Sunday, December 12, 2010

Mental Health in the Workplace

I may or may not have mentioned before that Occupational Therapy is a second career for me. I'm not sure if it has ever come up in this blog? At any rate, my previous career was working in Human Resources for a large corporation that shall remain nameless. I wasn't an executive... just a worker bee like many other corporate working bees in this world. I liked my job. There were many parts of it that I was good at, and I found great satisfaction in mastery of my work. I also had the fortune of working with a number of really great people over the years. I was paid well, I had good benefits, a pension plan, full-time status, stock options... and for 6 years I hated myself for every minute I was there.
The industry this corporation is in was going through a HUGE transition when I worked there. Stress levels were high. Toward the end the only constants were that we were being expected to do more and more with fewer and fewer resources, and big change in the way of executive turn-over and corporate restructuring was a monthly occurrence. I had to move to an unfamiliar city, I had a new commute of one hour each way if I didn't hit traffic, I was working crazy amounts of overtime, and I was profoundly lonely. The irony of it is that part of the reason I found it so hard to leave is because I could see how much better off I was than many of the other worker bees... those in sales and marketing, in management, in customer service... they had it far worse than I did.
In the end I did leave. I was lucky... not having a spouse or children; having a family who was supportive of my decision to change my life's course... I was able to make a change in support of my long-term health and well-being that many of my co-workers did not have the luxury to choose. So, even on the hardest days in school or when I'm lamenting the fact that I live on debt, I am grateful every second for the opportunity I've been given to do something else with my life.
My experience, and having witnessed the experiences of so many others in that corporate environment, has made me very aware of the toll workplace stress can take. Physical ailments, relationship strain, coworker bullying, weight gain, drug use, gambling, the compulsive need to attain material items to demonstrate the value of one's life, mounting debt... these are all common symptoms I have seen exhibited by employees who were struggling with the stress of a toxic work environment. And for some (I would argue many) the cost to their mental health was the greatest of all.
So, when I saw this little video by the CMHA it affected me deeply.
I hope you will take 2 minutes to have a look, and maybe even spread the word.
Thanks, :)SweetPea

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Cystic Fibrosis

A friend of mine from high-school has a daughter with cystic fibrosis (CF) and I've been on the lookout for information to help me better understand this condition. In particular I've found two wonderful video resources! The first is geared to children and explains CF from a kid's point of view. The second is a documentary done by the CBC show The Passionate Eye.
Even if you don't know someone personally affected by CF, I strongly urge you to watch these two videos. They are simply quality viewing.


Questions Galore!

I've received a few email messages lately (maybe a lot) regarding the application process and I wanted to post my reply because I've noticed some common questions coming up each year. I hope that you find this helpful! I also have a caveat... I don't represent the school, I've never been on an admissions committee, so I don't know what the magic combination is that will get you an offer of admission. The following represents my opinion, based on my experience and that of others I've spoken to. Each applicant is different. Each school is different. And each year the selection committee, their priorities, and the pool of candidates may be different. I'm no expert, and I also don't believe that there is a single answer to the question of who/what makes a good candidate. I suspect that students are considered on a highly individual basis (mostly - see below).

