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Lauren Phillips BSc Occupational Therapy

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I have had the opportunity to engage in volunteer work and gain employment through NHS Professionals, which allowed me to work as an Occupational Therapist Assistant throughout my course.

What made you choose to come to study at Southampton?

Deciding to go to University was a huge step for me. I come from Pembrokeshire and live within the depths of the countryside. I loved home and therefore moving was a huge step, especially from my quiet country life to a big city!

I decided to look around and I discovered Southampton. It was a lot further from home than I had wanted but with so few universities in Wales, I didn’t have much of a choice. However, once I visited the University and the city, I fell in love with the campus and the city. It had a bit of everything – shopping and the ‘city life’ along with the New Forest just around the corner. The lecturers and students were so welcoming and really sold the course to me. The modules and teaching methods seemed fantastic. They encompassed problem-based learning with interactive involvement, including visits from Occupational Therapists, clients, patients and carers to share their experiences.

It was also a Russell Group University which was extremely important to me. It ticked all the boxes and more and made the move from my quiet country life to the beautiful city so much easier. It was the best decision I could have made and I settled in within no time.

What have been your Southampton ‘highlights’ (best experiences) so far?

I have had fantastic experiences in Southampton with so many highlights. The people I have met and friends I have made will stay with me for the rest of my life, whether they be course friends or friends I have met through Halls of Residence and shared accommodation. The times I have shared with them have been a huge highlight for me.

A major highlight would be my exchange with Lund University in Sweden. Students on my course had the opportunity to visit Sweden for a week and attend Lund University. We attended lectures and conducted research projects with Lund students. This trip had all travel and accommodation expenses paid. This was key in developing myself personally and professionally. It improved my confidence in myself and my skills as a Therapist, and increased my awareness of the importance of Occupational Therapy globally. It was the highlight of my course.

I have also had the opportunity to engage in a range of fantastic placements. In my first year, I worked on a neurological rehabilitation ward. I worked with adults with brain injuries and strokes, assisting them to develop skills to enable them to perform tasks which were important to them, such as cooking and showering independently. In my second year, I was on a palliative placement, helping individuals to achieve what they wanted within their final weeks. Although this was a very sensitive area, it was extremely rewarding. This was followed by a placement in an Intensive Support Team, which supported individuals with challenging behaviour and learning disabilities to overcome barriers which prevented them from engaging in tasks and working with family and carers to support them to achieve these tasks.

Finally, in my third year, I had the opportunity to apply for an emerging role placement. Emerging role placements consist Occupational Therapy students setting up an aspect of Occupational Therapy within a setting which does not offer this service. I applied for and was selected for a placement at an Equine Assisted Therapy and Outdoor Therapy Centre. I worked with a range of client groups, including those with mental health, physical health, learning disabilities, autism and neurological disabilities. We used the horse to assist in aligning the pelvis, reduce lower back pain and build up core strength in physical health. With individuals with autism we would use the horse and its environment to increase attention, reduce distractibility, increase awareness of emotions, and improve social motivation and self-care. It was a fantastic experience that improved myself personally and professionally.

I have also had the opportunity to increase awareness of Occupational Therapy, which the University have encouraged and supported me in doing so. For example, I was interviewed by The Guardian on how to become an Occupational Therapist, spoken at schools and involved in a video advert for Health Sciences.

What opportunities have you taken up (within your degree programme and extra-curricular)? In what ways are they helping your personal development?

Southampton has offered me a range of opportunities. From representing my course as Course Representative in second year, to becoming Academic President in third year. This has allowed me to build connections, develop skills in my leadership and communication and represent the students on my course’s rights and spread and communicate changes to the wider student body. This has been fantastic at improving my professional development as I have had the opportunity to be involved in re-validating the Occupational Therapy course, attending training sessions, attending meetings with staff and students and improving the course.

I have also had the opportunity to take up sign language. In my second year, I attended sign language courses for a semester. This was extremely useful as I was able to use many of the signs in my learning disabilities placement, where I was working with individuals who signed to communicate.

