At the centre of the occupational therapy profession are people – this fast-growing career concerns itself with delivering functional solutions and outcomes for those facing illnesses, injuries, psychological impairments, developmental delays and more. As well as the numerous cohorts that benefit from occupational therapy, the profession is upheld by compassionate, dynamic individuals who offer exceptional problem-solving skills and a keen understanding of science.
Vivian Fitzgerald is one such person. Graduating from Bond in 2019 with her Master of Occupational Therapy, Vivian has gone on to practice in private settings, in the paediatric sector, and now, as a full-time occupational therapist with Queensland Health.
Originally from the United States, Vivian came to Bond after years of experience in leadership and community service, with the goal of beginning a new career as an OT – citing her ‘yearning for a global mindset’ as what led her to Australia.
“I chose to study at Bond because I love the expansive cultural environment it provides for its students,” she says. “I was keen to expand my global mindset, and found that not only is Bond’s student population very diverse but its staff is as well.”
Throughout her two years in the Master of Occupational Therapy – completed quickly due to Bond’s accelerated course structure – Vivian gained over 1,000 hours of practice-based education in clinical settings. When she wasn’t learning on the job, she was undertaking her courses at the Bond Institute of Health and Sport (BIHS) under the tutelage of leading industry professionals.
“I loved the educational opportunities and engaging lectures at Bond. All of my professors were extremely passionate about what they do and pride themselves on presenting information in a captivating way,” she says.
After graduation, Vivian dove into an exciting career as an occupational therapist, and was fortunate enough to work with not one, but all three of the organisations she undertook clinical placements with during university.
“I started out as a therapy assistant for two different organisations while studying at Bond, then transitioned into a full-time OT role in private practice paediatrics,” she says.
“After about a year and a half of paediatrics, I decided to go for my current role within Queensland Health. I am currently an occupational therapist on the acute team at Gold Coast University Hospital, and I work within a multidisciplinary team to optimise the health and safety of those admitted to our ward.”
So, what does an average day look like for an occupational therapist? In short, every day is different, and no one occupational therapist does the same thing or works in an identical setting. OT is one of the fastest-growing careers both in Australia and globally, and occupational therapists can work in hospitals, aged care facilities, community health organisations, private practice, and focused settings like schools and rehabilitation centres.
“In my role at Gold Coast University Hospital, the acute OT team take a very collaborative approach to delivering care. Every morning, myself and my colleagues on other wards will take a look at all of the referrals and prioritise them to get a general idea of how many people need assistance that day. From there, our days vary – we typically see the patients on our ward, document these interactions for their clinical files, and have daily team meetings to discuss each patient’s progress. Sometimes there are also in-service training sessions or journal clubs designed to advance our clinical skills and develop quality projects,” Vivian says.
As a service-based career, at its core occupational therapy is about helping people, with the goal of making daily tasks easier or more accessible for people facing impairments, whether they are physical, cognitive or mental. Vivian cites her relationships with patients as the thing she loves most about working in occupational therapy.
“It sounds so corny but it’s true – I love interacting with my patients. Every day, I get to engage with a wide variety of people, and not only get a glimpse of their life story, but work with them to regain their independence or to figure out a plan for them to navigate the world safely,” she says.
“As occupational therapists, we take a very holistic approach to care, and really get an idea of what’s important to our patients.”
“The variety of things we get to work on is also an amazing aspect of this career path. From functional rehab, fine motor skills and home modifications, to cognition, emotional regulation, social skills, community access, telehealth and so much more – it’s endless,” Vivian says.
If occupational therapy has piqued your interest, you might be wondering what it takes to develop a career in this ever-changing industry. Vivian offers some insight for future OTs.
“My job requires compassion, flexibility, creativity and collaboration. Being a people-centric profession, each day is different and unique, and the ability to quickly pivot is vital,” she says.
“A strength of a good occupational therapist is considering what’s practical for the patient. By listening and getting to know what’s important to them, what their strengths are, and what support they have available, occupational therapists can work towards creating goals that are realistic and specific to their unique circumstances,” she says.
Now in her second year of full-time employment, Vivian is enjoying working in a collaborative and supportive environment that permits her to grow her skillset – both the ‘hard skills’ it takes to function as an occupational therapist, and the ‘soft skills’ that turn a good OT into an exceptional one.
Upon reflecting on her time at Bond, she’s grateful for the foundation the Master of Occupational Therapy built, that has ultimately allowed her to excel in the first few years of her professional career.
“Bond provided me not only with the fundamental know-how central to succeeding in my profession, but with very practical opportunities to enhance my skills.”
Her one resounding piece of advice for anyone considering the Master of Occupational Therapy at Bond? “Honestly – it’s worth it.”