I get a lot of questions about grades and what constitutes a competitive GPA. Sadly, I don't know how to answer that question. Both the OT and PT programs are highly competitive, as are most graduate programs. This is also the one area where students are not considered as individuals, since research has shown (I'm told... I don't have a reference) that past academic performance is the greatest predictor of future academic success, including your ability to successfully complete the MSc OT program.
Common responses I get to that statement are "But I've had a lot of life experience since then and my grades don't reflect what I'm capable of!" and "My grades are just above the cut-off, should I even bother to apply?" I'm going to address each of these separately.
If you feel your grades don't reflect your ability... good! It probably means that you've been out of school a while, you've got some life experience under your belt, and your choice to pursue a career in OT is probably both considered and informed. The bad news is that your grades, if below the cut-off, will put you out of the running for consideration or, if just above the cut-off, will significantly impede your odds. The good news is that if this is a passion of yours you can always go back and take a few courses to pull up your GPA! After all, if you're capable of doing better then demonstrating this fact will make you look good on paper. Plus, it's an indication of commitment on your part. This was the exact position I was in when I decided to make a career change. Yes, it took me more time... but it's been incredibly rewarding and I've not resented a single second of the extra time. I was so motivated by the fact that I was working toward a goal that was really important to me and I ended up with a highly competitive GPA that got me both admissions offers and a scholarship. Not to mention the boost to my sense of self-efficacy!
If your grades are above the cut-off but not in the "competitive" range that's a tougher position to be in. Essentially you have two options... spend the money to apply, put together the best application you can, and hope for the best OR defer your application for a year, take a few more classes to bring up your GPA, and then apply the following year. The only reason I could see for not applying is if money is so tight that you can't afford it. If you can put together the money then apply! Some people in my class had less competitive GPAs but still got in. You may get wait-listed... then get in. You may get denied an interview at Mac based on grades, but then get a call 3 days before the interview weekend asking if you're still interested and available for an interview. And you might not get in anywhere... but that's also true of people with high GPAs. No matter what, it will be a valuable learning experience for putting together a better application the following year when you've had a chance to take some courses to improve your grades. Having said that, money is a legitimate concern for many people so taking the extra year before applying is not a bad strategy, especially if you have a plan on how to use that year to meet your goals.

More than anything... be yourself! This is the one area where you don't want to be a clone of all the other candidates and where the schools don't expect cookie-cutter answers. What you DO want to make sure you achieve in your statement is a coherent narrative about who you are and why OT is the inevitable choice for you. Think about your life and your interests... what have been the milestones on your journey to OT? What do you love about the profession? What personal characteristics do you have that will make you a good match? What achievements do you think show your suitability for this profession? What experiences have you had, personal or professional, that make this an informed choice and/or a passion for you?
Once you've answered those questions for yourself in point form then draft a story... where you are the protagonist and becoming an OT will be the climax. I've seen friends write these in a chronological way (first I did this, then I developed that, and now here I am!) and I've also seen them written in a thematic way (these are the characteristics I have that match the profession, here are my educational experiences that are germane to OT, and here's my roster of related professional achievements). Plus, I'm sure that there are many other ways to write these statements. The key, as I said above, is for it to be a coherent narrative rather than just a collection of facts about you. It's your statement about who you are, how you developed and what you value. It's kind of like your brand.
Finally, get a friend... preferably one who is also applying or who has applied before to a medical, OT, or PT program... to read your draft and give you feedback. Lots of feedback. On more than one draft. I did this and my friend definitely picked up on some awkward phrasing that I missed, and I hope I did the same for her.

I can't really say any more than what I've already posted while I was going through the process myself. I highly recommend going back in my archive and looking at all those posts. I got really good feedback from my classmates, and from peers who have joined the class following mine, about how well the steps and pointers I outline prepare a person for the MMI. So, check those out!

With regard to how your grades, experience, statement, references, interview, resume etc. etc. are weighted... I have no idea. I believe that McMaster uses grades only as a cut off for offering interviews and that the interview scores are given even weighting with grades in the final decision to offer admission or not. But I'm not privy to the actual decision making of the admissions committee, so I can't be sure. And I don't know about the other schools. However, given that each of the programs in Ontario considers different components in their decision making, I think that it's reasonable to assume that they give weight to the things they ask for. For example, UWO asks for references and McMaster does not. So, if you have strong references you may have a better chance at UWO. If you don't have great references, you might have better luck at Mac. But I'm just guessing.

