Occupational Therapy Placement in Mount Isa

Student Reflection

Course: 

Bachelor of Occupational Therapy

Placement Location:

Mt Isa

Year of Placement:

2021

I was excited to have the opportunity to experience a new environment and culture, even though I would be out of my comfort zone. A few weeks before leaving I learned that it was a project placement where I would be working with another student to develop a stroke education program for North West Queensland. This would involve a lot of research but limited clinical exposure (i.e. no caseload). I felt prepared for the research part as I had the skills and experience from completing my Honours Research Thesis. However, in the back of my mind I couldn’t help but feel a sense of unease about the fact that I was graduating at the end of the year with little clinical experience. How would I develop the professional competencies needed to qualify as an occupational therapist? Despite these concerns, I knew that I had been given this opportunity by my university for a reason and this project was important to the community. So, I was going to give it my best effort.

Now reflecting back on my ten-week placement, I can see the invaluable skills I have developed that will set me apart from the crowd when applying for jobs.

Firstly, I learnt what it meant to be flexible and adaptable. I remember in my first week when the power cut out in the rehabilitation centre. For us city slickers, this was new and exciting. However, we soon learned that this was a regular (and annoying!) occurrence for the people of Mount Isa. This prompted us to consider how we could develop stroke education programs that were not reliant on technology. We needed to think creatively to develop programs that could be used in any setting, with limited resources and diverse populations.

 Secondly, I have developed cultural awareness through participation in cultural workshops and events. I learned to question and challenge my perceptions and assumptions of Indigenous populations, and consider how they may influence my practice. I was able to talk to Indigenous rehabilitation assistants, cultural mentors and elders to learn more about their culture and history. Sometimes this was confronting as many of the historical events had not been addressed in my education. However, it also drove me to educate myself more and others on Indigenous culture and history so that I could advocate for them in my personal and professional life. This may be as simple as starting conversations with family and friends or showing a willingness to learn about my clients’ culture. This experience has sparked an interest in working with Indigenous communities and advocating for them on a higher level to address the gaps in their healthcare.

Thirdly, I have developed resilience from overcoming the numerous challenges of working rurally. Some professional challenges included responding to negative peers, poor internet, limited resources and staff. The personal challenges included being over 1800 km from home in an unfamiliar city, adapting to in a new culture, living with strangers and making new friends. The most difficult part of placement was being away when my sister became acutely unwell. I realised the importance of being open with my team about these challenges so that I could receive support. I developed resilience by maintaining a positive attitude and reflecting upon how these challenges were shaping personally and professional. I focussed on how the project was not just about my learning, but to help the health professionals and communities in North West Queensland.

I have always wanted to do a rural/remote placement, but knew that I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent, travel costs and living expenses without an income. The ACEN not only funded an incredible learning opportunity but allowed me to immerse myself in the community and surrounding towns. During my time off, I was able to explore the surrounding towns, visit museums and go on tours, attend local events like the Rodeo, volunteer at local shows and even help out with the filming of a country TV show. This gave me a well-rounded knowledge of the North West Community which helped build rapport with the participants at rehabilitation and develop resources which were relevant to the community. By the end of the ten weeks I was referred to as a local and often called upon to help orientate new students to the town. Being afforded opportunities like this was also key to maintaining a good work life balance and maintaining my mental health during a long placement. I would not have been able to participate in these events and experience North West Queensland to the fullest without the support of ACEN.

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