( The following is the story of an Allied Health Professional. AHP’s are physiotherapists, OTs, podiatrists and many other health professions distinct from pharmacy, nursing and doctors. AHP’s play an invaluable role in the NHS and serve the needs of many people. The authors are co-presenting at the AHP Conference on September 12th at Leeds Beckett University – AHPs: Our Voice, Our Impact )
I am fortunate to have had a loving family. I think sometimes my mum had quite a challenge with the diversity of her children. She always described me as the one who always had to be occupied as a child. Whilst my sister could be left to her own devices, there was no chance of that with me. I sought interaction and needed to be occupied – all day, every day, every moment . Not a moment could be spent where I wasn’t doing an activity of my choice; walking our dog, visiting the local pony to feed him carrots and polo’s, playing shops with the tins from my grandma’s cupboard and selling them back to her, telling my grandad stories about fairies I’d met at the bottom of the garden, improving my hand stands against the garden wall. It was a full and active life!
Looking back I was maybe born an occupational therapist (OT). I was always noticing, sensing and responding to things and people. My first ‘meaningful job’ was as a support worker for adults with learning difficulties. For the first year I didn’t drive so I’d offer residents the chance to have a walk into town, up to the local cinema or a game of pool at the nearby pub. One year in and I’d got my driving licence. It wasn’t uncommon for me to be seen trying my best to fit 4 residents in my tiny ford fiesta so I could take them further afield. I remember it being one man’s birthday and I asked him if he could do anything that day what would it be. He wanted to visit Nottingham so off we went. When I look back it was all about what mattered to the people I worked with. It was all about them following their dreams and doing the things that were in their hearts. I also got a glint that in this there was something deeply therapeutic.
By the age of 20 I’d got itchy feet and enrolled to work on a summer camp in America. Here I met someone who was to become one of my best friends. She was an OT from Denmark. As we compared work experience and interests it became clear to me that I might have options leading on from support work. After 4 months travelling with my friend and returning to England I soon booked a flight to visit her in Denmark and observed the work she did. Why hadn’t I thought of it before, a job which purely focuses on the way people are occupied; enabling them to do the most important occupations to them in ways that promoted health, well-being and happiness. In health circles we often don’t mention happiness but it is a core human wish and hope. Perhaps it should echo through our services.
A number of family and personal struggles showed me quite dramatically in a very experiential way how easily day to day functioning in life can be disrupted and even destroyed. Seeing people close to me struggle to do the things they loved and which they were doing until last week made me all the more determined to help people in challenging times. Having a glimpse of losing yourself in all this made can make one more determined to enable others to find themselves.
Starting at university I wondered where my path would take me. For someone who needs new occupational challenges as a current of her life, the thought of working as an OT and service the community in different shares and forms was very attractive.
I wasn’t wrong. I’m just 4 years into my career and in that short space of time my job has provided me with much satisfaction in the variety of challenges and opportunities it offers. I’m not too caught up in diagnosis, what I’m caught up in is the occupations that make people tick. Whether meeting people in a neuro-rehab setting, secure hospital, mental health rehab ward, people who are homeless, people struggling in their own homes, or residential and nursing homes one thing to me is clear. Occupation is relevant. Without it we are not us. Using meaningful occupation can bring hope, and it can bring a person’s soul back to life. As well as medication and bandages , occupation is worth prescribing. There is something about what we do that makes us who we are.
OT’s are part of the Allied Health Professionals family – a big and diverse family that works in the NHS and elsewhere to support those in need. I welcome the AHP conference in Leeds as its all about celebrating the work and voice of AHP’s. AHP’s are at the heart of the NHS making a difference for so many people. I am proud to be part of their number. I look forward to being at the conference. It will all be a part of the learning and listening and searching that a little girl started many years ago. I am glad it hasn’t stopped.