I wish all future applicants the very best of luck! And on that note I'm also going to say that I'm a tapped out resource as far as these applications go. Everything I know about how to get into OT school has been said somewhere in this blog already. I don't have any specialized knowledge that will help me to assess an individual's odds for getting in. I don't know much about the other OT programs, since I chose McMaster. And as each year passes I get further from the experience myself, making my recall of the process more clouded and my advice less timely.
So... I still welcome your email! But if you have questions related to the application process then I'm just going to refer you back to the blog. And now a favour request! If you find any information in my blog helpful and you get an offer of admission, please let me know! I love hearing the success stories... they always make my day :)


Saturday, June 12, 2010

Thunder Bay! Northern Studies Stream :D

I'm a terrible blogger, I know. What can I say... I've been busy! I also confess to struggling with the fact that people who know me read this blog... so I'm always censoring myself to not talk about people when I haven't gotten their permission and also I'm reluctant to share my more personal thoughts and reflections. I'm trying to get over it.
But then, there's still the time issue.
Failing a proper post, I thought the least I could do is post some photos from my time up here thus far! I'll be in Thunder Bay for one more week, then I'm moving to Geraldton Ontario for my clinical placement. It will be my first 2-to-1 placement (two students, one preceptor), which I'm a little nervous about but I'm also told is a great learning experience. We'll see how it goes!
We had our practical exam for the term last week. Not really sure how it went. We are given a client scenario (like a referral) 24 hours before the exam to research about the condition and develop an assessment and intervention strategy (which always includes theoretical approach). Then the first hour of the exam is an interview with our client, played by an actor as a "standardized patient." Just like in a real client interview, you have to budget your time to do all the assessments you want to. Then we have two hours to write it up... including theoretical approach, what we did in our one hour with the client, reporting our findings, analyzing them to identify the occupational issues, then writing treatment goals, objectives and a plan... plus a session plan for one particular session. And finally we tell them what our outcome measures would be, when we would assess them and how we would determine when discharge would occur. Phew! So, I don't think it went horribly. The interview was good. But time was short for the write-up and I ended up having to rush the last half. In talking to my classmates it seems that this was a common problem, with some people handing in late (and taking grade penalties) or not finishing. Nothing to do now but wait and see. I did my best and that's all you can do. :)
I will say, however, that there is some concern that the students in the northern studies stream we placed at a disadvantage. We've heard from some students at the McMaster site that the specific details of the exam grading criteria were discussed with them during their small group learning sessions. We didn't get that here in the north. But again, nothing to do but wait and see.
Now I'm writing the final paper for the term, which is worth 50% of my grade in one course. No pressure... right!
And on that note, I really have to get back to the writing!
Good luck to all my classmates...
And congrats to all those who will be joining us next year as the Class of 2012!!

UPDATE: There was no advantage to being at McMaster vs Lakehead. We all had the same challenges with this exam and they tell us that an analysis comparing the North and South showed there was no significant difference between the groups on grades. Yay!

A nice view from a trail
Terry Fox Monument
That's my gnome-away-from-home, Cedric
The Sleeping Giant

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Placement and Thunder Bay and Interview Questions, Oh My!

I just wanted to put up a quick post before I fly to Thunder Bay tomorrow! I've received a number of questions from candidates for the Class of 2012 who will be attending interviews next weekend. I've been able to reply to a few people who contacted me early, but this last week has been hectic with getting ready to go up North. I hope to be able to reply to each of you in the next few days. In the meantime though, since many of the questions are the same, I'll make a few comments here.
First, the MMIs are not so bad... so take a deep breath and be yourself. Next, the MMI scenarios I posted were not the questions I was asked. I found those examples on a discussion board for students applying to med-schools that use MMIs. However, they do give you a feel for the MMI style of interview. My third point is about preparation...invest some serious time in self-reflection about why you want to be an OT, why you'll be a good OT and what makes you so sure about that, and why you think Mac is the best place for you to learn. I posted a couple of entries last year about my own preparation process and the kinds of info/self-reflection I did and all I can say is that I felt prepared going in to the interview and ultimately I got in! So, I think it's a sound strategy :)
All the best to the 2012 candidates!!

Sent wirelessly from my BlackBerry device on the Bell network.
Envoyé sans fil par mon terminal mobile BlackBerry sur le réseau de Bell.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Term Two Round Up - And on to placement...

