Caroline, Occupational Therapist

An experienced Occupational Therapist, Caroline tells us about working at West Sussex County Council.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

My name is Caroline and I’m an occupational therapist [OT]. I qualified in 1999, so I’ve been an OT for quite a while, and I was an OT in another county before I came to West Sussex.

I’ve been working for West Sussex for 18 years, but I have moved around to different departments, so I’ve had a good feel of what it’s like to work as an OT in different teams.

What inspired you to become an OT?

Well, it’s quite bizarre really, but I’m profoundly deaf and I function quite highly and people I noticed over the years were fascinated by how I manage with my disability - so, I changed career.

I looked at OT and realised that it’s an enabling occupation where we’re helping people to achieve what they want and, through my own personal experience, I realised that people were interested in how I was managing and how I was enabling myself, so that’s how I came into it.

I chose it because it’s very rewarding to give people skills and equip people physically and mentally so that they can achieve whatever it is they’re hoping to achieve.

As you’re probably aware, in OT, when people have an illness or condition, they may find it’s difficult to function in a certain way and that’s when the OT will assist with some ideas, either physical adaptations to a property or their car, or adjustments to how they might carry out something, or supporting someone with their mental health so they can continue to carry on with whatever it is that is troubling them.

It’s very much client-centred because it’s not about us walking in saying, 'well you need to be able to clean your house better', it’s not about that. It’s about the person bringing to us what’s difficult for them and what they want to work on and to improve, so it’s very client-centred with the individual to identify the goals that they’d like to work on.

Why did you choose to work for West Sussex?

West Sussex has got a fabulous countryside, it really does! It’s also got good connections with the airports, the coast and rural areas, so that’s fantastic. But also, it’s a really broad range of ages, ethnicity and cultural groups, so there is a lovely mix to work with and to understand how people live their lives differently because of their background - that’s really nice.

Obviously when you work in the community, you’re driving from one town to another and, like anywhere else, no two towns are the same but it’s very nice going to specific towns that are heavier in some cultures than others. It’s a nice, diverse environment to be working in. It’s good for us because it makes us really think about what’s important for that person and not for our judgement.

What is the best thing about being an OT at the County Council?

It’s about enabling people, so seeing someone at the beginning who’s really struggling and having difficulties, and then, as part of the intervention we made, we’ll provide them with a toolkit of ideas and recommendations on how they can progress and improve their strength, stamina or make adjustments to their home or lifestyle. It’s very rewarding and at the end you can really see that it makes a massive difference.

For example, in adaptations, people may not be able to access their bathroom to shower or bathe. A very simple example is someone ambulant walking around their own home. They’re used to being able to access everything and then perhaps they had a condition that meant mobility was deteriorating or they had an accident and were suddenly using a wheelchair.

It’s a pleasure in our role to be able to adapt that room so that person at last can bathe or shower again, so extremely rewarding in that sense. It’s also about working with other agencies as well.

Specifically, being in West Sussex, it’s the change between the towns, the countryside and the coast. As an OT, no two days are ever the same, driving in the country between properties is gorgeous.

If you are working with equipment and adaptation properties, West Sussex has a broad range of challenges of properties to work with, including space-challenged flats, cute grade-listed properties, larger houses and a variety of different tenancies and ownerships to consider.

What do you particularly enjoy about working in the OT team?

I have to say that I’ve worked in lots of different teams, but what I very much like is how supportive all the OTs within West Sussex are towards each other. It’s not competitive, it’s more about sharing our knowledge so that we all improve in our skills, confidence and abilities to carry out our work.

The management style and structure encourages people to share information and give each other peer support and that’s lovely. I’ve found that a lot of people are very dynamic and innovative with their practice. We are encouraged to share practice, to experience motivational and dynamic ways of working so then it kind of bleeds across the teams really, which is fantastic.

How does West Sussex support you to develop and progress?

West Sussex has really good support systems. Pretty much traditionally, as with any OT role, there are appraisal systems and supervision, but there are also career progression options which I particularly like. So, if you wanted to progress to a higher grading in some situations, you can carry out a career progression assessment.

