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Community (of) OT

Chelsea Gordon

March 28, 2014

This past fall I attended the Occupational Therapy Recovery Conference 2013: Enhancing Wellness Through Alternative Strategies at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton. As I was sitting through the first two workshops of the day I was bathing in that “just went to a conference” kind of inspiration, when I realized that the source of this renewed motivation could be directly linked to an enhanced sense of belonging. Here I sat with Alberta’s current and upcoming Occupational Therapists who are working hard to promote mental health awareness initiatives in our communities. They are pushing boundaries to develop mental health promotion and prevention strategies in our school systems, advocating for Peer Support programs, and finding new ways to work “Recovery” into mental health treatments. These are my people.

In school, Occupational Therapy (OT) students are taught that community integration is central to enabling occupation with our clients. However, we are rushed through our courses at a speed that leaves very little opportunity to develop a sense of community within our cohort, and once we get through our courses we are sent across the province and/or country for clinical placements, leaving many of us feeling isolated in new cities for 6 weeks at a time.

I couldn’t tell you which of my 112 classmates share my interest in mental health. I haven’t actually had time to find out. Is it reasonable to assume that if more time was spent developing a sense of community within our programs, our occupational performances might improve? That we might be able to experience that post-conference “high” a little more often? Isn’t that what we learned in school? I think it is.

For any student who is currently (or has previously been) in any professional program, it feels like we have no time, and we often have no money. However, I URGE you to take advantage of professional development (PD) opportunities, such as attending conferences (your student association should offer some reimbursement for PD). If time, or money, and/or geography are making PD opportunities sparse, make sure to stay connected through social media avenues. For example, check out this website – www.ot4ot.com – an international group of OTs advancing the profession using online technology. Among many other activities, once a year they offer a FREE 24 hour global online conference. This is an opportunity to find that post-conference inspiration from your home. This means IN YOUR PYJAMAS!

If promoting community involvement is important to our clients, we need to realize it’s important for us too. It’s too easy to get wrapped up finishing your 75 assignments due in the next week and stressing about how you’re going to pay rent next month. These are very real stressors. But take the time (even a few minutes on Twitter!) to find opportunities for community development and involvement that work for you.