Have you had any exposure to employer involvement or research led learning during your course? How will this help you achieve your ambition?

Whilst in Southampton, attending placements has exposed many students to potential employers and has encouraged us to make connections. Students are encouraged to go to conferences and a yearly visit to Naidex is arranged. Furthermore, in the final year a career fair is held. This gives students the opportunity to meet potential employers and many are offered interviews on the day.

Furthermore, the University is very supportive in encouraging their students to apply for posts such as Occupational Therapist Assistants within part time organisations to improve our knowledge and experience. It is really encouraging and improves the way you think as a therapist and an individual. By supporting students this way, the University is helping each student achieve their ambition, as it assists in developing and producing skills which other students and other Universities may not have the opportunity to develop. Consequently, developing their employability.

I have also had the opportunity to conduct research with one of my lecturers, which will result in my name being published as a co-author on a paper. Not only has this improved my research skills but many employers look for individuals who are keen to promote Occupational Therapy practice and keep up to date on research. Involving myself in this topic acts as evidence that this is something that I am committed to doing.

What are you enjoying most about your course?

I have really enjoyed the variety that Occupational Therapy offers. No day and no client is ever the same. Lectures vary from mental to physical health, whether they be classroom based or in interactive sessions, for example learning how to splint. I love how varied the career is and the course has been key in providing knowledge in each key area. Most importantly, I have loved my placements. I have had such a wide variety of placements from palliative, to challenging behaviour environments, all of which I have thoroughly enjoyed.

Do you have the opportunity to study modules outside of your core subject area, and how do you think they are adding to your experience / will affect your future plans?

I have had the opportunity to select two optional modules. This has greatly added to my experience as it has given me the opportunity to specialise and develop further skills in areas I am interested in. I have studied Sensory Processing and Mental Health Assessments. This has improved my knowledge of both subjects and has been crucial in developing my understanding of the overlap between mental and physical health. This has greatly affected my future plans as it has given me the opportunity to begin to specialise in areas which I am extremely interested in for my future careers.

What networking, employment and work experience opportunities have you undertaken and how have they enhanced your undergraduate experience?

I have had fantastic opportunities whilst in Southampton. The careers fair gave me the opportunity to explore future employers, be they the NHS or private. I have had the opportunity to present at conferences, for example I presented the benefits of Occupational Therapy and Sensory Gardens within Equine Assisted Therapy at the Horses in Education and Therapy International Conferences. It has given me the opportunity to network, create connections and meet employers. This has thoroughly enhanced my experience of the University as I feel thoroughly supported by the University. They have encouraged me to take hold of any opportunity and be the best I can be. Throughout my course I have had the opportunity to engage in volunteer work and gain employment through NHS Professionals, which allowed me to work as an Occupational Therapist Assistant throughout my course. This greatly benefited my skills as I was able to engage in a range of different Occupational Therapy Settings. Furthermore, following my Equine Assisted Therapy placement, I was offered a role of Therapist at one of their branches, a role which I am extremely pleased to have gained.

Do you have any idea of what you would like to do in the future? Have the opportunities you have taken up while at the University helped you have a clearer idea of what you might like to do?

Once I graduate from Southampton I will be an Occupational Therapist. I have gained employment from an Intensive Support Team, where I will be working with individuals who display challenging behaviour and individuals with learning disabilities. I will work to support them and their carers by managing their sensory needs and adapting their environment to help them to achieve what they want to achieve. I have been offered a part-time role within an Equine Assisted Therapy branch as a Therapist.

The University has released my passion for working with individuals with sensory processing difficulties and also with equine assisted therapy. I would love to specialise within both of these areas and plan to return to Southampton to complete my Masters in Sensory Processing in the years to come. I would also like to complete a course in Hippotherapy, which uses the horse to manage sensory difficulties and physical health conditions. I would not have considered these options had Southampton University not exposed me to them. They have been critical in shaping myself, my career and my future.

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