As part of a senior progression, West Sussex may also fund you to do a module in a master’s degree, so that’s fantastic to be able to attend university, go back to your grass roots and go back to learning to do a module, which I did not long ago.

To progress to a different grade, you need to demonstrate that you meet a specific set of skills - it’s a very thorough assessment. However, it’s very supportive and it’s really satisfying to see that you tick off all the different skills and, if you need any more training or hands-on tuition, it’s always there. We have our own internal training as well, as some external things you may need to apply for.

We also have our College of Occupational Therapy annual conferences and other things that are similar, that you can put your name forward to attend and then you can bring it back and share it with the rest of the team.

Is there a case or something about your work here that makes you feel proud?

I think there are a lot of cases that we all go out and visit and you come back afterwards and give yourself a pat on the back and know you’ve done well. I think you only recognise that you’ve done well because you are using your supervision structure and you can use your reflection tools to recognise why you’ve done well. It’s equally just as important to come back from a visit and think, 'Oh, I could’ve done that better' and there’s no judgement within West Sussex for that. If you came back and said, 'I didn’t do that bit well' it’s simply seen as the perfect opportunity to propel our learning and go away and have a think about what we could’ve done differently and then practise it next time.

There’s a lot of team discussions, bringing cases to a team discussion to talk about what we do and why it went well or didn’t go well. We also have best practice sessions within our teams, where people are encouraged to bring forward examples of best practice, so something that went particularly well, or bring forward information about medical conditions and share that with the rest of the team. Or when people have been on a training course they will come back and provide feedback.

As part of West Sussex's OT service, we have a 'Putting Evidence into Practice' bulletin, which is where a small working group of OTs work on sourcing the OT literature for examples of best evidence-based practice and then share findings with the wider OT force for implementation into daily practise. Where that wasn't available - for example in the early days of COVID, there were not many examples of evidence-based practice of OT and COVID care - it’s coming in now, but right at the beginning there weren’t any. So, what we did was share the best practice that we know so far from other counties or West Sussex.

The idea is that, as an OT, we should be practising evidence-based practice all the time, as much as we can. The idea of the small working group is that this working group does all the leg work and presents the findings in a bulletin to the rest of the OT service, which is a lot of people! It works very well because we’re all busy managing our own caseloads and we haven’t got the time to be looking for the best practice evidence online, so it’s quite good to have a look at the bulletin, which is delivered in an easy to digest format.

What would you say are the challenges of being an OT?

I think the challenges that many people enjoy include how each one of us is so individual, so no two people are the same. So, if we’re faced with an issue of someone perhaps being in bed, not able to move off the bed, it’s about assessing that person and their ability to move, the range of movement they’ve got and the strength they’ve got. It’s about looking at the whole room, the environment and then looking at what could help to assist that person to move. Where you’ve got so many different things to consider, that’s where the complexity of OT is for some people.

Our assessments are very detailed and in-depth. I currently work in a Blue Badge assessment role, which is a unique, specialist role, so the challenges are that we are such a unique role nobody else knows very much about our in-depth assessments. So, it’s very challenging to assess people online without actually meeting them, which we do for Blue Badge assessment sometimes.

What would you say to somebody considering joining us?

I would say definitely look at West Sussex because we have a diverse population, diverse countryside and the support structure of West Sussex is very strong. There's support within your team to help you progress if you’re having difficulties, to help you move forward.

Also, West Sussex have lots of staff support groups that you can join - there are LGBTQIA+, BAME, women at work, disabled staff groups and more - lots of different support groups. It’s recognised that people who are working within West Sussex are carrying out the day-to-day role, but sometimes there are personal elements of their lives that come into their work. West Sussex, like lots of other counties, have recognised that if we can get together with likeminded people, then we’ll support one another and it will enable us to progress further because we feel happy in ourselves and in our workplace, which of course increases productivity.

Any issues that may arise in the workplace relating to our personal circumstances for instance, we have support groups, as well as official channels. As a disabled employee, I have felt supported in terms of anything additional that I may need to carry out my work.

West Sussex County Council OT teams tick so many boxes for me.

Find out more about working in occupational therapy and view our current vacancies.

Last updated:
30 June 2022
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