We chat with Chloe & Margaret, Occupational Therapists who joined Independent Rehabilitation Services as graduates in 2020.

Starting a new job is always a bit scary-exciting. When you’re a newly graduated Occupational Therapist (OT) and your first job is during a once in 100 years pandemic then your emotions are probably going to tilt more towards scary than exciting.

Not for Chloe and Margaret though. With a willingness to adapt, a ridiculous amount of resilience and an immeasurably high dose of enthusiasm they both managed to survive and thrive during 2020.

We asked Chloe and Margaret to reflect on their journey with IRS during this time.

Firstly, what motivated you to become an Occupational Therapist?

Chloe: I always knew I wanted to work in the healthcare field and the idea of helping others to either enjoy or find new ways to engage in the day to day tasks that make up a daily routine sounded like the right fit for me. I was quite eager to immerse myself into a role that was going to be ever changing from one day to the next, fast paced and importantly client centred and I found that OT suited that drive and passion.

Margaret: For me, I have always loved helping people and listening to their stories as you can learn a lot from their experiences and how they strive to achieve their goals. OT is also unique as we consider the limiting factors around a client that prevents them from achieving their goals.

When you were looking for your first role, what was important to you?

Chloe: I was drawn to IRS for the challenging yet rewarding neurorehab caseload as well as the workplace culture. Being a new graduate, feeling comfortable and confident within my work environment and among my colleagues was my biggest priority when applying for a position. 

I remember being fresh from placements where my experiences and clinical growth really came down to the workplace culture itself, as it was only when I was encouraged, supported and motivated by my supervisors that I felt I was able to learn and grow as a professional within this field. 

Margaret: The reason I decided to join IRS was because I was given the opportunity to start in the referral intake role where I was able to learn more about how the NDIS works, the referral process and the administration side of the business prior to commencing my role as an OT. This helped me to establish a foundation of knowledge that made explaining how the NDIS works to clients more easily understood. 

I was also drawn to the specialisation of neurological conditions as I believe this is an area that allows you to grow as a clinician, in skills such as adaptability and advocacy. 

IRS also has a great supportive culture, and being a new grad, this is something I value highly as I am continuously supported in my role and am able to learn from experienced clinicians.

So a supportive culture was really important to you both. Starting your first clinical role during a pandemic must have been tough, what helped you most with the transition?

Chloe: Right off the bat I was welcomed by the vibrant and motivating energy of the wider team which made me excited to get out there and meet my new clients. I was quite lucky where I had a good 4-6 week period prior to the COVID pandemic changing the way we delivered services.

Whilst this was a tough time to be starting in a new workplace, in a new role and within my first full time job I found that the transition to working from home and providing Telehealth services to be relatively smooth. This was because it was matched with additional support from our leaders at IRS with internal workshops on how to run and manage telehealth services for various client related goals.

I believe that being a complete newbie as a new grad OT prepared me for the ever changing climate of the pandemic, as I knew no different and either way I was continuously learning everyday!

I really enjoyed how IRS preferred to organise a number of handovers from the other OT’s to start off my caseload, which provided opportunity for joint sharing of clients whilst I was still settling in and becoming familiar with my role. There was no pressure from my supervisor or team leaders to take on a certain number of clients and it was very much self-led as to whether I felt ready to take on new clients and responsibilities over the first initial months.

I have to thank the new grads from the year prior who developed a very structured and organised induction checklist that I worked through at my own pace and that I was able to complete flexibly when I was feeling like I needed a break from the clinical work. 

Margaret: IRS was very productive in developing resources for all clinicians to ensure our clients were still able to engage in therapy to promote goal attainment throughout COVID. The induction period enabled us to understand how to interact with our clients effectively via telehealth, and our telehealth team were always available to answer questions or provide support during sessions. 

What really helped me with my transition was that there was no pressure to start off with a full caseload, and that with slowly building up my caseload, I was able to utilise IRS resources to help with my learnings to ensure I provide clients with tools to facilitate their engagement in daily living and maximise their independence. Joining in on shadowing sessions allowed me to see how other clinicians interact with their clients to then use what I learn and implement it into practice.

Were there any specific programs that helped you?

Chloe: I really benefited from the “‘Buddy’ and New Graduate Support Group which provide a space to discuss the transitions into working full time in an informal way. It provides the opportunity to connect with fellow new grads who are going through similar experiences to you which is led by previous new graduates within the practice from across the three disciplines at IRS.

