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!


  1. I graduated from the 2nd class of OT at UWO 40 years ago! As a 1st year student we also had to take anatomy and lab with cadavers back then as well. At age 18, working on a cadaver was overwhelming to a lot of students (some even dropped out of the prog. because of it). But to be honest - it was the best learning experience. I now teach in an OT prog. in the US where they have pro-sected body parts. It's not the same & doesn't come close to giving you the perspective of working on a cadaver. I know the course is tough, but be thankful for the learning opportunity you have. It's worth it!

  2. I'm a current OT student at U of T and I just thought I'd comment that Western and U of T's programs seem to be quite similar! We also have neuro and anatomy in first year. (U of T requires working with cadavers as well!) We do a lot of work within study groups and we're also assigned an OT mentor in another separate group.

    To the new applicants out there who might be deliberating about which school to choose - all of the programs sound excellent so you really can't go wrong!