FPE asks Valerie Berg Rice, PhD, CPE, OTR/L (Chief of the ARL-Human Research and Engineering Directorate) why and how she became a Human Factors Engineer / Ergonomist?
    The short answer is that I saw the need within the health care community for additional training and application in the area of design.
    Now for the long answer.  I started my career as an Occupational Therapist and a US Army Officer.  As a military therapist, I was concerned with the physical, cognitive, emotional, and cultural aspects of individuals and individual human performance abilities in returning to a full and active life post injury or illness.  This is crucial for our military and for their families, and fulfilling for a therapist!
    Recognizing the need for a broader set of skills, I achieved a second Master’s degree in Health Care Administration and found myself engaged in a number of design projects: re-designing patient call centers; assessing and re-designing ward and unit supply cart systems; calculating the need for health care professionals based on population and injury statistics; assessing patient health care usage; creating and administrating hospital-based wellness programs; and re-designing equipment use directives.  But, I still had this desire to learn and do more for people.  And, human factors/ergonomics fit the bill. Research informs health care practitioners and administrators – helping them design better environments, equipment, and practices.
    While the Army Medical Specialist Corps periodically sent therapists to graduate school, Human Factors/Ergonomics was not a degree that was considered appropriate.  Realizing these were the types of skills I needed to help Army personnel, I presented a plan to the Chief of our Corps.  It worked!  And, I attended graduate school in Human Factors Engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.
    Now, where does the Army place a therapist with a Ph.D. in Human Factors/Ergonomics?  The answer is the US Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine (USARIEM).   I was fortunate to be the first Occupational Therapist stationed there to do full time research.  I focused my research on physically demanding military tasks, such as lifting, carrying, and psychophysics of lifting and weight perception. This was my first full-time job as a Human Factors Engineer and I loved it.  What’s not to love about a job where you get to ask questions, answer them, and then travel to explain the answers to other professionals and para-professionals, who will use the information to make the world a better place?  I was also assigned to the U.S. Army Public Health Command, helping to research and establish the need for an Ergonomic presence within this command.   All of this resulted in four actions: (1) providing graduate-level education for Occupational Therapists as part of the overarching strategic plan for the Army Medical Specialist Corps; (2) assigning therapists with Ergonomic training to either USARIEM or to the U.S. Army Public Health Command as a use tour following Human Factors/Ergonomics graduate school; (3) developing a strong Ergonomics program at the Public Health Command overseen by Occupational Therapists trained in Ergonomics; and (4) drafting a policy where individuals certified by the Board of Certification in Professional Ergonomics were eligible to receive specialty pay.
    During my military career, I was the Director of the Tri-Service Occupational Therapy Assistant Training Program at Ft. Sam Houston.  As a Colonel, I directed the educational program, introducing introductory level Ergonomics so our technicians could evaluate the worksites of injured patients. I also edited my first text-book Ergonomics in Health Care and Rehabilitation, which lead to my next job.
    I investigated over-use injuries in the military.  At that time, it was said that there were no over-use injuries in the military, because cumulative trauma only occurred in factories and other repetitive jobs. On investigating the injuries, however, it became clear that over-use injures were occurring as a result of physical training programs and in the office environment of long-term civilian employees.  As a result of these studies, policies and procedures for military physical training were altered, new educational programs were developed for service members of all ranks, and this information was placed into several service schools. The awareness of over-use injuries seems almost common-place today, yet continued education of our newer service member is always essential.
    As I prepared to retire from my military career and start a new one as a university professor, 9/11 happened.  A US Army Research Laboratory (ARL) representative met with me about the need for Human Factors/Ergonomics research focused on (and with) the U.S. Army Medical Command. I accepted the position of Chief of the ARL-Human Research and Engineering Directorate – U.S. Army Medical Department Field Element on Ft. Sam Houston.
    Since then, our research has focused on many diverse issues including data entry and retrieval for remote medical recording; helmet evaluation and design; assessment of health system data entry and acquisition tools; evaluation of non-human simulation training effectiveness; evaluation of technologies for identification of minimal Traumatic Brain Injury; assessment of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (meditation) with Soldiers and veterans for enhancing resiliency and neurocognitive performance; evaluation of training offered in-person vs. over a virtual world, and investigating neurocognitive temporal training for improving cognitive and physical performance.
    Why do I love being a Human Factors Engineer / Ergonomist?

