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 :)