After graduating with honours in the UK and working as an OT in the UK and Australia for the last 10 years, Ana joined IRS as an occupational therapist and to lead our allied health research activities.
She’s also completing her PhD in sensory modulation, helped lead the introduction of telehealth at IRS, our go to for big ideas and somehow finds time to wrangle two small kids while reading and watching sci-fi – and look out for her sci-fi romance recommendation!
How long have you been an OT?
I’ve been a qualified OT for 10 years now, before that, i was an OT assistant for 4 years, and before that a personal care assistant in the community. I’ve always worked in health and social care, a good 20 years all up.
What does being an OT mean to you?
Being an OT is a privilege, you get to meet incredibly resilient people at all stages of life. I have to honestly say that the OT’s at IRS are incredibly skilled; from home modifications, equipment and right through to behavioural and personality changes. One of the challenges of being an OT in the complex neurology field is the need to be across it all; physical and mental health needs, and the OT’s at IRS are well versed and skilled across these areas.
What are the major differences between OT in our space between here and the UK?
Ohh, that’s a loaded question! I trained as an OT in the UK (BScHons) and am doing a PhD here in Melbourne, so I would say that the training is quite different. I’ve noticed that in the UK our OT degree is 3 years instead of 4 here in Australia, but in the UK those 3 years are purely OT focussed and my understanding is that here in Australia it’s 2 years OT focussed.
There’s also the Masters in OT available here which is an intensive 2 years. From what I’ve seen, this condensing of OT training is really hard and rushed, so sometimes I think there is a difference in the type of OT’s Australia produces compared to the UK.
Why did you decide to join IRS?
That’s easy! I’ve known of IRS for some years and have worked alongside IRS OT’s in the context of client work and within the research space. I love how passionate the team is in evidence based practice and the calibre of therapists is mind blowing.
After a decade of specialising in a niche area of brain injury, I was at a point in my career where I needed a new challenge and to upskill in my broader OT skills. It’s a scary thing to admit as a senior clinician – but I knew the culture of IRS was supportive so there was no safer space to venture down that avenue.
What is it about your clients that motivates you?
Our IRS clients are inspiring. They’ve got incredible life stories and such complex needs but show amazing determination in the face of their challenges. I gain my energy from them, how can you not be motivated when you meet someone with a brain injury after a serious accident that is determined to get back to work and be independent again?
What surprised you the most about IRS?
I always knew that the culture of IRS was supportive, but I didn’t realise the extent of that. I was barely with the team a month before the Covid19 lockdown happened so I initially felt robbed of building the collegial relationships with the team – but even this couldn’t stop them making me feel like I’ve always been a part of the IRS family. People reach out for a chat, to check in on you, to discuss a client as we simultaneously walk around the block 20km’s apart.
You started with IRS just before lockdown in Melbourne and enthusiastically embraced telehealth. How have you found it
Telehealth is a great platform when used well. It’s been a steep learning curve for some of us (myself included), and I think it’s here to stay. It’s a great option for people who don’t have a lot of funding approved as it cuts out travel costs, or for those living more rurally.
We can do so much through Telehealth now, IRS have developed an educational video on how to conduct a thorough tele-wheelchair assessment and have presented this at a recent conference and special interest groups. We get that Telehealth isn’t for everyone, which is why we will always offer face to face to those who need or prefer it.
What have you learned about yourself during Covid19
That we can adapt and practice in new and unthought of ways and that although I’m an introvert, I do need to see people in real life 🙂
You’re leading allied health research at IRS. What do you enjoy about research?
Well, my inner geek loves to know what new things are going in rehabilitation so I can draw on inspiration from others. OT’s are so novel and creative, we are always coming up with fandangled interventions which are so exciting! I’m motivated by seeing how these novel interventions can make such an impact on someone’s function.
You’re doing your PhD in sensory modulation. Why?
I began using sensory modulation interventions with people living with brain injury around 8 years ago. It’s a very effective tool in helping a person to realise, understand and gain some control over their sensory system. A lot of people say that they become sensitive to sound and light after their injury, and often lose their sense of smell and taste.
I was surprised that OT’s weren’t assessing the senses and the impact on function when I came into the field of complex ABI, which is why i’ve taken this to the next level and am studying this for my PhD. I’m a geek, so i’ve written several international publications and presented at national conferences on this topic.
How’s the PhD going?
Maaaate, slow! I have 2 small kids and a job which I am passionate about, so thank goodness I have 2 very patient and committed supervisors! I’ve completed a concept analysis and scoping review, so now my Ethics application is accepted. I’m interviewing OT’s across Australia on their practice. I love hearing the stories of the work they do, if only there was another day in the week!
How do you manage home, work, study?
I’m the queen of speed writing! I’m pretty good at getting my thoughts in line and out onto paper, so that works in my favour in my job and study. As for home – don’t visit my house for some time. It’s a health and safety risk.
I hear you like scifi. Any recommendations?
The Atlantis Grail quadrilogy is awesome for those who are happy to read sci-fi romance and adventure for a year! It’s a long series but so worth it.
I assume you haven’t had time for any new iso hobbies or projects?
I’m an OT – of course I have! My vegie patch is ready for planting and I’m in the middle of a new mosaic masterpiece for the garden. Those dishes can wait!!