Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Lived Experience of Student OTs at UWO!

Thanks to a very generous contributing student at the University of Western Ontario, I'm happy to be able to post a first hand report of what life is like in that program! Thanks so much UWO!
I hope you all enjoy hearing about the student OT experience at Western as much as I have!

UWO OT Reflection

I can’t believe it is already October! The first month of this program has absolutely flown by - it is definitely a fast-paced program. Orientation week was filled with social events to break the ice between the classmates and professors. During my undergrad I didn’t get to know many people due to the large size of my program, so it is a nice change to be making friendships so quickly, and feel at ease talking with profs.

Following orientation week, each student was matched with a local OT to observe them for two days. This was in order to give everyone a clear idea of what OT is all about, in case someone might decide it isn’t for them after all. I loved this experience! I was matched with an OT at an outpatient mental health community centre, and learned so much in the short time I was there. Even though I was a psych major in undergrad, I wasn’t sure what the role of occupational therapy is in mental health. Students were intentionally matched with OT’s who worked in areas that the students did not have experience in. The OT I shadowed was very experienced and had a lot of knowledge to share about this area of practice. I`m really glad that Western threw us out there right from the start – it was a good way to put the theory we’re learning in class into context.

From what I`ve heard, one of the biggest differences about the OT program at Western are the anatomy and neuroscience courses. We are required to take them first term, and anatomy involves working with cadavers in the lab each week. I was very apprehensive about this at first, but after the initial shock of seeing the bodies and smelling the formaldehyde, I have come to find the labs very interesting, and appreciate the learning opportunity given to us. However, some people are still having a hard time with it, and leave the lab visibly upset. So, Western may not be for everyone because of this, and it should be something you consider if you have a choice of schools. (I am not sure if any other programs require working with cadavers, some might).

Besides overcoming the whole examining dead bodies thing, anatomy is very stressful because of all the memorization involved. We have quizzes every week on what we learned in the previous lab. Fortunately the course ends in December! Neuroscience has also been very challenging, and most of us are struggling with it. It sounds like some changes are going to be made to the way we are assessed though, hopefully for the better.

As far as all other courses go, most are fast-paced also, and require a lot of reading and assignments. Lectures typically involve quite a bit of discussion about whatever topic we are discussing that day. We break into our mentor groups fairly often, which have 7-8 students, to work on projects or discuss an issue. These groups have an OT mentor also, but we haven’t met them yet. The OT lectures at Western really stress client-centred and evidence-based practice, along with interprofessionalism between the different health fields.

It seems as though there is always something going on, a committee to join, an event to go to, etc. I joined the Grassroots committee, which aims to promote occupational therapy in the community. At the end of the month there is a rehab formal which should be a lot of fun. Overall, I am very much enjoying the program and my classmates, even though it does get a bit stressful at times. I think the worst of it will be over once we are finished with anatomy and neuroscience. Our first placements happen in January, and I`m sooo excited for it!

This post was just a brief overview of what the OT program is like at Western, but there is so much to it that I could go on talking about. Hopefully this helped to get an idea of the differences between some of the other schools though!

Learning Contracts: Bane of my existence!

I don't know if these "things" are used as much by other programs, but here at McMaster they are used extensively as part of the self-directed learning approach. They are intended to be a tool that helps a student to identify their learning gaps, set SMART goals, and create a plan for achieving those goals by identifying the resources, strategies and evidence of accomplishment that will be required. We use them for everything, and while they're a good idea in principle they are currently the bane of my existence!!
We have goals (aka Learning Objectives) for Foundational Knowledge, goals for our Problem-Based Tutorials, goals for improving our interviewing skills, and a 12-goal Learning Contract for our placements! Now, I have to say... I DO get it. I understand why we use the tool and I can even see how it's useful. I will even concede that they will get easier to do as time goes by. But right now I hate them. The process feels very contrived, it doesn't come naturally, and it takes a LOT of time.
So, what is this tool I speak of? The Learning Objective (or Contract... a series of objectives) has four parts:
1. Objective - The end result you're looking for (ie. Become an expert at using the CPPF in practice).
2. Identify Resources and Strategies - What tools do you have access to and what will you do with them (ie. Resource = Textbook Enabling Occupation II, Strategy = Read the chapter about the CPPF and make notes about how it could be applied in my placement setting). You'll list every possible Resource and Strategy you can think of, but at minimum will identify one text, one human, and one other resource.
3. Evidence of Accomplishment - Here's where the SMART goals come in. These are all "I" statements that are measurable and timelined and all the other things that SMART goals should be. As with the Resources and Strategies, there will be a number of different evidence statements (ie. At the end of week one, I will discuss with my preceptor the different stages of the CPPF as they applied to one client during the week and ask for feedback regarding the accuracy of my understanding).
4. Grading Scheme - How will your success be evaluated. Must include specific measurable outcomes for a grade of Excellent, Good, Incomplete, and Fail (I'm not doing an example for this... it takes too freakin' long! lol).