Wow! Time flies. I can't believe that term two is done already. It was a big change from term one, in the sense that the workload was more distributed and constant. It was a challenge! But at the same time, you kind of get used to the pace when it is that consistent... and seriously, time flies!! I can't believe it's done.
In the end things worked out really well (that I know about so far). My evidence based appraisal assignment on motivational interviewing did not go so well, I must confess. I feel that the expectations were unclear; the instructors feel that we're graduate students and that we learn better from making mistakes and figuring it out on our own. *sigh* I apparently didn't figure it out. But my scholarly paper on the affect of transitioning from independent living to a supported living environment was very successful (thank goodness!). And the work assessment I did, which included a physical demands analysis of the job and an executive summary with proposed assessment and treatment plan also went well. We had a group seminar presentation to do this term and my group presented on social role theory... and both the presentation and associated reflection paper were well received. A modified essay question exam, that really tested our on the spot clinical reasoning, is still outstanding... as is a take home exam type assignment that we did that was called a problem write-up, where we selected one of three client scenarios and then wrote an in depth analysis following the McMaster Lens.
And that reminds me... I need to complete an online survey giving feedback on the courses and faculty. We won't get our outstanding assignment grades until 80% of the class has completed the survey.
So, now we're all out into our term two placements!
I am working with a preceptor at an in-patient schizophrenia services program and I am loving it! Psychosocial rehab is definitely up my alley. The team that we work with includes psychiatrists, nurses, a CCAC case worker, social workers, a recreation therapist and a vocational rehabilitation therapist. There may be others too... I'm just in my first week, and it can be a bit overwhelming to take in, so I'm sure there are details that I've missed. But all the different professionals seem to work together very collaboratively, which is great. With my OT so far this week we conducted a few initial assessments, an in home assessment, run some activity groups (that included art and playing cards), and went on a community integration outing were we took some clients out to a cafe for coffee. We also went to the weekly grand rounds in psychiatry, where the speaker (Dr. M. Woodbury-Smith) discussed his research on people with a diagnosis of Asperger's syndrome who are in conflict with the law. It was very interesting... though we had to duck out early because we had an appointment with a client.
Anyway... I know that this post has a lot of broad brush-strokes and not a lot of detail, but I wanted to post an update no matter what! It's been too long.
On another note, it should be less than a month until new applicants find out about interview invitations! Very exciting :) I won't be a part of the interviews this year because I'll be in Thunder Bay, but I'll be thinking about you guys on that day... and I'll be thinking about my classmates who have volunteered to help out! It's exciting for everyone. I look forward to hearing about how it goes.
Well, must get going before my free Internet time at Starbucks runs out!

Monday, January 25, 2010

T2 W3.5

We're into week 4 already! Time flies. However all the stuff I'm posting about was done in week 3 and received/presented today, so I'm designating the post as a 3.5 lol.
My second try at a scholarly paper proposal has been accepted!! Woot! The topic had to focus on an aspect of the environment that influences occupation and occupational therapy practice, and deciding on a topic was SO hard. Coming up with an idea is the first challenge, but then you also need to go to the literature and see what kind of evidence there is to support your brain child! It took me fully researching three different ideas in order to find one that fit the assignment's criteria and that was a topic I would be interested in writing about. Rejected ideas included: looking at suicide risk factors (environmental) and the legal practice context of patient rights/therapist obligations; rehabilitation with women in conflict with the law and the corrections practice context as an occupationally impoverished environment. Both I think would be interesting to explore, but the suicide one was rejected (maybe I just didn't present it well) and the other seemed kind of big and challenging, so I decided to go another way. I'm happy to report that my approved topic is about the meaning of place and the affect of later life transitions from independent to supported living on psychoemotional wellbeing. I still have some refining to do, but at least it's a start! This paper is worth 40% of my course grade. :s Eek!
In other news, my group presented today on Social Role Theory and I think it went very well. Our group worked well together, and thankfully so because our process in getting the finished product together was not linear lol. That said, I think we did a bang up job of taking a very conceptual model and showing how it could be applied to practice. Go team! I'm also really grateful to our classmates who generated and participated in discussion. It's the worst when you get blank silent stares, so I'm glad we didn't have to face that! :)
And on that note, it's nap time for me. And yes... Napping IS an occupation! ;)

