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My career as an occupational therapist – by Nicole Grant

Occupational Therapy

Nicole Grant is a Brisbane-based occupational therapist who is currently completing a PhD. She is the founder of Gateway Therapies, which has a team of 6 occupational therapists, a speech therapist and social worker, who deliver mobile therapy services all over Brisbane. We are lucky to have such a great post about Nicole’s career on My Health Career!!

“If you had asked me 15 years ago where I saw my career heading, I would have told you I had no idea. Because I didn’t! I studied Psychology at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) after leaving school, but my choice of undergraduate degree had more to do with where my best friend was studying, and less to do with a career plan. I loved the idea of working in a health-related field, and psychology seemed as good a place to start as any (and my OP didn’t really allow for much else I have to admit!)

I struggled through the psychology course, mainly because I was having too much of a good time, and was still quite unsure if I was heading in the right direction, so motivation to do well was low. It wasn’t until I was in my final year that I was forced to make a choice.

By chance, my mother mentioned a friend’s daughter had studied Occupational Therapy and suggested I perhaps look further into it. I had no idea what an OT really did, but was pleased to discover that they had begun to offer the course as a Graduate Entry Masters degree. I didn’t want to do another bachelor degree, so this was appealing. I had also found that while my interest remained in the field of health care, I was less inclined toward psychology, and was hoping to help people in a more functional and practical way. The more I looked into it, the more OT appealed to me.

Entry into the Master of Occupational Therapy Studies course at The University of Queensland (UQ) was based on my GPA (passing!), references, and an interview. I told the panel that I was interested in OT in particular, because I wanted to help people be independent and be able to do the things they needed and wanted to do, despite their disability. I had been working in a newsagency while studying, and had come across a lady who for whatever reason had no hands. I watched with interest and awe as she managed to retrieve her purse and pay for her purchase with little help. I was inspired by this woman and wanted to help others like her to learn to do the same. I shared this story with the panel. I didn’t realize at the time that I had given them a perfect example of what an OT can help people to achieve. I think my passion meant more to them than my GPA or any other criteria. OT’s must have passion above anything else.

After studying for 6 years straight I was very keen to find work as soon as I graduated. I was offered a role in vocational (work) rehabilitation. In this role I developed return to work programs and suitable duties plans for injured workers, performed ergonomic assessments, functional capacity evaluations and disability assessments. I didn’t mind the work, but wasn’t passionate as such. I moved into team leader then management roles, which helped maintain my interest. The business management and HR skills I obtained in these roles would prove to be invaluable later on.

After about 6 years in this field I married and became more focused on starting a family. After our first baby came along, I picked up some contracting work – firstly for my previous employer, and then for several others. My interest in working with kids grew, as my children grew and I made the sudden (and unexpected) decision to start working with children. I had been trained in Applied Behaviour Analysis  (an autism intervention) while working with a family as a student, and had some experience working with kids on the autism spectrum. I started working in a speech therapy clinic, where I was referred children with developmental delays who needed help with handwriting, developing fine/gross motor skills, and play skills. As I became more experienced and engaged in ongoing professional development opportunities, I became more confident working with children with more challenges. Many of the kids I saw had an autism diagnosis, and I found myself particularly enjoying working with this client group.

After a few years of practicing privately, I came across an ad in our association newsletter. The Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre at Latrobe University were offering a PhD scholarship. Professor Sylvia Rodger of UQ was offering to supervise the candidate. Completing a PhD had been on my ‘bucket list’ for a while and I couldn’t resist applying. With a 3 year old and 18 month old it wasn’t brilliant timing, but this opportunity seemed too good to let pass.

I was accepted into the course and awarded the inaugural OTARC PhD Scholarship in July 2010. My research topic is helping parents of children newly diagnosed with autism to make intervention decisions by improving their health literacy about evidence. I should hopefully be finished in 6 – 9 months time.

When I started my doctorate, I sub-contracted another Occupational Therapist to take over my caseload. Gateway Therapies was born to meet the needs of the growing number of families seeking occupational therapy services in Brisbane. I now have a team of 6 occupational therapists, a speech therapist and social worker, who deliver mobile therapy services all over Brisbane. We are approved providers for FaHCSIA’s Better Start and Helping Children With Autism funding schemes, Medicare, have contractual agreements with International Health and Medical Services (who support immigrants and refugees on behalf of the government), and several insurance companies.

When speaking to students, be they a Year 10 high school student attending careers day or a 4th year OT honours student under supervision, I assure them that a career in Occupational Therapy is rewarding and fulfilling. There are many different paths that can lead you here, and none are wrong. If you are passionate and compassionate, creative and resourceful, then this is the path for you.”

More information about a career in OT on My Health Career:

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