A Day in the Life of an Occupational Therapist

occupational therapist

Tenille Williams: Occupational Therapist

We think of the Health Sciences as purely scientific. But certain avenues open up exciting doors to therapies that involve both a medical and creative foundation, like occupational therapy. To find out more, we met Tenille Williams, a practicing occupational therapist, who like many others, has been inspired and motivated to make a difference in people’s lives by improving the way they go about every day activities. Pretty awesome, don’t you think? Here’s what a typical day in Tenile’s OT world looks like.

So what would a normal day look like to you?

Time of Day                     

Activity                                                       

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06:15

Wake up, switch off alarm

Wake up to switch off alarm and sleep for 15 more minutes.

06:30

Actually wake up

Force myself to get up before I oversleep.

07:00

Eat, coffee, cellphone check

Quick coffee, eat if I have time, and ALWAYS check Insta, Facebook and Whatsapp.

07:25

Leave for work

Get into the car, put my tunes in and sing along 🙂

08:00

Get to work

Make more coffee, set up laptop and plan day.

08:30 – 10:00

What are we doing today?

Speak to my boss about day, plan, chat, laugh, procrastinate.

10:00 – 12:30

Plan, intervention, farm visits.

Everyday is different, it’s exciting yet unpredictable. Community-based OT 🙂

12:30 – 13:30

Go home/shop

More tunes and daydreaming. Distract myself at my fave shop “Clicks.”

13:30 – 17:00

Rest, socialise with sister

Basically lay around, talk nonsense and nap.

17:00 – 22:00

Exercise, eat, wash

Bootcamp is essential to keep me sane. Make and eat supper and more coffee. Relax, close my eyes with my night light on.

What is OT in a nutshell?
Occupational Therapists work with health issues related to trauma – physical, psychological, and developmental issues. The patient isn’t functioning normally. Any activity that a person performs at any given moment is called an occupation hence they call it occupational therapy. We get patients back to functioning to the way they were before the trauma. And if we can’t – like a when a patients has lost an arm or leg – we teach them ways to do stuff so that no one has to do it for you, like getting dressed. It’s about improving their quality of life and to help them be independent. 

Where are you currently working?
I’m currently working at the Pebbles Project since February 2016. It’s a community-based project in Stellenbosch. I was very lucky finding work so quickly after my EduHealth year. My friends are still struggling. My one friend had to move to Joburg because she couldn’t find work in Cape Town. I’m really lucky… 

What do you enjoy most about your job?
My favourite part is being able to work with an older OT. She’s been in the field for years, so she has more experience. It’s really nice to learn from someone like that.

It’s also nice to work in a disadvantaged community with the kids. They don’t have as much as we have. It’s rewarding to make a difference and actually see the results. 

What do you enjoy least?
The admin. It’s very tiring. At the moment my position at Pebbles isn’t permanent so there’s an uncertainty to it and it’s bothering me a little bit. But I’m enjoying it for now. We’ll see what the future holds. 

You need to have a formal qualification to be an OT. Where did you study and was it a BA or BSc?
I studied at UWC and I did the BSc in Occupational Therapy.

Was there any training provided when you came on board at the Pebbles Project?
No, not any formal training. The OT there just showed me the ropes. Last year I had a lot of formal training during my EduHealth year. The government sent me on courses. They paid for it and everything.

Where were you placed for your Community Service year?
I did my community service in the Eastern Cape at a Uitenhage Hospital in PE. It turned out to be a really good year, apart from the moments of feeling homesick.

What kind of person would be well suited for this profession? 

  • Have Passion.

You need to be really passionate about it and you need to enjoy working with people.

  • Have drive.

You need to really want to be doing this work. Especially since you won’t earn a lot of money unless you go private.

  • Be organised.

Things can get chaotic and you need to know when you’re seeing patients, and know where your equipment is – especially when you need to improvise and be ready if an emergency pop-up.

  • Be creative.

You have to master some level of creativity because you have to come up with interventions for kids based on their assessments.

Would you have any advice for a student interested in OT?
You need to prepare for late nights. And don’t be afraid to do OT. It will definitely be good for you. Prepare to feel anxious and to be pushed out of your comfort zone. I don’t mean it negatively. This is a positive thing. To be pushed out of your comfort zone. If you want a challenge and want to grow and develop as a person – then go for it. 

How did you handle the emotional side of the work, for example when severely injured patients pass away?
It’s all about debriefing. I speak to my colleagues about it and see how they feel. Last year a few of our patients died, because they were stroke patients. You just talk about it and work through it. It never really affected me that badly, but I also learnt to keep boundaries and not get too emotionally involved. 

Do you have to keep up with CPD points? How?
I do. I first need to pay my registration fee for the Health Professions Council. Once I’ve done that I need 30 CPD points for the year. The CPD points differ depending on the industry you’re in. You need to find courses and go on them, like ethics courses. It’s a way of doing ongoing training to keep up your skills up to standard. Luckily I did courses last year that count for this year. 

What is the typical starting salary of an OT?

Probably about R12 000. You need more experience for a higher pay. It’s the only way you can earn more. So R12 000 is the starting salary. I’m not earning that much at the moment because I’m working part-time, but I’m gaining experience and that’s what I wanted

As a senior OT I think the salary is about R25 000. I haven’t heard of senior OTs earning a lot except if you go into private practice. I’m considering going into private. Im currently working as a private OT at Pebbles because I’m part-time. So I could work a few days a week at a school at the same time.

So how are career opportunities post-graduation?
There are so many OTs and graduates in Cape Town. I’m competing against my friends now and my friends are really struggling. The career opportunities in Cape Town are not great. It’s actually best in the Eastern Cape. You need to move away from Cape Town or have a connection. I got the connection through my aunt who knows someone at church. You need to know people these days. My one friend finally got a job in Joburg after 3 months. There are quite a few jobs in the Gauteng area too. 

Do you have any quirky advice for someone looking to be an OT in school?
Make sure there are jobs available before you decide to study something. Nursing is actually a great option, and our country really needs more nurses. 

EduConnect 2cents

This is one of those careers where the reward you get and feel from helping people far outweighs the benefits of a high salary. Sometimes that happy, gooey feeling inside is so worth the blood, sweat and tears. Literally.

Watch this video to see the difference you as an OT can make in the lives of disadvantaged children:

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