As part of Occupational Therapy degrees each student must complete one thousand hours of practice. How this is divided up varies from place to place. Northampton University divides practice hours into three placements. The first is shortest and is mainly observation. The last placement is the longest and it’s expected that each student will carry their own caseload and manage their own patients.
In traditional placements an OT student joins an existing Occupational Therapy team. They have a clinical supervisor to oversee and support them. Traditional placements usually take place in hospitals, community clinics, rehab units, care homes or schools. With final placements (when you’re nearly ready to be an OT) there is the opportunity to undertake a Role-emerging placement.
These are non-traditional and often non-clinical placements. Role-emerging placements can be with charities, youth centres, businesses or anywhere else. When undertaking a non-clinical placement your supervision is with a university tutor and there is group supervision with other students on similar placements
My last placement was a role emerging one with Limitless Travel. An accessible travel team who aim to take the stress out of visiting hotels and attractions when you have a disability. Their website allows you to filter hotels and attractions by access requirements. Wheelchair access, mobility impaired , hearing impaired, visually impaired, family friendly.
After extensive googling, I have only managed to find one other OT working with a travel company, it seems my placement is pretty ‘out there’ even for an emerging role.
One of the perks of being in a non-clinical setting is that I’m free to talk about my placement, usually when working with patients confidentiality policies make discussing placement pretty limited. With Limitless Travel I’m actively encouraged to talk about my placement, in fact it’s part of my job.
Limitless Travel is a pretty new company so I’ve been able to join in with the preparation for their website launch and with the behind-the-scenes prep.
My placement involved working in Birmingham one day every two weeks and spending a few hours on all the other days working from home. The majority of my work load is computer based so working from home has helped me pace myself much better than I’d be able to working in a hospital. My job involves running the Limitless social media channels (Facebook, twitter and Pinterest). I’m also leading the recruiting drive for Limitless Wizards. Our Wizards are industry experts, travel and disability bloggers who have the opportunity to write content for us. In exchange we give them a bio on the website, complete with social media links and we are happy to share old posts via social media. A lucky few will also get the opportunity to visit UK attractions for free and review them! The Wizards give a human element to the Limitless community, it’s always great to read about other people’s adventures and experiences when travelling with a disability.
You might be asking yourself where the OT comes in? Facebook is awesome but it isn’t exactly evidence based practice.
With a role-emerging placement, you’re not there as an OT.. at least not to start with. For the first 3 weeks we were advised to get stuck in with the company and just learn as much as possible. So that’s what I did. I really worked hard to connect with the travel community, I promoted the social media and got to know the ins and outs of the company. Once I felt settled I moved on to some OT work.
After talking with my temporary boss, Angus, we decided I should attempt some market research. I was in charge of designing a survey to investigate people’s access needs while out and about. Along side the obvious and essential things like wheelchair access we also investigated people’s preferences. After going back and forth for a few days we were both happy with the survey so I started sharing via social media. I also emailed a massive range of charities and businesses associated with the disability community. The email response wasn’t great but social media more than made up for it and we learnt some really useful things.
A lot of people struggle with anxiety while travelling so providing emergency information in advance could be helpful. People with variable illnesses sometimes need to rest quite suddenly so do hotels have anywhere quiet outside of the hotel rooms? If you in a hotel with an assistance dog where can they poop?
The final section of the survey focussed on website design preferences, it would seem plenty of people struggle with flashy icons and fancy effects. In the end we changed the colour scheme on the website to (what we hope) is a simple and classy combo with minimal visual stress.
The survey feeds in nicely to my Service Improvement Project. With our final placements we are supposed to come up with a project aimed at improving something about the service we are in, on my first day Angus and I had discussed the possibility of me writing an audit frame-work for assessing hotels and attractions.
I spent ages talking to service-users and investigating building regulations, eventually I came up with the first draft of my access audit.
The first draft of that framework was what I used to assess Caffe Nero and The New Wolsey Theatre on Disabled Access Day (12th March). I also visited Cley Marshes later on. The first draft of the framework was a 6 page long checklist of building features, staff training and more. Tactile paving, audible lift announcements, braille menus, split level reception desks, high contrast door frames.
The form is aimed at assessing a facility, like a theatre, for a range of access requirements. The theory is that my framework will be a simple way of assessing buildings and making sure we have all the info we need to load a new location onto the website.
I designed the framework around government recommended building features, the results of our access survey and a range of research pieces into the use of aids and adaptations. I ran it past a few colleagues and service users, I tested it and I reviewed it before making a few changes. The framework has now been developed into version 2.0, it’s a google docs survey that can be emailed out to hotels and attractions. I’m hoping to start work on a user guide soon.
So how does this compare to a traditional placement?
Well, I’m still using all the OT theory, occupational deprivation, leisure, aids and adaptations, mobility aids, coping strategies and I’m being as client centred as I can be…
The theory is mostly in my own head, I reflect on it and I discuss it during supervision but I’ve not written a single SOAP note, I haven’t had to wear a uniform and for some of my shifts I’ve literally stayed in bed on my laptop. Pajama OT is definitely the future as far as I’m concerned. There is much less structure so a certain level of discipline is required.
Role emerging can be challenging, you have to really know what OT is and why you’re there. It can be pretty easy to feel lost and end up doing things that aren’t really your job. The opposite is also true, it’s easy to pass up good opportunities because it ‘isn’t OT’. I tended to go with the flow, I’ve been doing any job offered but looking at with OT eyes. The way I view interactions on twitter is client centred, our followers are my patients. It might not be what I’m used to but it’s a very interesting way to work.
I also work with a lot of hypotheticals, every service I design has to be fit for as many people as possible.. except I have no idea who these people will be? I have limitless possibilities as far as my service users go so my adaptations have to be limitless too.
I think I’ve been lucky, I ended up with a placement that involves staying in bed blogging and chatting on social media. Those are my specialist skills. The flip side of bed-work is that I’m off visiting theatres and it can be pretty fast paced at times. Luckily the speed-days are usually followed by bed-days.
My work with Limitless has been really rewarding and I’m really pleased with how well it’s gone. Since finishing placement I have presented at two conferences on this topic. I’m currently applying for a third.
Limitless have also offered to keep me on as a blogger, a wizard of wizards. Hopefully if all goes well in the future they’ll hire me as an OT too!
At the start of this placement I really wasn’t sure how OT would fit into travel but I’m very pleased to say that it does.
Anyway, I hope this has been useful reading for some of you.
Any questions or comments are most welcome