Occupational Therapy Week 2021: Looking past the diagnosis to find what's meaningful

For Occupational Therapy Week 2021, we share Emma's story, who is the first ever Occupational Therapist (OT) at Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre Stagenhoe. At just 26 years old, Emma is responsible for establishing the centre’s approach to embedding new interventions for patients. Emma only joined the team in September of this year, and despite feeling like she was “looking up at a big mountain to climb” at first, has worked quickly to develop new ways of working.

Emma, Senior Occupational Therapist at Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre Stagenhoe

An opportunity to really help

Emma previously worked as a Senior Occupational Therapist at the Lister Hospital in Stevenage for 4 years after graduating. “Working in a hospital, you assess patients, but you don’t get the opportunity to really help them. It’s a revolving door,” she explains, “I didn’t feel like I was improving their lives, and felt that there was so much more I could do”.

Neurological care has always been a huge passion for Emma, so she jumped at the chance when she saw the opportunity to join the team at Stagenhoe. “The nature of the Sue Ryder service meant I’d be able to get to know the patients, and develop effective interventions,” she explains. “At the hospital, I had to send them off to rehab, and then they’d get to do the fun part! Now I get to do the fun stuff instead.”

What's important to patients and their families

So what does this ‘fun stuff’ look like exactly?

Emma explains the importance of “looking at the person as a whole. I look past just their diagnosis and ask them what’s important and meaningful to them, and ask their family too.”

She mentions one patient “who really wants to cook for his wife, so we are doing cooking training” and another “who wants to communicate his wishes. I have to find a way for the family to interact, and make their time with him more meaningful.”

To do this, Emma has employed the use of Eye Gaze software, which allows for non-verbal communications by tracking eye movements. But she has to “assess this by using known biological questions to see if he can answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ correctly and consistently. Ultimately, he could make his wishes known, and his family could understand a part of him they couldn’t before.”

Another patient of Emma’s is a young asylum seeker, who is just 19 years old and suffered from spinal tuberculosis, which has caused significant neurological issues. He is soon to move into independent living, but “can become quite low in mood, and sometimes refuses to eat. I did a cooking assessment with him, and discovered if he makes his own food, he will eat it! Watching his mental health improve during our cooking sessions is amazing – he even starts cracking jokes!”

“I have a really strong sense of freedom in my role”

Emma says that “anything you can do to improve these people’s lives is amazing. I have a really strong sense of freedom in my role. Management have said yes to everything!” She has exciting plans for the future too, and explains her ambition to do group therapy sessions with the recreational therapy team.

One of their activities is the so-called ‘Fight Club’, where patients use punching bags and boxing gloves. This is “great for working with residents with upper limb issues” and “combining with ‘Fight Club’ means residents will actually enjoy the sessions too!”

When she started at Stagenhoe, Emma admits that her role felt “equal parts exciting and intimidating. There’s 40 residents, and one of me – I’m heavily outnumbered!” But she felt immediately welcomed into the service by the team at Sue Ryder. “People kept coming up and saying how excited they were that I was here. Everyone at the hospital called me a physio. At Sue Ryder no one does, and they don’t know how much it means to me. It’s really heart-warming”.

Occupational Therapy Week

This Occupational Therapy Week 2021, where we shine a light on the crucial work Occupational Therapists do, the Royal College of Occupational Therapists are launching their new health equity campaign #OTsForEquity.

The hope is that this campaign will not only raise awareness of the amazing work Occupational Therapists do every day, but help to improve and establish health equity for everyone, so that we can all access the care we need.

They are also calling on healthcare decision makers across the country to develop a long-term strategy, involving more funding and resources for occupational therapists working on the frontline.

Find out more information about Sue Ryder Neurological Care Centre Stagenhoe, the expert neurological care they provide and ways you can help to support them.

Join our team

If Emma's story has inspired you to consider a career in neurological care with Sue Ryder, you can search our latest job opportunities. As part of our team, you'll be helping to provide expert care which enables people to live the best life they possibly can.