Cubro OTs, left to right: Bonnie Chapman, Sophie Lister, Sharon Woodward

The primary goal of occupational therapy is to enable people to participate in the activities of everyday life. We believe that helping people to do what they want and need to do, is a pretty cool occupation. This OT week, we chat to one of our OTs Sharon Woodward, and find out why she chose this career path.

What lead you to choose a career in Occupational Therapy? I have always wanted to be in a profession that helps others specifically helping others achieve their goals. I was also interested in cognition along with physical development and OT fitted in with my interests.. Occupational Therapy provides a practical, hands-on career that helps people in all stages of life and that’s something that really appealed to me

What does your current role as an OT involve? I’m a healthcare equipment advisor here at Cubro and am lucky to work alongside other OTs in the community. Essentially my role is to help OTs find the best equipment solutions for their clients.  In some ways, I think of myself as an interpreter. We listen to the needs and goals of a client, and work with OTs and care teams, to understand what everyone’s trying to achieve. We then use this information to help find and fit the right equipment solutions. The great thing about working here is that if we can’t find the right off-the-shelf solution, our talented workshop engineers and I can work together to customise equipment. We get that millimetres matter and sometimes small tweaks to equipment, can make a big difference.

How do you ensure you stay fresh and keep up to date with professional development?

I’m lucky in that as an OT team, we’re all really passionate about keeping our skills fresh. One way we do this is by investing time in developing education and training pieces that we share with the industry. My most recent insight piece is a video designed to help assist OTs with prescribing equipment for bariatric clients. I also try to attend industry events where possible and really enjoyed connecting with other OTs at OTNZ’s conference earlier this month. I believe there is so much we can learn from each other.

How do you achieve work/life balance? I’m a very sociable person and enjoy making friends at work, so that makes coming to work fun. I also have a 1-year old son who keeps me on my toes at home. Before I know it, I’ve switched off from work into mum-mode. As OTs, I think at times it can be difficult to switch off at times, especially when we’re so passionate about helping clients. It’s important we remember to take time out for ourselves too.

What is the most important lesson you have learnt as an OT? Never assume anything and keep an open mind. If you client believes something is important to them, really listen to them. Try to understand where they are coming from and focus on that. Reflective practise and supervision is what I use to really drill down into how I am practicing making sure that I remain client focussed working with their cultural and value systems as opposed to reflecting my own.

What are the current challenges the OT profession are facing? Unfortunately, there is a lot of stress and exhaustion out there in the industry due to high volumes of work and staff shortages. Sadly, this exhaustion can cause some to lose sight of the value they bring to the table. It’s also very frustrating to feel like you don’t have enough time to spend with clients who really need it. OTs are doing the best possible job in difficult circumstances and I think they deserve to be commended.

How do you see the profession evolving over time? The emergence of new technologies is exciting, and I think we will see virtual OT clinics take off soon. This will be especially beneficial in areas that are stretched for OTs, like rural NZ. Demand for OTs who work in specific practice areas may also increase. One example of this is the global wellbeing movement. As this trend continues, workplaces may look to engage OTs to help create wellness schemes. There are also roles for OTs to play in Government as local bodies for example maybe looking to better support the growing number of homeless people. And of course, with an aging population and an increase in age-related conditions like dementia, there are many challenges OTs can help navigate in the years ahead.

Is there anything you would recommend to graduate OTs? Occupational Therapy is a great career to get into. It offers a broad range of specialist areas including both physical and mental health practice and areas of social occupational deprivation – so you can follow your passion in so many directions. I would encourage graduates to stay open to opportunities as occupational performance can be improved in all areas of life.