I began my occupational therapy training with a single vision, to make a difference to people’s lives. Without a lot of insight of what it actually means, I had it in my mind that my role is simply to help others to participate in what is meaningful to them. If a person has a disability, whether it is a physical or learning type of disability, I will help them to overcome it as much as we can together. Through my learning in occupational science, I got to understand the importance of ‘occupation’, how essential it is to the people’s everyday life and the role of occupational therapist. However, after attending a very special conference about occupational therapy, I no longer believe I understood it all.
About eight months ago, I received an email from one of my academics about a local Royal College of Occupational Therapy (RCOT) conference. I have always wanted to learn more about the professions beyond the classroom setting, so without hesitation, I made sure I was registered to attend the conference. Little did I know, my understanding in the role of occupational therapist have expanded beyond my imagination.
In the conference, I met Amanda Lawes and she spoke about neonatal and family integrated care. I seriously did not know patients can be as young as a new born baby for occupational therapists. Rebecca Johnson from Breathe Arts Health Research spoke about the unique work that her organisation do. I certainly was not expecting to hear that by teaching young people magic tricks, they can build up confidence in mastering everyday occupation, whether it is selfcare, productivity and leisure. It was amazing to hear from Kari Orman from RCOT highlighting the important role of the occupational therapist in helping people to get back to employment after changes in life circumstance. As palliative care is one of the areas that I am interested in, Gwendoline Treseder’s talk on how the occupational therapists, can be part of a person’s life until the end was very moving indeed.
I was particularly inspired by Dr Jennifer Creek’s talk on working with people who have been marginalised by the society, which is closely linked to my current practice placement, START (STudent And Refugees Together), a local charity in Plymouth that assist people who have been granted refugee status. It made me realise as occupational therapists, we must develop and evolve beyond the profession’s core skills. Even though I have only just begun my placement with START, I appreciated the difficulties that refugees have to overcome in order to settle with their new surroundings. The welfare constrains, and the society’s negative perception means refugees often experience occupational injustice which leads to the lack of opportunities to engage with meaningful occupation. This can limit what we, as the occupational therapists, could do to help the refugees and I was saddened by this.
Nonetheless, Dr Creek reminded us that we can still be the change agent for the people in need. She said, ‘even if you can’t do what you want to do, you don’t have to give up your vision’. I honestly did not expect this quote to have such a profound effect on me because my vision is to ‘make a difference’ to those around me, and I am not giving up on it.