfortable with my math skills when I entered the fire service.

Do you, or your child, have questions for Leah about firefighting? If so, ask in the comments section. As for summer-slide activities, why not take your child to a fire station for a tour? While you’re there, ask about the math required on the job.

Photo courtesy of danielmoyle

So this is the year — you’re ready to launch out into a new career, start a business, get back into the workplace after taking time off to raise the kids.  Rebecca “Kiki” Weingarten, M.Sc.Ed, MFA knows all about these big decisions.  As an executive, corporate and career coach, she’s worked with lots of folks who want to make successful career changes with no regrets.  As the cofounder of Atypical Coaching, Kiki works with corporations and individuals.  She says she once hated math, but today she uses math to help her clients make solid decisions that ease their way into uncharted professional territory.

Can you explain what you do for a living?

Short answer? I work with corporations and individuals  in the US and internationally to set and reach their goals, maximize their potential and fend off anything that gets in the way of their achieving that. Or as my tag line says: Motivating & Guiding Clients to Achieve Success, Focus, Productivity, Stress Management, Balance & Transitions.

Long answer? As an executive, corporate and career coach I’ve worked with people and corporations/institutions in just about every industry on the planet from education, government, finance, business, technology, science, health care, psychology/mental health to numerous industries in the entertainment and creative arts fields including theater, film and writing.

When do you use basic math in your job?  

I’m a firm believer that math is part of just about everything we do. That means that I use math in my job all the time. If I’m working with clients on an business, start-up, corporation or entertainment or creative project we work with budgets, time, financial parameters of a project.

If I’m working with clients on making a career transition we work on the mathematics of finances. How much more or less money will I be making? What kinds of financial sacrifices or changes will I make? If I’m going to be making more money, how will I manage that? Will I need a financial planner?

The math is pretty important when I’m working with clients on life-work balance. How many hours are in your day? How many hours do you need to work? How many leisure hours are there?

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

I use it if necessary. When working with corporations or projects, I’ll work with the people who do the math and they use whatever tools they normally use. If it’s an individual the math part usually comes in the form of coaching tasks that I assign them to do and then we discuss the results and strategize next steps during our sessions.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

I’m aware that math is part of everything, and I embrace it as much as possible. Math is the language of time, budgets, finances and financial decisions.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I have an interesting relationship with math. In high school I was a whiz at English and history, but I didn’t apply myself when it came to math. The year I took geometry I totally bombed one semester and decided there was no way I was going to take the Regents exam twice.  So I sat down with the class math whiz and then alone for three days and studied. I totally aced the exam. That let me know that I could do it if I just applied myself.  But I really didn’t love math best, so it still wasn’t my favorite subject.

An amazing thing happened in college when I was studying for my Bachelor’s of Science in Education. I had to take a course on teaching early childhood math and my professor (whose name escapes me now – sadly, because she was wonderful!) LOVED her subject and was such an amazing teacher. I came to understand math in a new way. Turns out I loved teaching it. I wish I’d loved it as much in elementary and high school.

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you use in your job?

I learn a new math language with all the different industries I’ve been in and coach. For example for multi-billion dollar and over one-million person target-group government projects that I’ve directed, I use one kind of math. Venture capital and business plan math is another kind. Entertainment budgeting is another kind of math, and when I’m coaching individuals on negotiating salary and compensation, that’s yet another kind of math.

Talking about money is an entirely different language, and I wish women were more comfortable speaking it. When working with women I find it’s a language they’re not as comfortable with as the men I work with. Even women in the corner offices, C-level, business owners, leaders in the corporate and other industries just aren’t as comfortable as they should be doing the math of the worth of their work and contributions. I work with them to do the math of who they are, what value they bring to their work (whatever it is), how to measure that in dollars and how to assert their value in order to get the financial rewards that they should get. Whether it’s during a job interview or asking for a raise.

One’s knowledge of math should be an evolving knowledge. School provides the basics and you keep your ears, mind and abilities ready and willing to learn new knowledge and incorporate new skills.

I often kid around that I learned a lot about coaching  by being an early childhood teacher which was my very first job. Math is no exception. I learned that math is part of every single day and most activities — shopping and spending, time, money, baking and cooking. If you pay attention to how much math is part of your daily life you’ll be amazed.

I love that Kiki talks about the language of math, because that’s what most folks are afraid of — and very good at.  You’re probably an expert in your own field, whether that’s being a mom or a speech therapist or a corporate executive.  That’s half the battle in using math to further (or launch) your career.

If you have questions for Kiki, ask them in the comments section.  I’ll make sure she knows they’re here!

Either A&E Television is super smart or I’m easily manipulated.  On January 1, the cable channel ran a marathon of Hoarders, the documentary-style television program that shows extreme hoarders getting help to deal with their illness and their (often disgustingly) cluttered and dirty homes.

I watched several episodes.

Let’s get one thing straight: I am not a hoarder.  But like most folks, I do have a clutter problem.  Hoarders makes me feel better about my own issues, while learning a bit about how to let go of material things.  And besides, professional organizing has always been a fascinating career.  The process of helping someone get organized — their spaces, their collections, their time! — is akin to waving a magic wand.