The buddy program was a great way to chat with someone 1:1 throughout the first year by taking a walk or heading out for lunch to discuss all things work life balance and self care. Having been a participant in the New Grad Peer Support Group, I am now looking forward to facilitating this alongside a fellow new graduate physiotherapist who I started my journey at IRS with as we now transition to Grade 1’s. 

Margaret: Clinical mentoring sessions supported my transition as we were provided with an opportunity to learn from experienced clinicians who provided support both prior to and during a session. It also allowed me time to reflect on my learnings.

It’s great to hear how the programs helped build your confidence. How did you manage learning on the job with external professional development?

Chloe: This was quite challenging to begin with, as I felt pressure to keep up with obtaining my professional development hours, although I quickly learnt that the workplace provides copious opportunities to learn and contribute to the annual PD hours. I found that reaching out to my team to ask advice on specific courses or webinars to be useful, as when you are starting as a new grad you want to ensure you are picking the right PD opportunities that are best suited to your learning needs. 

Margaret: Having a balance helped as learning from other clinicians from other organisations helped me to understand how they learn from their experiences and expertise. External PD tends to be more applicable to a range of clients whereas on the job learning can be both useful for a range of clients or a specific client in my case load. 

Your OT team and the broader multidisciplinary team (Speech and Physio) obviously helped you both with your transition. How did the way they go about providing therapy for their clients influence you?

Chloe: I am always in awe of my fellow colleagues and their determination, advocacy and commitment to achieving the best outcomes for their clients. No goal is too big or too small and that despite all the challenges or barriers that may be inhibiting a client’s progress towards achieving independence, that there is always a way to get there through small achievable steps and by never losing sight of the end goal. 

Margaret: Definitely perseverance – not letting COVID impact treatment to their clients and feeling confident to say I need help or I can’t take on anymore clients. They are always willing to lend a hand, even if they don’t know the answer, they always try to assist in any way they can.

Perseverance is a handy attribute during challenging times! What did you find the most challenging aspect transitioning from university to clinical practice?

Chloe: I definitely found working from home and being physically separated from my colleagues and clients super tough. It was hard at times to not feel disconnected from the workplace as our home offices and telehealth spaces ramped up during the peak of COVID restrictions. The further restrictions of having limited clinicians attend a session with a client was challenging, however we were still able to get creative with clinical mentoring or joint working with sales representatives and other MDT (Multidisciplinary Team) members through Zoom. 

During the first year and especially when working in the community I found so much value in taking the opportunity to work alongside another clinician prior to heading out to work independently which during the first 6 months was quite challenging due to the restrictions in place in Victoria. 

Margaret: Also for me, working from home was challenging, feeling isolated with reduced interactions with colleagues that usually occurs when I’m in the office. These interactions are also a form of check-in that was impacted by COVID. It meant I had to tap into other forms of communication or social activities to ensure check-ins were still occurring no matter what platform. I also relied on my family for support.

Isolation has been such a challenge for us and our clients. Was anything easier than you expected?

Chloe: Working with and managing my caseload. I know I felt very overwhelmed and stressed prior to starting at IRS in regards to how I was going to be able to keep up with the demands of taking on new clients and building my caseload to meet the targets of the practice. I was very relieved and delighted when I came to realise this was completely within my control and that I had the full support of my supervisor to build and expand my caseload as my confidence increased. 

There were never pressured conversations on meeting key performance indicators, as the practice made it very clear that this is not a priority or monitored within the first few months. I was provided with the reassurance that we can’t always predict the ever changing needs of our clients and we therefore experience periods of being extremely busy and also periods of feeling quiet, which is outside of our immediate control.  

Margaret: The responsibility of caseload management. I was able to have control over my caseload with guidance from my supervisor to take on more clients or maintain my current load, as there was no pressure to be working with a lot of clients. I feel like this impacts the quality of care, as you forgot things discussed in previous sessions that may have occurred a week or month ago. The induction was straightforward and creative in how it was delivered and allowed me to complete it at my own pace whilst gradually increasing my caseload.

It must have been incredibly challenging for your clients in the past year too. Are there any client successes that stand out for you?

Chloe:  In the past year I have one memorable client win where by exploring appropriate cognitive strategies and implementing both visual and physical prompts within her home she was able to return to her much beloved activity of cooking and preparing meals again for family.