So, as you can see... setting proper learning objectives can be a really lengthy process, especially when it comes to detailing exactly how you would demonstrate evidence of accomplishment and evaluate your success in the grading scheme. Just talking about it now makes me feel like I'm dying a little on the inside.
The upside of all of this... and I'm glad to say that there is an upside... is that in time (I'm told) it gets easier. And the great part about that is this: Once we are practicing OTs we will be required to create professional development plans each year that include identifying our learning gaps, resources, strategies, and evidence of accomplishment... and we'll be required to submit our professional portfolios, which include these learning plans, to our regulating body (in Ontario it's COTO) every two years. So, if it's something I'm going to have to do for the rest of my professional life, and my license depends on it, I'd rather get some practice in now! That way it won't be quite so stressful when the time comes that my professional life depends on it.
So the moral of my story is this... hate them now all you like, but find it in your heart to learn to love Learning Contracts. Perhaps that should be my next Objective? ha ha ha ha... um NO. That's not going to happen.
One day I will love them.
For now, I strongly dislike them.
I hope everyone else's objectified learning is going well!! All the best, :)SweetPea

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Week 4? 5? Who knows anymore!?

It's been a very busy couple of weeks and it's about to get busier, so I thought I'd post a quick note before I get swamped. Things are going well, but it's a lot to take in. There's a lot of knowledge acquisition (from theories of occupation to anatomy that affects occupational performance) and even more development of process skills. You're very dependent on how well your group works together, and what I forgot is just what a different skill set is required for group functioning. It's been a long time! The sad truth is that in today's workplace (most of them, in my experience anyway... and especially the corporate ones) teamwork is a catchphrase that's more of a euphemism for "I'll pretend to work with you while competing to look better than you and then stab you in the back!" It bears little resemblance to actual teamwork... which is what is required of me now. Here competing and oneupmanship just make you look bad and subvert the learning process. Not that there aren't people who try... there are. But they learn quickly that it just doesn't fly. And that's mostly due to another group process thing that I'm adapting to: FEEDBACK! Incessant, positive, constructive, even if you don't have anything to say... feedback.
In addition to the feedback, I'd like to give a shout-out to Learning Objectives/Plans/Contracts. I have a love-hate relationship with you. Mostly hate... but I'm holding out hope that the love will come. lol I'll post on those another day.
My first scholarly paper is due next Tuesday on the term "Occupation" as its use in the profession of Occupational Therapy. That same day my group has a presentation to do on the Canadian and Ontario Health Care Systems. The following week I have a paper due that goes along with the group presentation, an evaluated interview, and a critical analysis assignment evaluating qualitative and quantitative research articles. None of it is particularly onerous, but it's a lot all at once... when we're trying to do it at the same time as our independent learning (which is most of our learning) and foundational knowledge sessions and our learning contracts and Exploring Perspectives on Disability assignment. Come to think of it, it's like being pecked by birds. Lots of little birds, when one alone wouldn't be bad but in a flock they're KILLER!
So, for this weekend I'm going home to eat my Mom's yummy cooking and watch some big screen TV... and to RELAX!!! And eat bird ha ha ha. Ohhh... the sleep deprivation is not kind to my sense of humor.
Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!! No matter how busy your weekend is, I hope you get the opportunity to hug someone you love and reflect on all the things you are grateful for.
All the best, :)SweetPea