A chat with IARP President-elect Rick Robinson
DISCOVER HIS PASSIONS
IARP President-elect Rick Robinson has earned degrees galore. But it’s not his formal education that has ensured the successful individual practice and lifestyle he enjoys. According to the long-time Florida resident, it’s about realizing your passion, setting goals to live it, accepting the setbacks and moving ahead.
“There are always knocks and disappointments along the way,” he said recently. “You have to have a tough skin in this business.”
Like many other high-achieving IARP members, Robinson’s varied and colorful career reveals noteworthy obstacles. Starting in childhood.
“I grew up in a small agricultural region in western New York and was encouraged by high school guidance counselors to learn a trade since I was ‘not college material,’” said the man who has earned a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a PhD. “So I learned welding.”
He added electronics to his vocational skill set after enlisting in the U.S. Navy where he served for six-and-a-half years. But a little more than five years into his enlistment he was injured while serving on active duty. Within 12 months he was medically discharged. It was a blow.
“I realized then that because of my disability I could no longer do the work I was trained for. As a married man with two children, I couldn’t do what I’d always done. As a result I suffered some emotional setbacks. And I still needed to find a way to make a living.
“A rehabilitation counselor with the Veterans' Administration (VA) helped me work through the emotions I felt at the time and look at career options.”
Robinson was approved for participation in the VA Chapter 31 vocational rehabilitation program: he participated in the VA work/study program, shadowed VA rehabilitation counselors and attended school. It was then that he first realized he enjoyed working with other disabled veterans. His VA counselor approved a rehabilitation plan that set Robinson on a path of advanced education focused on vocational rehabilitation.
Ever determined, Robinson earned a bachelor’s degree (psychology) and a master’s degree (education with emphasis in mental health counseling). With those under his belt he was eligible to sit for Certified Rehabilitation Counselor (CRC) certification exam, a goal he had set when he first decided upon the rehabilitation counseling route. All completed before his VA benefits ran out.
One key decision he made along the way was joining a private rehabilitation company as a paraprofessional case manager. He’d worked in the VA office for two years, earned his associate degree, and wanted to try another work environment. He liked the work in the private sector, did it well for several years, and decided he’d like it even better if he did it on his own.
Now he needed the skills of a business owner! So he enrolled in Regis University’s M.B.A. program, and two years later had his second master’s degree. During business school Robinson began a vocational and disability management consulting company, “a kind of real-life practicum,” called Momentum Healthcare. He and two partners grew the business quickly.
After seven years overseeing as many as 15 employees and subcontractors, the lights began to blink again, and Robinson decided to start anew, this time on a smaller scale so he could do the hands-on work he enjoyed most. He launched Robinson Work Rehabilitation Services Company in 2007, and within a few years took in a second rehabilitation counselor and a practice administrator, his wife. The same three run the business today.
But the wheels didn’t stop with the launch of Robinson Work Rehabilitation Services.
“I knew I didn’t necessarily want to do field work forever,” Robinson said. “Another goal was to teach.”
He was accepted in 2005 into the Rehabilitation Sciences doctoral program at the University of Florida and completed the degree in 2011. His doctoral research focus was on assessment of earning capacity in forensic vocational evaluation.
Today he’s still doing it the Robinson way. He teaches forensic vocational rehabilitation part time (three classes a year) as a faculty lecturer at the University of Florida. He spends quality time helping develop younger and emerging professionals along their career paths, working as a mentor to five or six students every term. Back at the business, he and his associate handle between 150 and 200 cases annually.
Sound like enough? Think again.
Robinson saw a gap in the existing vocational rehabilitation literature, and in 2014 published his first book. A collaboration with 25 leading national rehabilitation experts, the compendium called Foundations of Forensic Vocational Rehabilitation, edited by Robinson, already enjoys wide circulation in undergraduate and graduate rehabilitation counseling programs nationally and internationally. At Amazon.com it receives only five-star ratings.
Last year Robinson earned the outstanding alumnus award from the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions, Department of Behavioral Science and Community Health.
And there’s more.
While managing an active caseload (half litigated, half not-litigated) and teaching at the University of Florida, Robinson will take over the reigns as president of IARP in June. At the conclusion of what could be a demanding two-year term, the doctor, who will be entering his 50s and whose passion is cruising country roads on his Harley Davidson Street Glide, has one more change in mind. He plans to begin an organic, sustainable farm. On 10 acres of land near Jacksonville that he recently purchased, small livestock like chickens, goats and maybe an alpaca or two will find their home on “Lala” farm, a nod to his wife and the nickname she’s earned as a grandmother. Robinson currently spends many weekends on a tractor preparing its pastures.
In the meantime, what will happen to Robinson Work Rehabilitation Services? His 10 - 15- year goal (semi-exit strategy) is to give the company to his current associate. In return, his only request is to retain a small office where he can work part time on "interesting cases.” All told, a necessary diversion when the livestock has been tended to and the produce harvested — to return to the profession he loves.