Real-life story - Rachel Rule
Rachels love of people led her to a degree where she can make a real difference. Her university has also offered a lot of support in helping her achieve dreams.
What made you decide to become an occupational therapist?
All of the jobs I have done have had care at their heart, so I knew that I wanted a career that gave me the opportunity to engage with people in my community and beyond.
Once I had decided on a career working with people, I then had to choose which path I wanted to go down. I Iooked at a few different options, such as social work, but as I’m a very creative person I knew I wanted a career that would allow me to express that part of myself, and occupational therapy offers that for me. As an occupational therapist you really have to think outside of the box to provide the best care for people. You have to become an all-round healthcare professional as you provide holistic care in providing rehabilitation to a variety of patients with a range of needs. Occupational therapy combines the biological, social and psychological aspects of medicine which makes for a career with so much diversity and different challenges all the time. It was this that really attracted me to the career.
Society and communities have always been really important to me and they are key aspects that I knew I wanted to incorporate into my career. I worked for two years supporting teenagers from various different backgrounds to engage in their communities and overcome barriers to living their lives to the full. Occupational therapy allows you to make a difference to people’s lives across the community which is something that really appeals to me about the career.
How did you become an occupational therapist?
I actually started out as a dog handler and assessor for the RSPCA, working with animals in rescue centres and their owners. I often met people that were very dependent on their pets and had a range of conditions, which meant that they couldn’t care for their pets adequately at that time. I saw that the quality of life of the people was suffering, as well as the animals, and from this experience I knew that I wanted to get into a career where I could be a part of supporting people to get to where they wanted to be in their lives.
This led me into working as a support worker in residential care for vulnerable young adults with a diagnosis of autism, learning disabilities and/or mental health conditions. I really developed my passion for providing all round care for people which aided both their mental and physical health and recognised the importance of choice, valued social roles and activity. I knew that I wanted to continue to provide this kind of holistic care so a career in occupational therapy really stood out to me.
At school, like many young people, I wasn’t totally sure what I wanted to do. I also didn’t achieve the grades that I needed to, due to struggling with a long term mental health condition. I lost my way for a while and ended up ‘sofa surfing’ and struggled to find the right support network, which led me even further away from finding a career for myself. Eventually, when I realised that occupational therapy was the career for me I had to re-take some GCSEs and enrol on an access course as a way of getting onto the university course. This seemed like a huge mountain to climb at the time, but I was overwhelmed with the support that I received from Plymouth University in relation to my mental health and I haven’t regretted the decision since!
What do you do on a day-to-day basis?
As an occupational therapy student you get the opportunity to do a wide range of placements in various different settings. This is where you really get to hone your skills, develop as a professional and learn on the job. This is combined with interactive and engaging lectures and workshops during university hours, this includes problem based learning which proves super helpful on placement when you are applying your knowledge in a practical setting.
My first year and second year placements have been very different and it’s exciting to see how broad a career you can have, you can make your career whatever you want it to be because there are so many options. During my first placement I worked in intensive care which was an amazing experience and I had the opportunity to work with dynamic, knowledgeable practice educators and patients at their most vulnerable time in their lives. Being a part of the team and enabling the patients to regain their quality of life, from entering the intensive care unit through to planning for their discharge and ensuring follow up support was an incredible experience. The close team that I worked with on this placement was huge and included doctors, surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists and health care assistants. I even had the opportunity to observe surgery, to gain a deeper understanding of the anatomy of the patient and how this would affect our practice.
My second year placement was on a child and adolescent and mental health (CAMHS) inpatient unit where I worked with adolescents. This was a completely different experience to working in intensive care. We focused more on developing coping strategies and learning skills to support the young people when they eventually left the unit, such as cooking and social skills. My educator was incredibly supportive and guided me in setting up a creative art group and a sensory circuits group. I was able to run these groups independently and I learnt a lot about risk assessment, working creatively and delivering group work, which is a big part of occupational therapy practice.
I love the fact you get to work with lots of different people, to be able to bounce ideas off each other to be able to find the best solution for the patient. You also get the opportunity to shine as an individual and be an all-round healthcare professional.
It’s definitely challenging which I see as a massive positive! You have to use creative problem solving in all of the work that you do, which I think I thrive on and it makes the work really worthwhile.
There’s also such a wide variety of paths you can take, you could spend your whole career doing different things and exploring different areas and that’s a really exciting prospect. You can work with children, adults or older adults, but you always incorporate every aspect of their mental and physical health as well as their personality and spirit. Occupational therapy is about finding what is meaningful to a person and putting that at the centre of your practice.
At the end of the day you are improving someone’s quality of life which is the most rewarding thing you can do.
Next steps and top tips for others
At the moment I’m looking forward to my next placement! I’m also working on a group dissertation to research the experiences of shared activities between support workers and people with a learning disability who live in residential homes. We hope to learn more about how we can improve the lives of these individuals and highlight the importance of support staff.
I’m really passionate about helping people from hard to reach populations and that will definitely be something that I want to incorporate into my career moving forward, and occupational therapy is a great way of doing that. Since beginning my degree, I have had the opportunity to shadow an area of interest, which for me is Early Intervention in Psychosis, My experiences of shadowing in this area have recently been presented as a poster at the regional Royal College of Occupational Therapists conference. This is a fantastic and dynamic area of practice that really interests me and I feel its work that can make an important difference to people’s lives.
As a student occupational therapist there are so many opportunities to develop your CV and gain experience in areas that you are interested in. During my first year I attended the Royal College of Occupational Therapist’s annual conference in Birmingham and attended to so many inspiring sessions.
Plymouth University have offered me a wealth of support with this project and it has opened up so many doors for us for graduation and beyond.