Getting organized is one of the most common New Years resolutions, so I’ve invited professional organizer Janine Adams, who owns Peace of Mind Organizing in St. Louis, Missouri.  Not surprisingly, she uses math in her work.  Here’s how.

What do you do for a living? 

I help people create order in their homes and their lives. I specialize in working with folks who are overwhelmed by clutter and for whom getting organized is a lifelong challenge. Though no two clients are alike, I typically help in the area of decluttering, then creating systems to help people function smoothly in their homes. My special skill is in gently guiding people who have a special relationship with their things so that they can let go of stuff and feel okay about it.

When do you use basic math in your job?

When someone has too much stuff to fit into their space, we sometimes have to figure out what percentage of their things they might need to part with in order to be able to store everything. So the client might agree that he or she needs to part with three of a particular type of item for every one kept, for example. When creating storage systems, I typically try to subdivide spaces using bins, so I use simple math to figure out how many bins will fit on a shelf, for example. When working with clients on creating habits and routines and time management, we break down the day into small increments and try to figure how long things will take and what can actually get done in a given amount of time.

Some organizers do a lot more space planning than I do (I’m spatially challenged, so I don’t do space planning). I imagine they use more complicated math!

professional organizer

On the financial side of my business, I use math all the time, calculating my fees (I typically charge by the hour) as well as in calculating what I owe my subcontractors. I pay sales tax on any items I buy wholesale, but sometimes I round up or down to a whole number when I’m charging the client. Then, for bookkeeping purposes, I have to calculate the base price and the sales tax on it so that they equal the whole number.

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

I use the calculator on my iPod to check my math when I’m calculating what I’m owed (or owe subcontractors). I want to make sure I get it right. I also use a calculator when I’m figuring out sales tax. I use Quickbooks to help me with my bookkeeping and appreciate its math functionality.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

If I didn’t know how to do basic math, I wouldn’t be able to run a business. I think it’s that simple. I feel like I’m constantly calculating fees, expenses, time available. Math is essential!

How comfortable with math do you feel?

This is very basic math. I’m comfortable with it!

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I was in an accelerated math program, but stopped at second year algebra, in 10th grade, because I didn’t enjoy it very much, to be honest. But I felt pretty good at it. I also took accounting classes, which have helped me in my two businesses (writing and organizing) and with home finances. What’s interesting to me is that I’m much better at basic math (the kind I use in every day life) than my husband is and he majored in applied mathematics in college.

Do you have questions for Janine?  Ask them in the comments section.  And be sure to come back on Wednesday and Friday.  I’ll show you exactly how you can use math to help yourself get organized.

Julie Norin

For many of us, math is like hearing — something we take for granted on a daily basis.  As an audiologist, Julie Norin pays close attention to both on a day-to-day basis.  Here’s how she uses math in her work and what she thinks of it. 

What do you do for your living?

I work as a clinical audiologist which means I help people who have hearing loss and other related ear problems. Essentially, I measure a patient’s ability to hear and distinguish between sounds. After analyzing the test results along with other medical data, I make a diagnosis and determine a course of treatment. Most often, the course of treatment involves fitting a patient with hearing aids, which I then program according to their hearing needs, but I may also refer my patients for continued medical care by their primary care physician, an ear, nose, and throat physician, a cochlear implant specialist, or a neurologist. I also spend a great deal of time counseling my patients and the family members of my patients regarding the diagnosis of hearing loss and treatment plan.

When do you use basic math in your job?

I use basic math daily. When testing a patient, I use simple addition and subtraction to determine differences between the ears, as well as to determine the presentation levels of the various test signals. When testing a patient’s speech discrimination abilities, I use division and calculate percentages, and with other tests I rely on a formula of ratios and statistics to determine whether results are normal or not. I also make buying decisions for the clinic where I work.  I use math to calculate clinic expense and net revenue. Our clinic provides a sliding-scale reduced fee, which is based on a person’s financial standing. This can vary between a 20% and 80% discount, so I am always applying basic math to calculate those patients’ fees.

Do you use any technology to help with this math?

My diagnostic equipment is computerized and has some technology built in, so the math can be calculated during speech discrimination testing, as long as I am tracking patient responses using the computer. But every so often, I wind up doing the caluclations myself. Hearing aids are typically programmed using a designated fitting formula, which is calculated based on age, size of the ear canal and degree of hearing loss. In terms of factoring clinic expenses and net revenue, I will pretty much always rely on a calculator if there is one close by. I like to be absolutely sure about the numbers. Especially since I work for a non-profit agency.

How do you think math helps you do your job better?

I wouldn’t be able to do my job if I didn’t have an understanding of math, especially when I’m testing, because the equipment is not able to determine differences between the ears or calculate presentation levels. It also helps me to understand test results, and determine what instruments are suitable to accomodate a patient’s needs.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I have never really felt comfortable with math. I still don’t. Hearing science and the study of acoustics are both incredibly math based, so during my studies I had to learn how to do complicated algebra and logarithic equations, which I had never understood. I was fortunate to have the most amazing professor when I went back to earn my second bachelor’s before pursing my doctorate in audiology. I could not have made it through without her.