    • My work is never dull.
    • My research results are always applied and directly help our Service members and their families. What I do has a positive impact on the lives of others.
    • The focus of my research changes, allowing me and my team, to become experts in a variety of professional arenas.
    • The work offers continued education and an excellent background for occasional expert witnessing or consulting in human factors, ergonomics, and human performance –fun options for professional work.
    • My personal interests can be combined with my professional work: Two of my edited books were written entirely on my own time (evenings and weekends), not at work. This includes the book mentioned above on Health Care and Rehabilitation and the text I co-edited with my college roommate Rani Lueder (yes, we met as undergraduates and then wrote a text together, years later!), titled: Ergonomics for Children: Products and Places for Toddlers to Teens. Much of this work (for me) combined my experience working as a therapist with children, my raising my own children, and working as a human factors engineer / ergonomist.
    • My colleagues are my friends.

    I expect the same will be true for you, should you be a professional in this field or decide to become one. 

    FPE asks H. Harvey Cohen, Ph.D., CPE (founding senior consultant at Error Analysis, Inc.) why he became an ergonomist?

    I believe it is safe to say that in past generations, such as mine, few, if any of us started out to become ergonomists!  However, this is changing as both the field (and I for that matter) enters our seventh decade.   

    Also changing is the way we impart our message not only to our potential clients, the purchasers of ergonomics expertise, but to future generations of young persons who might choose ergonomics as a profession.  That is what has drawn me over the years toward interest in developing mentoring initiatives for both students and young professionals and why I find this activity particularly invigorating in my work with the FPE.

    Like many of our field’s predecessors, I received undergraduate degrees with emphases in both neurophysiology and applied experimental psychology.  My original aim was to explore the biological bases of behavior, but I knew early that I didn’t want to spend my life in the confines of a laboratory.  Gradually, I became intrigued with the notion of pursuing a field in which I could combine my interests in applied field research with real-world consulting.  

    When Dick Pearson at North Carolina State University offered me a fully paid stipend under a graduate school fellowship program with NASA, I jumped at the opportunity. This was in the late 1960’s, during the heyday of aerospace, when we were soon to land a man on the moon and, as a graduate student, I had the resources of the very best research facilities in the world at my disposal.  It didn’t take a lot of thought to say, “sure, I’ll become an ergonomist (aka human factors engineer)”!

    Decades passed and many opportunities evolved along with them.  I spent seven amazing years at the newly established, under act of Congress, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  This led to independent consulting opportunities within a vast array of industries and to forming my own research and consulting firms specializing in injury analysis and prevention leading ultimately to a rewarding career in ergonomics consulting and forensics, professional applications I was in a position to help pioneer.

    Along the way I met many of the very best role models in our field  – some no longer with us and too many to name, but they were all totally unselfish with their time to pass on some of their keen knowledge, insights and wisdom to me… the kid.  Soon, or so it seems, I wasn’t “the kid” anymore.  And so, I have made it my passion to attempt to do the same and, in some small way, help institutionalize the process of mentoring.

    Neither my writing over 150 peer-reviewed scientific publications, 5 books, and too many book chapters to count nor having personally investigated and likely prevented thousands of injury incidents compares to the experiences I have had with young HFE professionals over the years.  Building relationships with the dozens of students and young professionals has made me most proud.  Most of these individuals I have had the privilege of knowing and mentoring are practicing ergonomists today, including my own son Joe.  

    This is the finest legacy I could possibly leave the field of ergonomics that has so enriched my life.  Prophetically, I opened a fortune cookie at a Chinese restaurant the day before writing this piece that read:  “A mentor is someone whose hindsight can become your foresight.”

    H. Harvey Cohen, Ph.D., CPE is the founding senior consultant at Error Analysis, Inc.  He can be reached through


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    shereeFPE asks Sheree Gibson, PE, CPE (President of Ergonomics Applications) why she became an ergonomist?

    In many ways, I became an ergonomist by “accident”. I graduated with a B.S. in mechanical engineering from West Virginia University and was working for a small forensic consulting firm doing accident reconstructions. In many cases, I noted that the injury had two causes: a design or mechanical failure AND a human error. When I was working on one such case, the attorney hired two experts: me to perform the mechanical analysis and a WVU human factors professor named Ralph Plummer to look at the human side of the accident. Since we had a two-hour drive each way for the site visit, we drove together and started talking. He explained what human factors professionals did and I was very intrigued. I was already working on a master’s in environmental engineering but Dr. Plummer suggested I take a beginning human factors course as an elective. I did. The next thing I knew I was changing my area of emphasis to applied ergonomics (which is part of the Industrial and Management Systems Engineering at WVU). Before I even finished my degree, Michelin recruited me to start up their ergonomics efforts in the U.S. I spent the next three years training engineers, analyzing jobs, and helping improve jobs in their five manufacturing facilities, as well as their research facility and headquarters. (And, yes, I did finish the degree remotely at night with the help of Auburn University’s Distance Learning program.)

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