The in’s and out’s of study, placement, and juggling life commitments as an OT student
Written by Merinda Griffith
Occupational Therapy, What is it and what does it involve?
Occupational Therapy (OT) looks at promoting health and well-being by assisting individuals to participate in everyday, meaningful occupations. As a professional, OT involves understanding a range of conditions, or factors, that impact an individuals ability to participate and perform, how to assess those performance abilities and the best interventions to apply for optimum results for the client.
These occupations are considered ‘activities of daily living (ADL)’ and can be broken down into anything from dressing, showering, engaging in sports or leisure activities, returning to work or engagement in the community.
OT is ‘client-centred’ meaning that identifying what is important and meaningful to the individual is essential. Each individual will present differently; their needs and wants will be unique, their capabilities will range and their goals will differ.
One of the most important things to remember as an OT student is that you will be working as part of a multi-disciplinary team. This means you’ll often be working with other allied health professionals; psychologists, speech pathologists, doctors, nurses etc.
Occupational Therapy is a rewarding and fulfilling profession; you are given the opportunity to build rapport with those around you and become a key part of the recovery or development of some amazing individuals.
Where do OT’s work?
Occupational Therapists can be found in private or public sectors; hospitals or private practices. The department of speciality will help to navigate the area that they work. Private practices can include working with children or aged care, whilst a public sector might include rotations through departments of a larger hospital, including acute care or burns.
- Orthopaedics: After injury, OT’s work to help the individual to regain their energy and capabilities after surgery. The patients with traumatic injuries, upper or lower limb fractures, musculoskeletal and other tissue-related conditions, and people who are undergoing surgeries like a knee replacement, hip replacement, etc. Other basic tasks of the OT include providing mobility supports, such as a wheelchair, day to day activities, and help them to participate in recreational activities.
- Paediatrics: OT’s help to develop cognitive and adaptive skills in children. Includes developing skills to participate in environments such as at school or home, and also teach appropriate skills to interact with other children. There may also be focused on psychiatric and neurological conditions of the child such as cerebral palsy, autism, etc.
- Geriatrics: Assisting individuals in aged care to regain lost life skills and promote self-reliance leading to an independent life. This can be done through improving motor skills, education, and implementing exercises to aid the process of healing. It may also include dressing, participation in social activities, home management, and falls prevention.
- Neurology: This looks at conditions such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, or conditions that require special care and support. OT’s here work to prevent deterioration and minimise the effect of the neurological conditions, improving life quality for the individual. Patients may participate in aquatic therapy, be taught visual perception techniques, energy conservation, body mechanics, biofeedback, etc.
- Mental Health: Providing individuals with skills to accomplish day to day activities like grooming, hygiene, home management, etc. There may also be need to evaluate the environment at home, work, school, and several other settings; looking into stress management or interpersonal skills. Mental Health OT’s may work in correctional facilities, psychosocial clubhouses, homes, senior centres, community mental health centres, after-school programs, homeless and women’s shelters, etc.
- Acute/Critical Care: Involves patients who are suffering from serious medical conditions e.g., trauma, emphysema, stroke, etc. The OT assesses the threats to the life of the patients and loss of functions if any. The therapist may assist the families and caregivers, taking measures to determine a safe environment and develop plans for recovery pre and post hospitalisation. They also educate patients regarding skills to preserve the integrity of joints and muscles.
- Hand Therapy: Applying preventative care, non-operative intervention, and post-surgical rehabilitation of the hand or upper limb. May include providing tools such as splints, or techniques for recovery. Management of swelling, pain, wounds, etc is common, as well as education around various exercises and activities to aid healing. Often includes patients with arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, etc.
- Visual: Improving eye-related issues and reduce the level of discomfort caused due to strain in the eyes. These OT’s look after the entire visual system of the body, including eyes and brain. The primary goal is to teach skills or methods for patients to use the brain and eyes effectively to comprehend the information and form appropriate reactions. This could include areas such as working alongside Guide Dogs Australia.
- Cardio-respiratory Conditions: Involves making plans to improve the lung function of the patients. They look after the day-to-day activities of the patient and train them so that they can lead a normal life, this may also include training the patient, their caregivers and family members regarding oxygen, and even energy conservation.
- Ergonomics: Creating or establishing an environment that fits the performance capacity of the worker. The goal here is to prevent work-related injuries. It can include designing a varied environment and suggesting appropriate equipment. It can also involve minimising distractions, office organisation, review office space lighting, etc.
- Driving Rehabilitation: Looks at helping individuals to remain independent and mobile through driving. This commonly includes working with senior drivers.
Occupational Therapy Course Coverage
Occupational Therapy is a broad and encompassing profession. For that reason, the degree covers a range of different populations, demographics, conditions and concepts.
The OT course covers frameworks, which act as the foundations and guidelines for therapy, and how to establish achievable goals best suited to the client. You also gain knowledge around appropriate assessment choices and how to apply them, and interventions to meet goals.
Hang in there though, these are just the foundations and building blocks before the good stuff! OT also covers areas of psychology, mental health, paediatrics, neurology, and plenty more! By the time you finish the course, you will have all the foundations to work in any of the areas mentioned above.
As well as that, before you’re thrown out into the practicing world, the course also includes placement opportunities which help to give you that hands-on knowledge that concretes all the concepts you learn in class.
Where and how long are placements?
University placement helps to give you that hands-on knowledge that concretes all the concepts you learn in class. The placements that you take are unbelievably beneficial to help decide what areas interest you and what you can rule out early on! In the bachelor of OT, you are required to complete 1000 hours of practical, hands-on work.
These are displayed as placements in day or week blocks, which increase as you move up in the course. In the first year, you might start with a single day of observing an OT at work. By the third year, 5 week placements and fourth year finishing up with a nine-week placement.
You are also required to complete one rural placement, so be prepared for a touch of travel at some point in your degree.
Remember to be prepared and have time aside for these placements! They will all help define your skills as an OT, so throw yourself into them and learn as much as you can!
Remember to get a good sleep at the end too, you’ll need it!
Can I work and study at the same time?
Yes! A lot of OT students do work and study at the same time, even in the full-time course.
Casual jobs that allow flexibility are the best option when juggling the ever-changing schedules and placement dates.
It can also help to work in jobs that can link to OT, or that allow you to have an opportunity to see what the OT world is like.
These jobs could include working at a gym and understanding movements of the body, working in reception at a medical practice, or respite care through sites such as HireUp or Homecare Heros, which can help build an understanding of the needs and life of individuals living with a disability. Any way that you can build up more experience or develop hands-on skills, will be a great foot-up in your learning.
Where can I find other helpful information?
Helpful Hints when studying OT!
If you’re an OT Student, we’d love to hear from you. Send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know how your studies are going!