Work Experience 31: Occupational Therapist
I first starting thinking about a career change back in 2014, and researched a range of different courses at university to work out which one to choose. I liked the idea of working within the health industry as I think it aligns well with teaching, and Occupational Therapy stood out the most as something I might like to do. I ended up sending in an application and was excited to be offered a place in the course. There were a couple of reasons I decided not to accept the offer though, after giving it a lot of thought. One was that it’s a full-time course that needs to be completed over 4 consecutive years, which would’ve been difficult to juggle with young children and a husband who was regularly away for work at the time. The other reason was, I realised I wasn’t really certain what an Occupational Therapist actually did other than what I’d read in a course description. I was about to commit 4 years of my life and a lot of money to a career that I didn’t really know much about, which didn’t make a lot of sense. So, I decided to put the idea on the backburner.
Fast forward to early 2017 when I was seriously contemplating that career change again. Studying Occupational Therapy was still a possibility, but I wanted to learn more about it before committing to going down that road. I guess it’s what first sparked my thinking about how beneficial work experience would be, which very quickly snowballed into the idea of trying 40 work experience jobs to find out what else was ‘out there’.
Needless to say, I was very hopeful of lining up an Occupational Therapist work experience job as one of my 40, and was so grateful to have been offered an opportunity to work with Michelle Maclean. I loved watching Michelle in action in the job she’s so passionate about, and was thrilled to get a glimpse into life as an OT.
What did I do?
I rode ‘shotgun’ with Michelle over a few days, attending appointments with her and her clients from one corner of Brisbane to the other. It was the perfect opportunity to see what it is that she does in her role, which is very wide-ranging. Michelle’s car is set up as a mobile office, as she can often spend a lot of time on the road between appointments. With the help of Siri (hands free) she dictates case notes for reports after each home visit, making great use of the travel time.
I’ve decided not to give detail about the many clients I met with Michelle in order to respect their privacy and confidentiality, except to say that the majority were people who will carry their injuries to some extent throughout their lives (for example spinal injury, amputation, or hand trauma).
What does an Occupational Therapist do?
In Michelle’s words, the aim of an Occupational Therapist is to enable or improve someone’s independence in their life role. That life role could be as a worker, a parent, a caregiver or a child, depending on which area of occupational therapy the OT works within.
Michelle works in the area of occupational/workplace rehabilitation. Her primary role is to help coordinate her client’s rehabilitation after an injury, in order to rehabilitate them to exactly what they were doing before the injury occurred. In most cases that means getting them back to work. Her belief is that everyone has the chance to return to work regardless of their injuries, and that engaging in some sort of work is great rehabilitation.
Michelle’s clients are referred to her through private insurance companies, self-insurer Employers, Employers directly or through WorkCover Queensland, which is the main provider of accident insurance for work-related injuries in Queensland. If someone has an accident in the workplace, the insurer works with the injured worker, their employer, medical practitioners and health providers (including Michelle in her role as an OT) to help them recover from their injuries. Michelle continues to work with her clients until their claims are finalised, which in some cases can be life-long.
Cases/Claims can be referred to Michelle at any stage of an injured person’s recovery, and injuries can range from relatively minor to catastrophic. With catastrophic injuries, those that include brain or spinal injuries, Michelle can be involved soon after the injury has occurred. She can help to identify home modifications that may need to be undertaken before her client has been discharged from hospital or shortly after they have returned home (for example making a home wheelchair accessible by widening doorways, installing ramps, lowering kitchen benches, making showers accessible and installing rails), coordinate builders to undertake any necessary modifications to the home environment, organise for vehicle or workplace modifications to be carried out, and arrange equipment through suppliers that will aid her client or help with their rehabilitation. This could be anything from one-handed jar openers, to equipment that can aid someone getting into and out of bed, to wheelchairs or other mobility aids.
With catastrophic injuries Michelle acts as a case manager, coordinating a team of psychologists, exercise physiologists, podiatrists or other trusted health providers for her clients. She describes it as creating a scaffold, or team, around her clients to help them recover from their injuries. Her goal as an Occupational Therapist is to guide her clients through what can be an overwhelming and confusing time in their life – to navigate the medical, allied health and insurance systems to maximise their recovery and independence.
Another arm of Michelle’s work is in injury prevention through risk assessment or ergonomics. Michelle has completed additional training in Case Management, Occupational Health and Safety and Ergonomics so is able to go into workplaces, identify potential problems, and recommend ways in which a work environment can be made safer in order to reduce the risk of injury to workers. When she completes her current course as a Driving Assessor, Michelle will be able to assess elderly drivers and those who have had injuries to determine whether they are able to continue driving. This can only be done by an Occupational Therapist in conjunction with a Department of Transport driving instructor.
What did I learn?
Doing work experience with Michelle was so worthwhile for me, and I gained a much better understanding of the valuable work Occupational Therapists do. I loved meeting Michelle’s clients, who were in varying stages of their recovery, and admired the way she interacted with each of them.
It was interesting to see and discuss how Michelle manages the business side of her work as well as her time. By hiring staff to help with administration tasks, and working ‘on the road’ as much as possible between appointments, Michelle’s able to spend more of her time doing what she does best – consulting with her clients, managing their cases, and helping them to live their best lives. What an amazing job.
To learn a bit more about Michelle’s work as an Occupational Therapist and the path she took to become one, read her interview here.