Interview with Irene Chappell, Social Committee Member for CAOT Conference 2018.
Why did you choose OT as a career?
The first time I met an OT, I was a summer student at a Psychiatric Hospital. She had a totally different approach to client care than the other health care professionals. I remember noticing her approach; she involved the clients in decision making (I didn’t know the term client centered then) and they seemed happy to participate in her treatment programs. She organized groups that educated the clients, the family members and the team. She used a variety of crafts and activities in the groups which increased their interactions. I admired her expertise in being able to treat many different diagnostic groups. She covered all of the wards, from acute intake, to token economy, to organic brain syndrome, all of which were so different and all seemed so interesting to me. I loved the fact that occupational therapy incorporated a mix of disciplines; involving medicine, psychology, counselling, teaching and business skills interspersed with creativity. Best of all, she organized her own schedule and didn’t work night shifts!
What is your favourite thing about CAOT-BC?
My favorite thing about CAOT-BC is that it connects OTs throughout BC with the rest of Canada providing a unified voice. The CAOT-BC combo keeps OT current within the national and local issues. This ability impacts OT practise and keeps it current. I enjoy the diversity of the educational courses and the number of webinars offered.
Where have you worked over your career? Where do you work now?
Despite being drawn to OT through psychiatry, I never worked in this field. When I graduated I moved to Vancouver and never returned to Ontario. My first job was a 3 month locum in long term care before accepting a full time job in a physmed hospital where I was able to rotate through general medicine and specialty areas such as Spinal Cord Injury and Neurological Injury. I wanted to work in pediatrics and moved to Sunny Hill Hospital for Children after completing my rotations. I then worked at the Arthritis Society and worked with a spectrum of ages and gained expertise in splinting. Working a 9/10 day workweek at the Arthritis Society, gave me the opportunity to begin my own part-time private practice fabricating orthotics. I also accepted a consulting position with a rehabilitation company working within the medical legal field; they assembled costs related to prescribed medical equipment. At that time, the legal profession was grappling with determining whether their injured clients could return to work. I gave up orthotics and started a private practice occupational therapy company in 1986 (OT Consulting/Treatment Services Ltd) which specialized in assessing “function” in terms of return to work. These assessments provided a piece of the puzzle assisting the BC Supreme Court to determine damages and awards. OT Consulting grew from 1 person to 33+ people in its 30 years of practice. The company satisfied a unique niche in assessing return to work potential and also offered treatment to assist return to function/return to work. OT Consulting/Treatment Services Ltd was acquired in 2016 by Lifemark. At the present time I am semi-retired and work as a consultant in ergonomics.
What has been your most interesting job?
I loved all the OT jobs I had but working in private practise was the most satisfying and interesting due to the daily challenges, the new learning and the end result: a new area of practise for OT. The first challenge was to showcase occupational therapy skills which measured ability to return to work. This necessitated evidence based practise which would withstand the scrutiny of the BC Supreme Courts. The service delivery of the assessment required learning and applying business/marketing skills and salesmanship, after all, who would pay for a service that was needed but not heard of? Next came leasing office space, learning human resource skills in order to hire, training/mentoring new staff which eventually included not only support/administration and OTs but physiotherapists, kinesiologists, psychologists and medical personnel. Throughout the years, I worked with 100s of extraordinary people who had the same values of growing a new type of OT service and helping injured individuals to return to work/function. In 30 years since the inception of OT Consulting, we have assisted thousands of clients to return to work, work with less pain, function independently and have assisted the Supreme Court of BC answer questions related to damages. We pioneered a new area of specialty for OT.
What has surprised you most about working as an OT?
The ease of being a lifelong learner was the most surprising and most enjoyable aspect of working as an OT. There were always so many new things to learn and implement. The learning never stopped and the work was always interesting and challenging. There were so many ways to give back to the clients, to my coworkers and to the profession itself.
What do you find most challenging about working as an OT?
Even after 30+ years of practice I still find explaining what an OT does to be challenging! There are so many areas of practice; it is overwhelming for the recipient of the info to truly grasp OT.
What do you do when you aren't working and volunteering?
I enjoy reading/discussing and am a member of 2 book clubs, both which have been in existence for 10+ years. I LOVE Zumba. I attend classes at least 3 times a week. I go to Mexico yearly for a Zumba retreat which involves Zumba twice daily with a yoga class in-between. I have a huge garden and spend many hours tending to it, getting my physical/functional and mental/spiritual workouts. I love to shop and dress up. I get a big kick out of thrift shopping. I was able to turn my love for thrift shopping into a volunteer opportunity when my daughter was in high school. I volunteered for the theater productions, sourcing the costumes from the thrift shops and helping with the alterations. I was also able to turn my interest in ergonomics into a volunteer opportunity. When my daughter was in primary school (so many years ago), with the advent of smart boards and laptops in the class room, I organized and taught an ergonomics program introducing “posture police” in kindi, grades 1 and 2 and “computer detective” in grade 3. There’s even a bigger need for ergonomic education in the schools now! I am currently volunteering as the Social Chair for the CAOT 2018 conference in Vancouver. I have particularly enjoyed meeting the other committee members, sourcing the venue and the menu and checking out the wheelchair accessibility in the downtown restaurants. It is going to be a great event in a great city!
What would you tell someone who is thinking about becoming an OT? Go for it! The diversity in postgraduate opportunities is limited only by your imagination. It’s the BEST.