Saturday, January 16, 2010

T2 W2

Evidenced based appraisal of Motivational Interviewing - Done!
Term One Portfolio - Done!
Presentation and Handout for MI - Done!
ASIST course - cancelled :(
Scholarly Paper proposal - done, but not thrilled with it. **UPDATE: My topic was rejected! Phew... now I get to pick something else**
Seminar Group Presentation on Social Role Theory - research underway.
Learning Contract for Term 2 Placement - BANE OF MY EXISTENCE! (begrudgingly in progress).

So far this term is off to a roaring start! I'm loving my new PBT group and tutor... We seem to have good ju-ju together. Now... If I can just stay one step ahead of the school-work flood, everything should be okay *thumbs-up*

Thursday, January 7, 2010

T2 Week 1

Off to a quick start! This week I'm doing my evidence based appraisal assignment on motivational interviewing (due Monday), finishing my portfolio (due a week today), doing research on arthogryposis for my Friday problem based tutorial session, and writing a research paper proposal (due Tues) on, possibly, suicide (social-environmental risk factors and legal rights/responsibilities) with a side of euthanasia. Phew! Busy busy busy...
And for all those people finishing up your applications... Good Luck!!!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Term One Round-Up

I've been spending some time over the holidays finishing up my Term One review for my portfolio. It's something that we have to hand in to our academic advisers to review at the beginning of each term and it is an overview of all the work we've done in the term that just passed. Because McMaster uses a self-directed and problem-based approach to learning, the knowledge and skills I've acquired in the first term may be very different from the things one of my classmates has. The portfolios help us to keep track of what we've learned so far and they help us to identify our learning gaps so that we know what we need to focus on in future terms. There's also a reflective piece about what you've learned... I haven't written mine yet, but I think it will be a "you've come a long way, baby" kind of thing. And it wraps up with a reflective piece about your future practice... what brought you to OT in the first place, where do you see yourself ending up in your practice after graduation, and how has that idea evolved because of your experiences in each term. While at times it feels like a chore to do this portfolio, I think it will be a really great resource and is good experience for reflective professional practice and development long term.
So, in term one the main emphasis was on "occupation." It's the defining feature of our profession, our domain of interest and expertise... and so we students need to get very familiar with all the nuances of what that term means to occupational therapists.
We only have two courses each term: Inquiry and Integration (that looks at theory and applying theory in practice) and Professional Roles and Experiential Practicum (that teaches more applied skills, such as interview techniques, and also includes our clinical placement). We also have an unofficial course that does not have any grade component, but that will probably be rolled out as a registered course next year. It's called Foundational Knowledge and includes basic stuff like introduction to anatomy and physiology, basics of development, psychology and sociology, and some rudimentary statistics. The reason for the course is that, because the students in the program come from all different backgrounds and there are no prerequisites, not everyone is starting with the same knowledge base. And that's great sometimes... you each get to be an expert and you can help fill in the blanks for one another. It's good for group learning. However, there is some basic knowledge that everyone needs to have... so this course is designed to give everyone an opportunity to get on the same page.
I won't go through and itemize all the specifics of what we learned this term... one, because I think it would be a boring read, lol... and two, because while it was all really important it was also kind of foundation OT stuff with a lot of acronyms that don't make sense unless I elaborate on each of them... which I don't feel like doing. But if you have questions, let me know!
One of my New Year's resolutions is to try and be a bit more consistent about posting to the blog about what we're doing in our course. The posts might be shorter, but I think it will be better!
I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday... and I wish much health and happiness for all!
Happy 2010!!