Lily’s eyes opened to the impact OTs can make

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Few people have heard of occupational therapy and even fewer fully understand what OTs can actually do for people suffering illness or disability.

Rotorua teenager Lily Gordon was one of those people but stumbled upon the career option in Year 12 when her sister mentioned a friend who was studying it.

“I was always interested in physiotherapy and that sort of thing. But when I heard about occupational therapy I thought it sounded a lot more like me. It covers the mental health side as well as people’s physical needs. I’ve always coached tennis and water polo and love working with kids so I thought becoming an OT would be a cool opportunity to work with kids and mental health in particular."

Lily is now studying a Bachelor of Occupational Therapy at Otago Polytechnic and is halfway through her first year. All students must complete a month-long practicum in June and Lily was placed with Cubro. She has joined NZROT Sophie Lister on the road for client visits, and has also spent time with Cubro’s in-house NZROT team as they support OTs in the community to choose appropriate equipment for their clients.

“Most of the time I’m with Sophie and we’re going into client’s houses where I’m watching, observing and helping. Sophie sets up equipment and teaches people how to use it. She’s so handy with the equipment. Lots of it needs so much altering and she’s just able to do it on the spot. It’s pretty impressive!”

Lily has enjoyed meeting many OTs and clients and gaining a better understanding of different roles. “I never realised how many different areas OTs can work in. They all have their specific roles which has been really interesting to learn about and see how broad the profession is.

“I didn’t realise how much all the different areas would interest me. I thought I was really set on working with kids but doing this practicum has made me realise how much of a difference OTs can make to people’s lives.

“I haven’t been exposed much to people living with disabilities. Sophie and I went into a community home which was pretty eye-opening to see so many people living with such high needs with just a couple of carers but also how a lot of them are so functional. It’s pretty great how an OT can bring in life-changing equipment to help with daily care routines. I honestly wouldn’t mind which part of the profession I worked in now, it’s all really exciting.”

Lily, who is 18 and formerly went to Lakes High School in Rotorua, is thoroughly enjoying student life in Dunedin and is now living in a hall of residence to get the full tertiary experience.

“I’m really enjoying it. It’s a big change from high school. There’s a lot more self-directed learning,” she says.

“We had three papers in our first semester which were really good at introducing you to what occupational therapy is really about. One was ‘foundations’ which is obviously learning the basics. Then ‘professional practice’ which has been helpful in how to interact with clients, and ‘human body’ which I found really interesting, learning about the body and how it works.”

Throughout her three year degree, Lily will have the opportunity to complete five practicums to give her a thorough grounding of what the realities of the job entail. She is grateful to have been placed with Cubro for her initial practicum and has enjoyed her four weeks of on-the-job experience in the Bay of Plenty.

“It’s been really cool. Everyone at Cubro is so friendly and happy to chat with me about their role and what they do, and how they link up with OTs which has been really nice.”