Shared Success | Eastern North Carolina Now

    Publisher's Note: This post appears here courtesy of ECU News Services. The author of this post is Benjamin Abel.

Identical twins Madison and Skylar Rogan are enrolled in the College of Allied Health Scienceís Occupational Therapy masterís degree program at East Carolina University. (Photos by Cliff Hollis)

    The first thing you need to know about the Rogan sisters is simple, but helpful - Skylar wears glasses and Madison doesn't. For identical twins who are as identical as they are, this outward difference makes a difference.

    The Rogans, students in the occupational therapy (OT) program in East Carolina University's College of Allied Health Sciences, were born and raised in Athens, Georgia, to parents who made wellness a family priority. Skylar and Madison, and their younger sister, ran 5Ks and triathlons with their parents on weekends as a family.

    "I appreciate that they did that," Skylar said, "because physical exercise is a good part of my life that keeps me happy."

    They left Georgia to attend UNC Asheville where they both swam competitively - Skylar the longer distances: 200 and 500 yards and the mile; Madison stuck to shorter distances: 100 and 200 fly and the 400 individual medley.

    Both double majored in health and wellness, and psychology.

    There is a trend here.

    A friend on their swim team at Asheville introduced them to the field of occupational therapy and after their junior year both Madison and Skylar secured OT internships, which solidified their plans to apply to ECU's program.

    "Our parents raised us with an emphasis on wellness and helping others which led us both to pursue a career in health care," Madison said. "OT seemed to be perfect - medical, but then also very patient centered, getting to work with people one on one. It checked all the boxes that I was looking for in a career."

    The sisters applied to ECU's OT program at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. They both did their in-person interviews remotely, which Skylar said was challenging, but overall a good experience. Both got in, but not without a hint of concern by at least one of their future instructors.

    "When they were admitted, my concern was that if they really need each other," to be successful said Young Kim, an associate professor of occupational therapy at ECU, who teaches both Rogans. "They'll have to be more independent, but experiencing them and teaching them in classes, they're fully capable of being independent. They're good, strong students. Both of them."

    Kim said that to his knowledge, they are only the third set of twins in the OT program. The class of 1980 had set of identical twins, one who recently worked with one of Kim's children, and a fraternal pair from more recently that were in classes separated by a year.

    "A lot of the OT programs are relatively small and competitive with a lot of qualified applicants, so it was nerve racking waiting to hear back," Skylar said.

    Did they have a plan, or contingency, if only one of the sisters was selected?

    "We would have both done what was best for us as individuals," Madison said. "It just happened that they wanted both of us. ECU was the best program for us and financially it made the most sense. We were very lucky they accepted us both."

    ECU a best fit

    Anne Dickerson, a professor of occupational therapy at ECU, hired the Rogans as graduate assistants to help with her research. She has come to know the twins as a "remarkable pair and delightful, happy people" and values how they take responsibility for their education while looking out for one another.

    To highlight their humility, Dickerson told of a research participant that the sisters both worked with on a project. The participant teased them about their names, calling Madison "Mylar" to get a rise out of her and Skylar both. The sisters both let it roll off their backs and never gave correcting the patient a thought because the work was the most important thing in the moment, not if their names were mixed up.

    "They are more alike than different, but it's not a pathological thing," Dickerson said. "They are definitely separate people."

    A study done by Facebook in 2016 suggested that twins have an outsized rate of sharing occupations. The researchers found that any two "same-gender, same-age individuals" in the population have an 8 percent chance of sharing an occupation. For siblings, that rate nearly doubles while twins had a one in four chance of working the same field.

    The Rogans are doing their part to uphold that statistic.

    "The OT profession has won by getting them into the field because they care and want to meet the needs of their patients," Dickerson said.

    And ECU has been the best fit for both sisters. They live together, study similarly and have the same classes, but that isn't to say that they are inseparable.

    "I think we are fine on our own," Madison said, reflecting on recent clinical rotations that each sister completed in different parts of the state.

    Skylar was posted to a hospital in Winston-Salem, where she put skills she learned in the classroom into practice in an acute care setting. Madison was similarly situated, but at a hospital in Shelby.

    Kim knows the Rogans to be strong students individually and believes each will blossom as occupational therapists once they are working in the career field.

    "I don't know how they think about it, at all, but I think it might be good for them to pick different settings for working as an occupational therapist and try different routes in their lives," Kim said.

    The sisters will graduate in December 2023, after several rounds of clinical rotations in a variety of occupational therapy settings around the state. They will then settle in for serious studying for their boards after graduation. After that, the sisters seem wistful when considering the next stage of their lives, which will likely be the first time their paths will diverge.

    "I think we'll both just have to do what is best for us," Madison said. "I don't think we're going to end up working at the same hospital. I see this being the point where we are more separated, which is fine. If we get job offers in different places that'll be the number one priority. Of course, if it happens to be in the same place, that's a bonus."
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