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The working life of an occupational therapist

Author: Ishbel Murdoch
04 August 2017

Ishbel Murdoch works as an occupational therapist at ACCORD Hospice in Renfrewshire. Here she describes how varied her role is, involving everything from running themed gardening events to conducting assessments on patients’ living arrangements.

I work at ACCORD Hospice two days a week. As the term Occupational Therapy (OT) might imply, meaningful or purposeful occupation is central to what we do. We focus on enabling independence because we feel that what makes life meaningful are the occupations people are involved in. The ability to carry out these occupations can be severely compromised by illness. Purposeful occupation can also be a contributor to reducing pain, enabling relaxation and giving a positive focus to this precious time of life.

My first task of the day is my time for catching up. It can be a frenetic chat of finding out what has been going on for patients and new referrals, and helps me formulate a plan for my two days ahead. I work very closely with my physiotherapy colleagues and the service lynchpin, Shona, our Technical Instructor.

I might then go to the Inpatient Unit (IPU) and catch up with individual patients. If their discharge home is being planned and they live alone, I might be involved in carrying out a home visit with them to see how they will manage and then carefully plan what equipment they may need to assist them, and which support services may help.

If home is not a plan then we want to know how else we can support patients in the bedded unit. Do they have special interests or personal plans we can assist with, do they need peace, gentle chatting, time out of bed in a comfortable chair or time in the Day Therapy Unit (DTU)?

We have enjoyed listening to music with a patient using an iPad and Bluetooth speakers to access music at our fingertips. I am not sure who enjoyed it more, the patient or ourselves!

My morning might also consist of time in the DTU where there might be individual or group projects to plan or carry out. Recently I helped to organise plants for people to put in the patio garden.

This winter we had themed indoor gardening with plant displays. Burns Day had red roses and a Tam O’Shanter flying over a bridge. Flowers and their growth are an important way to invest in living. Group work is central to the DTU and we have run life story groups and are hoping to use music as a theme to share this thread as we tell our stories.

After lunch I may carry out a visit (often with a physiotherapist) to somebody living in their own home to make a functional assessment, i.e. see how someone is managing with daily living skills. Pain, fatigue and breathlessness are just some of the reasons why getting up in the morning, going to the toilet, having a shower, getting dressed, and going downstairs can be a problem for someone living with a life-limiting illness, and that is before they have even summoned up the energy to make breakfast.

Adaptive equipment or discussing different ways of doing things can often be a lifeline to help reduce pain and conserve energy.

Back to the office, and onto the computer to order equipment, make phone calls, request adaptations and support services from Social Work.  

My day will always mean responding to the individual needs of the people that attend ACCORD. Some days can be profoundly sad, but it is always a huge privilege to share with someone who might be nearing the end of their life. However there are joys too, and sometimes the hospice can feel like the happiest place to work.

For more information visit ACCORD Hospice

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