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11th January 2021

A picture of women holding a sign about what it means to be an Occupational therapist
Student Occupational Therapist, Charlotte

Current position: Second year Student Occupational Therapist and Student Ambassador at The University of the West of England (UWE) Bristol.  Part-time Rehabilitation Assistant. Student Ambassador. Selected as one of the #150Leaders on the Council of Deans Student Leadership Programme.

Top piece of advice: Shadow as many roles as it takes and reach out to friends and family who all have surprising networks. People are always happy to help so don’t be afraid to ask, experiment, change your mind or take a leap!

Education: BSc Occupational Therapy; BA (Hons) English Language; A level English Literature (B), Geography (A), Media Studies (A), AS Level Art (A); 10x GCSEs A-A*

Previous job roles: Restaurant and bar work; Temp Marketing Assistant; Temp Book Editor; Freelance editor/copywriter; Book Editor; healthcare work experience; Therapy Assistant at NHS hospital; Rehabilitation Assistant during pandemic.

Life before UWE Bristol: I had no idea what I wanted to do until I was 28 years old… I just knew I wanted to make a difference. I hoped a broad English Language degree would give me options while I decided, shadowed different publishing roles then temped after graduation as ‘paid work experience’ whilst I decided between marketing and publishing. I wanted to travel so arranged regular freelance work from a temp job I had good rapport with, and registered self-employed to cover the CV gap. I picked up a mixture of freelance and hospitality work as I explored the world, volunteering wherever I could to try and find a cause I felt passionately about that might be my calling. I returned and started a publishing role in London: editing books on marketing topics for students and professionals…

How I career changed into Occupational Therapy: During this time, my Nana had a stroke. Overnight, she not only lost physical independence, but also her ability to engage in activities that gave her a sense of purpose, meaning and belonging: caring for her family, driving and maintaining her household routines independently. Small things like needing her food cut up for her at the dinner table removed dignity and joy even from those activities left to her. I began sourcing items like a knife-edged fork so that she could eat independently one-handed, then age 28, decided the time was right to quit my job, move home and career change.

I began building this new skill set by supporting my grandparents’ care, becoming a local dementia volunteer and reaching out to my friends and social media networks for work experience opportunities. I shadowed at two of my friends’ workplaces: stroke rehab and a special needs school; then got a foothold to my Therapy Assistant role by reaching out to a girl in my school year group I’d never spoken to before! One year on, I joined UWE and never looked back.

Future plans and aspirations: to build experience in both physical and mental health and advocate this amazing profession! Even if something isn’t for you now, its never too late to change your mind.

Occupational Therapy through my eyes: If you were living with, or recovering from an illness, impairment, or disability, either physical, mental or social, how would you go about life in between? What would you be most upset about being unable to do? What activities are most important to you? Occupational Therapists enable people with physical, social or mental health challenges to problem-solve their day-to-day living, using practical, strengths-based therapy to improve their quality of life.  Together with the service user, Occupational Therapists assess current ability, individual priorities, set goals, then problem-solve ways to achieve them. Every person’s priorities and challenges are different, particularly in different specialist settings, so the range of interventions are broad and person specific. Some examples might include practicing certain skills or scenarios in a safe environment; identifying assistive equipment; adapting the environment; signposting to or running community groups; or using self-care, leisure and productivity activities both as a goal and as a therapeutic treatment for confidence, ability and motivation. Occupational Therapists also help to facilitate between different services and professions, ensuring someone’s physical, cognitive, emotional and social needs are met, in view of improving participation in their everyday activities.

How does Occupational Therapy support health and wellbeing? “Occupational therapists recognise that being able to perform meaningful, everyday activities is crucial to people’s health and wellbeing. Physical and mental illness, impairment and ageing can turn these occupations into challenges that reduce independence and undermine people’s identity. OTs support clients to recover valued occupations and, in turn, regain their independence and health.” –UWE Bristol.

Dual training in physical and mental health, plus intellectual disabilities means huge choice in settings, service users and specialisms, for example, hospitals, schools, community centres, home visits, prisons, GP surgeries, ambulance services, specialist rehabilitation, nursing homes, learning disabilities, palliative care, refugee support, addiction, homelessness; even product design, law or insurance! 

Myths & Misunderstandings:

  1. How is Occupational Therapy different from Physiotherapy? Physiotherapy focuses on restoring physiological function. Occupational Therapy focuses on safe participation in activities of daily living, physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially. The roles work closely in some settings like hospitals where physical mobility is a shared goal, combining expertise.
  2. Why is Occupational Therapy so hard to understand? Although operating in medical settings, OT takes a social approach to fixing problems of living, rather than ‘fixing’ or curing the person. This makes the role and interventions less clear cut, e.g. an acute hospital role might look very different from living with mental health or learning disabilities in the community. 

Typical example of (UWE) entry requirements: Can require a science subject but not always. 128 Tariff points. GCSE: grade C/4 or above in English Language/Literature and Mathematics, or equivalent. Skills to motivate, facilitate and empathise with an individual’s personal journey are the true essentials!

Student Occupational Therapist, Charlotte, shares her journey, myth-busting her profession as part of the virtual event series, How to Become a Healthcare Hero, delivered by Future Quest, herself and another student healthcare leader selected by the Council of Deans at the University of the West of England, Bristol. This was designed to untangle common stereotypes and misconceptions; to represent the variety of career journeys experienced; and to enable more informed career choices by giving a voice to more hidden healthcare opportunities professions.

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