About eight months ago I started my first job as an Occupational Therapist, working in a Medium Secure unit for mentally disordered offenders. This was the area which I had wanted to work in since completing my final and role emerging placement in a Male Cat C. Prison.
After waiting three months from accepting the position to starting the job I was both incredibly excited and also nervous about starting. I had had to move away from home to a new county where I didn't know anyone so that was also another added change. The first few weeks at work were an induction as the unit I would be working in was brand new, meaning, new staff and a new service to run..and I soon found out, I would be running my own 15 bed Male Assessment and High Dependency Ward.
The past eight months have included copious amounts of challenges which I have had to overcome as well as many successes and rewarding moments. From speaking to other newly grad. OT's in a variety of settings it was reassuring to see similarities and know that it wasn't just me struggling at times. My hope from this post is to share with you my top 5 main challenges/reflections from my past eight months at work in the hope that it can not only inform but also reassure others in similar positions that they are not alone and to 'Keep Calm and Shine On.'
- It's OK not to know everything! - Probably the most important lesson which I have learnt over the past eight months is that it is OK not to know everything. I have learnt an incredible amount about OT and about my identity as a practitioner simply by working and developing my skills as and when situations arise. Being able to bounce ideas off other OTs and other professionals is also a great way of fine tuning skills and increasing your competence as a professional. I had to learn that it is OK to be unsure about some things and to get second opinions and advice from others - it is so important to work as a team! Don't be shy about asking for help. It doesn't make you weak, it only means you are wise.
- Utilise Clinical Supervision! - Probably the most helpful tip I could give is for newly grads. to really take their supervision seriously and to make the most of it. I find that in my job I am so busy all the time that I rarely have the time to just sit back an think and plan what I am doing with my residents. I often found (and still find if I'm being honest) that I spent a lot of time outside of work planning and thinking about my intervention plans and strategies for my ward. One really valuable part of supervision for me is being able to discuss my plans and the progress of my work with my supervisor who, as a senior OT, can give me the advice and support that I need to increase my skills and effective practice. Supervision is also a good time to be able to talk things through and to get situations out of your mind and problems solved. Working within the Forensic settings means working regularly with challenging behaviours, unpleasant and upsetting circumstances for example assaults and restraints. Being able to have a space and time set aside to talk about the effects of these situations is vital to be able to maintain a professional manner whilst at work and not allowing circumstances to affect you personally. Finally another point to make about supervision is that it is a brilliant time to receive reassurance and praise that what you are doing is actually good and making a difference.
- Age! One challenge which I didn't anticipate meeting was the way I was perceived and treated by some members of both staff and residents due to my age. Being young for some of the staff caused them to treat me like a child and I felt like I wasn't taken seriously or treated the same as the other Band 5 staff members I was working with, also some of the residents have found/find it hard to be much older than a staff member. I found that simple steps such as dressing smart, acting maturely and being able to maintain a professional manner and stick to your personal and professional boundaries has been crucial in proving that just because I am only 22 I can still perform my job to a high standard. It takes time, but eventual once people get to know you, age won't matter.
- Working in a secure setting! Working in a secure setting with policies and procedures to follow. I started the job and had so many ideas which I arrived with and thought of within the first few months. Working in a secure setting however comes with barriers and limitations and interventions and ideas which would have worked perfectly in another environments are no longer suitable. A big learning curve for me was in having to problem solve and be flexible in altering ideas and interventions which could be carried out in the secure setting. It has been, and still is, a test of my creativity and perseverance however I feel will make me a stronger and more adaptable OT in the future.
- Working in today's economic climate! I don't need to inform anyone of the tough economic times which we are having to live and work in. The NHS is having to make cut backs and tighten up on areas such as spending and resources. For me this has directly resulted in budget cutbacks and a radical change in shift patterns for staff. Having to contend with this has meant that my skills in prioritizing have been tested as well as having to be able to reorganize and restructure activity programs and adjust to working new hours. However despite the challenge I have been able to adjust to the changes and still run a structured and purposeful activity program on my ward. Despite the cutbacks which the NHS are facing I believe that OTs and other professionals can still function and perform their jobs to high standards. After all being an OT takes patience, ingenuity and determination. Lets rise to the challenge and make the most out of what we have.
For me working with this group of individuals is a real privileged and the opportunities to make a difference in their lives, helping them to move forward, are endless. I am looking forward to the challenges and the successes that the next eight months, and years to come, will bring.