My name is Sarah MacFarlane and I was the one of the Occupational Therapy Interns with Alzheimer Scotland in 2018. I am a Canadian who found herself across the pond to do the MSc (Pre Reg.) Occupational Therapy program at Queen Margaret University (QMU), Edinburgh, when I was lucky enough to undertake this opportunity between my first and second year of the two year program.
When I was asked to write this blog and reflect on my past experience as an occupational therapy intern, I will admit I felt a bit like a child star participating in a “where are they now” documentary! Thankfully, the place where I am now is not one that is gossip magazine worthy, but rather one that I can say I am in now directly because of my internship and my experience there.
Where am I now?
First off, this Canadian is still in Scotland! After two amazing years on the MSc (Pre-Reg.) occupational therapy program filled with four practice placements all around Scotland, including the Alzheimer Scotland internship, I was not quite ready to leave. I wanted to stay and contribute to the healthcare system that educated me so patiently and work in a country that welcomed me with open arms. The internship in particular shed such a bright light on the amazing work Scotland is doing for and with people living with dementia. I was offered opportunities to really get to know people living with dementia in Scotland, and people who were passionate about making change and being a voice for dementia. All of this is of course in addition to my love of Scotland’s architecture, scenery and food! For example, here is a travel picture of a pre-lockdown adventure on the Isle of Skye to give us all hope for an adventurous future, post lockdown.
I am now working full time as a Band 5 Occupational Therapist within an Adult Community Mental Health Team. Although I am not working with older adults, I work everyday with people who are living with an “invisible disability”. This term was first brought to my attention during my work with the Scottish Dementia Working Group (SDWG) through the internship, when one of it’s members said dementia was a barrier to him engaging and gaining appropriate support – that his illness and disability was not visible when people looked at him. I value that experience and knowledge everyday at work, and what unique barriers come with this when a person is trying to engage in meaningful occupations.
How did the internship prepare me for the world of work?
The internship allowed me to explore the space between being a student and being in the “real world” as a practicing therapist. It allowed for a safe space to grow, while at the same time pushing me to explore a new area and role for occupational therapy internships. There are so many ways to consider this question, but I will say that the internship prepared me for the world of work in 3 main ways:
1. Importance of having both independent and team working skills.
A skill that many take for granted I believe is the ability to work when there is not an immediate team around you, motivating you and guiding you. Although this role was very supportive and I worked as part of a team throughout the entire summer, I imagine it to be like many role-emerging occupational therapy posts in that it required a lot of initiative, leadership, creativity, time management and passion for the project you were working on. It instilled a confidence and comfort in independent working that I value so much as a practicing occupational therapist now.
2. Seeing and appreciating the value of unique occupations.
As humans, it is easy to start to stereotype populations or groups and have certain expectations for those individuals. I believe this internship came at such a critical point in my occupational therapy training as it shattered some of the stereotypes I will admit to having had, and allowed me to see the value in unique occupations no matter the age, diagnosis, perceived barriers or societal expectations. A good example was when one woman said during a “blether” with the SDWG, that just because she was old, doesn’t mean she wants to play bingo. Not that there is anything at all wrong with bingo, however I believe this does go to show that we need to think outside of some of the perceived beliefs around what occupations people value, which in this case was going to the pub. Cheers!
A great place to further see what occupations people within the SDWG valued, is through the project we worked on, called The Roots to Occupation. Check it out here
3. The importance of project development and connecting policy to people.
The projects I worked on as an intern and the policy development I was exposed to at Alzheimer Scotland prepared me for the world of work where I am currently having to adapt and enhance services offered to patients that are in line with lockdown restrictions, develop new groups, and work on all of the other aspects that come with the “paperwork” side of the role. I was able to see the direct impact that policy can have on people with dementia, but also the impact and voice people with dementia can have with policy.
So, although I am a few years out of the internship now, I can proudly say that once an occupational therapy intern, always an occupational therapy intern.
Sarah MacFarlane, Occupational Therapist
Twitter Handle: SMacFarlane_OT