Occupational Therapists

Occupational Therapist - Chatham

Brenda, 27, obtained her honours degree in physical education and kinesiology from Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario and then obtained her master's of clinical science degree in occupational therapy from the University of Western Ontario in London. She finished school in July 2000 and is currently in her second job as an occupational therapist. Her first job was helping children with disabilities, and in her current job she work with adults in a hospital-based setting in Chatham, Ontario.

Stephanie: What made you decide to become an occupational therapist? How did you become an occupational therapist?
I was one of those people - and it seems there are many of us - who did not have clue about what I wanted to do with my life. Of course, I knew what I didn't want to do. For instance, I didn't want to look in peoples' mouths, so dentistry was out.

What I did know is that the happiest people I knew were those who liked what they did all day long - they were happy at work and after work. These people did not always make a lot of money at their jobs, but they certainly were satisfied, content and confident. I wanted to be one of those people, but to do that I had to find out what I liked doing and what matched my personality and interests.

I was in my third year of my honours degree in kinesiology and physical education, and I consulted a career counsellor. I was starting to get questions from people about what I was planning to do with my degree - "So, are you going to be a Phys. Ed. teacher?" That was not something I was not interested in doing. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy came up in job searches.

I job-shadowed people in both professions and decided my personality fit best with occupational therapy. I applied to a two-year graduate program (master's of clinical science in occupational therapy) and have been working as an occupational therapist for two years.

Occupational therapy is concerned with helping people do the things that occupy their time - when you think about all the things you do that occupy your time, it's usually simple things, like getting out of bed in the morning, having a shower, getting dressed, going to school/work, making meals, etc. Unfortunately, when something happens to our bodies, for example, if we have a stroke or a head injury, we may not be able to do the these things. This is when people may start to feel depressed, which can make it harder for them get better and to regain their health.

Fortunately, there are many assistive devices or alternate ways of doing an activity that can help us get back to doing those things that are important to us. When a person is able to do a simple thing, like get themselves in and out of the shower, they really feel better, even though they may have to use an assistive device, like a grab bar or a shower chair. Occupational therapists provide people with the skills necessary for the job of living.

Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
I love working with people. As part of my job, I am not only working with my clients, but with their families and other members of the rehabilitation team (i.e., physiotherapists, nursing staff, physicians). Sometimes I feel like an investigative reporter or detective, because I have to figure out how to help people get back to doing those activities that are important to them - which means I need to track down assistive devices that will facilitate their independence. It feels really good to help someone get back home after they have been in the hospital.

Another things that is neat about my job is that we are really in demand. I have a lot of flexibility about where I work in Canada, in the United States, in Australia, etc. I have friend who graduated and who went to New Zealand.

The best part is that I am the happy person I always wanted to be.

Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
Sometimes I have to work with people (nurses, physiotherapists, physicians, etc.) who don't like their jobs. This can be frustrating because here we are trying to help our clients and instead these people complain and bring a lot of negativity to a situation. Our clients don't need that hassle - they are already struggling with their health. The thing is that you can run into this type of person everywhere you go - I feel sorry for them because I like my job and boy, I think it must suck to not like something you spend a good deal of every day doing.

Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming an occupational therapist?
I would recommend you job shadow an occupational therapist. We work in many different areas such as pediatrics, mental health, people with hand injuries, head injuries, strokes, etc.

Make sure you like working with people.

Make sure that you enjoy learning, because you are always learning from others, be it from a patient or another healthcare professional. I take courses to upgrade my knowledge on subjects like assistive devices, wheelchair seating, techniques on stroke rehabilitation, etc. All of these courses help me to stay up-to-date with the latest rehabilitation approaches and that way I can ensure that my patients are getting the best care possible - because it's all about helping my patients reach their rehabilitation potential!

I think the most important piece of advice I can give to people, even at the age of 27, is that no matter what it is you want to do, make sure it's something that you want to do, and that you're not doing it because you make lots of money or because someone told you do it. You have a choice; you have control over your future.

Stephanie: What kind of an education do you need to be an occupational therapist? What kind of education did you get?
Most university programs in occupational therapy expect you to have an undergraduate degree that includes certain course requirements. For example, when I was taking kinesiology, I had to make sure I had good marks in anatomy, physiology, psychology and statistics. I then applied to a do a master's of clinical science program in occupational therapy. Apparently for the program in which I was accepted, they get over 700 applicants and only accepted 46 - I feel really fortunate to have made the cut!

Stephanie: What is your favourite assistive device?
My favourite assistive device is called a 'sock-aid.' It's really cool because looking at you would never know what it is and how useful it can be! What it does is to help people who have lost their ability to bend at the waist; with the device, a person who might not have been able to put on their own socks anymore can still do it! It's amazing to see how happy people are when they can put on their own socks again!

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