Occupational Therapy Week: Why I’m an OT
My mum encouraged me visit the Occupational Therapy stand at my high school careers evening as she thought I was would be well suited to a career in one of the “caring” professions. I was 13 at the time and did not know much about OT (or so I thought). I had an idea of what I wanted to do but had struggled to find a career that would encompassed all the aspects I wanted. I had toyed with the idea of joining the police force, contemplated nursing, and looked into physiotherapy.
I walked away from the stand with a beaming smile and finally a title to match the description of my ideal job – it was Occupational Therapy. I later connected that my perfect career had been staring me in the face for years and I just hadn’t realised it!
At the age of 18-months-old after an accident at home I sustained full thickness scalds to 9 per cent of my body and in an infant so small this can be very serious. After a month in a regional burns unit, skin grafts, many dressing changes, observations and therapy I was discharged back home following treatment at Royal Preston Hospital.
Throughout this experience, and treatment which spanned 15 years in total, there was only one member of the clinical team who stuck in my mind, who I would ask my mum if we could go and visit and who I looked forward to seeing on my many regular outpatient trips to the hospital – this person was the Occupational Therapist.
The OT measured me up for pressure garments to help flatten the scars, exercises to help regain my arm movement, taught my mum how to massage the scars and helped my mum deal with the emotional impact of my injury. During these sessions the OT used toys, games and food to encourage me to use my affected arm. As I grew older and had to deal with the psychological impact of the scars, bullying at school and the reactions of other people, I became more self-conscious. My OT acknowledged the psychological impact of the injury and how this was affecting my confidence and what I would chose to wear, and she offered me sessions looking at how to camouflage the scars with special make-up.
Despite the trauma which led me to see an OT, I had such positive memories of my treatment sessions and I believe this is due partly to one of the core philosophies of OT: using age-appropriate, meaningful and functional activities to rehabilitate someone back to independence. My OT used play and feeding myself as meaningful activities to me, as an 18-month-old, in order to ensure I used and moved my left arm and hand normally. I have full use of arm and hand now and am confident to wear what I want and to deal with people’s reactions to my scars. Had it not have been for this experience I may never have discovered OT.
I believe that Occupational Therapy is the health care system’s best kept secret, it is often confused with physiotherapy and whilst there is some overlap, OT uses a wide variety of interventions that help people with their daily activities, or the “job of living”. Most people do not know what an Occupational Therapist does and the term ‘occupation’ often misleads people to think we focus only on work or employment. In fact, ‘occupation’ encompasses anything that occupies your time (work, self-care, leisure) and an OT can help to overcome barriers preventing you from doing these ‘occupations’. It really is very simple, but often so simple it is overlooked, or indeed undervalued. Occupational Therapists help people of all ages who have, or have had, an illness or injury, either mentally, physically or developmentally which prevents them from balancing or engaging in their ‘occupations’ which are meaningful to them, and which from their sense of identity.
I have been an OT for 16 years now, most of those working with people with hand and upper limb injuries, including burns. I am passionate about this profession, which is so diverse and resourceful in what it can achieve.
I have recently been awarded the only NIHR post-doctoral bridging award/fellowship in the East of England, with the primary aim to develop and submit a competitive NIHR post-doctoral application (Advanced Fellowship). My research focus will be on advanced clinical practice roles within hand therapy and whether these roles improve patient outcomes in a hand trauma setting. This links with the service development project currently being implemented in the department where the finger fracture clinic has now become therapy led.
Dr Leanne Miller, PhD
BSc (Hon) Occupational Therapist, MSc Clinical Research, Accredited Hand Therapist
NIHR Post-Doctoral Bridging Programme Award Holder