After sustaining an ABI she was quite fearful of cooking and managing a gas cooktop independently, so by placing visual cues within the kitchen and installing a gas detector this provided her with the confidence to get back into the kitchen safely. 

Margaret: For me I appreciated the small wins, with my clients being able to increase access to their community and having more independence and confidence in their own ability. I also appreciated my clients using what they discovered in themselves to share with others.

Have your clients inspired you in any way?

Chloe: I have admired the adaptability of each of my clients and their ongoing flexibility of how they can access services. For a lot of my clients the pandemic was a time of significant growth and reflection by exploring goal areas they had not thought of before or taking the opportunity to step outside their comfort zone by using a digital platform to undertake sessions as well as exploring social groups and other ways to increase connection. 

Margaret: The way my clients showed resilience and not letting COVID impact treatment even if it wasn’t face to face, and being able to stay committed and motivated to achieve their goals.

Now that you have had some time to reflect on the start to your career, what have you most enjoyed about moving into OT practice?

Chloe: Working with my clients within their home and community environments. There is nothing better than being able to assist your client to reach their goals within their own supported environment that is tailored to their needs. I love that my sessions look so different whether it be heading to the supermarket to build independent living skills, getting back out into the garden or trialing new aids and equipment to increase autonomy and make the day to day tasks easier or safer.

I also love the flexibility that comes with my job at IRS. My leaders are extremely accommodating and go above and beyond to make sure that I am receiving enough support, sticking to a work schedule that works for me and importantly being matched with a caseload that reflects my clinical goals. 

Margaret: In a community practice, we are given the opportunity to see people in a range of different environments, good or bad, and support them to be able to flourish in these environments. I am constantly learning on the job, not only from other clinicians but also from clients taking a collaborative approach.

I also enjoy working in a MDT, where we can reach out to physiotherapists and speech pathologists or work alongside these clinicians to ensure our clients achieve the best results.

Such great reflections. Thinking back over your first year, what have you learned about yourself?

Chloe: That patience and empathy are very important personality traits to hold as a therapist of which I have really come to identify with within the past 12 months. Progression in therapeutic goals and building rapport takes time, and trust with your client and their support networks is so important. 

Margaret: How important self-care is. As OT, we highlight the importance of self-care but I would always commit to too many things and with COVID, not being able to do too much allowed me to reflect on what is important. I also learned that being adaptable when things don’t always go to plan was really important.

During such a challenging time, how did you manage your self-care?

Chloe: Throughout last year and the pandemic I tried to do what we OT’s do best, stick to a routine! I tried to make sure that I was listening to my body and taking breaks from my telehealth and back to back zoom sessions to get out into the fresh air and take any work or supervision calls whilst walking around the block.

Outside of work I engaged in activities that I found relaxing, which at the time was binge watching Netflix and taking up painting, of which one of my very talented clients who is an artist was supporting me by providing me with all her tips and tricks! 

Margaret: For me it was engaging in workouts via Zoom with my football team and spending time with family.

It sounds like you both have done an amazing job transitioning to OT practice during the pandemic. What tips would you give new grads?

Chloe: My main advice to new graduates starting in private practice is to get to know your workplace culture before deciding to join the team, as for me this is a make or break when building your confidence as a new grad. 

Secondly, be honest with your supervisor on how you are managing your new role and make sure you allocate time to discuss work life balance. 

Thirdly, taking each opportunity to engage in hands-on practice, shadowing or working jointly with another OT as this provided me with the most confidence to then head out there to do it on my own! 

Finally, I would say don’t be too hard on yourself, take it one day at a time and remember you aren’t expected to have the solution to everything, but rather use the great resources and team members around you to fill the gaps. 

Margaret: I’d say most importantly don’t feel like you need to know everything from the get go.

Also make sure you establish a solid relationship with your supervisor and colleagues to ensure they can be someone you turn to if you need support as it’s really important to feel comfortable when asking for help and asking questions.

Use the learning from your placements and implement them into practice, for example writing notes, completing assessments and education.

Finally, have a willingness to learn. If your practice doesn’t have the resources you need then put your hand up to help develop the resources to ensure your practice becomes more efficient for everyone.

Thank you both for your insightful and inspiring reflections, we are very fortunate to have you both on our team!