What kind of math did you take in high school?

I actually made it all the way to 7th grade before my teacher at the time recognized that I did not know how to do long division or fractions. I could usually solve the equations, but I had my own bizarre way of doing it. By the end of that year, I was able to do the math correctly, but I never considered myself a strong math student. I remember taking algebra, geometry, and trigonometry in high school, but I know I never really learned or understood any of it. I’m not sure how I managed to pass any of those classes. I remember taking a basic math class my first semester of college and being so glad that would be the last math class I would ever have to take. Little did I know I would go back to school years later and wind up doing more math than ever.

I still have a recurring nightmare about that college math class I took as a freshman. It’s the end of the semester, time for the final exam, and either I never went to the class or I did, but never learned anything, and now I have to take the exam!

Did you have to learn new skills in order to do the math you do at work?

I don’t think I had to learn new skills for the math I use day to day, but I definitely had to learn new skills in order to get through my grad school programs. I feel much more confident about my skills now than I did back in high school. Especially when it comes to algebra. I actually enjoy it, now that I know how to do it.

Thanks so much to Julie for visitin Math for Grownups today.  If you have questions for her, ask them in the comments section

When you were in middle and high school, did you think you’d never need to use the math you were learning?  Like most grownups, you probably found out that, yes, you did need some of it — and some of it you’ll never do again.

Each Monday, I’ll introduce you to someone who uses math on the job.  We’re going to skip over the engineers, physicists and statisticians and stick to folks who use regular, everyday math.  First up, my sister, Melissa, a speech therapist.

So, what kind of speech therapist are you, and how long have you been doing this job?

Lots of people think of speech therapists in the school setting, working with kids.  But I work with adults, who are critically ill or recovering from an injury or illness in rehab.  I’ve been doing this for 19 years. Basically, I provide care in these areas:

  • Speech and communication: patients who have declined neurologically or physically and cannot talk, have slurred speech, or any difficulty communicating.
  • Swallowing: patients who have swallowing impairments, usually from neurological deficits, or physical decline in some way.
  • Cognitive: patients whose thinking skills have declined, including memory, problem solving, attention, reasoning.
  • Other specialty areas: patients with tracheotomies, laryngectomies, concussions.

All of my patients are adults, and most of them have had some sort of illness or injury.

When do you use math in your job?

Rehab is very goal oriented.  I meet with patients on a regular basis and keep data on those goals — how many questions the patient answered correctly or the number of times a he performed a certain task properly. At the end of the day, I tabulate that data. And then at the end of the week, I average the data for the week.

I also use math in some of my tasks with the patients.
Functional math is a form of reasoning, and so I will provide a patient
with math tasks to “rehab” his or her reasoning skills.

These calculations help me determine if the patient has met that goal, and if so, I create a new goal.

I also use math in some of my tasks with the patients. Functional math is a form of reasoning, and so I will provide a patient with math tasks to “rehab” his or her reasoning skills.

What kind of math is important for your job?

Percents!  If the patient got 8 out of 10 correct on a certain task, I put in the note that she was 80% successful. (But sometimes the numbers aren’t great for mental math: 29 out of 44 correct, for example.)

Most rehab and acute care settings use a very specific form of measuring assistance, called Functional Independent Measures, or FIMS.

  • Independent: 100%
  • Modified Indpendent: 100% with extra time
  • Supervision: 90% or above
  • Minimum Assist: 75-90%
  • Moderate Assist: 50-75%
  • Maximum Assist: 25-50%
  • Dependent: less than 25%

So, since I measure FIMS weekly, I am always creating percentages in my head (and on paper) of how a patient is performing on that certain task.

How does math help you do your job?

It allows me to be very accurate in data collection. Of course, many patients’ lengths of stay is dependent on whether or not there is proven progress, and the best way to prove it is to show it in black-and-white. Patients and their families would rather see “80% accuracy” as opposed to “required min assist.” Percents are more accurate and detailed.

I also firmly believe that having patients do math themselves helps them building their reasoning skills.  I think I am doing my job better by making them do math! I will even have my patients average their data for the week.  This helps them use reasoning skills as well as understand their goals and how they are progressing.

How comfortable with math do you feel?

I feel comfortable with simple math, especially if I can write it out, use pen and paper, etc. I get bogged down with more complex actions and definitions, but I don’t have to use these in my job.

Did you have to learn to use new skills?

No, I use basic elementary and middle school math. However, I do feel like it took me years in my job to realize that I could involve the patient to help me! It’s a great way to help the patient therapeutically. I think I forget to make math functional.

Thank you, Melissa for being the first person featured in Math at Work Monday! If you have questions for Melissa, feel free to ask them in the comments section.  And if you know of someone who uses regular math in their jobs — duh, of course you do! — and you would like to see that person featured here, drop me a line and let me know!