Published On: October 27th, 2021

Celebrating rural and remote Occupational Therapists

This week is national Occupational Therapy week and the University Departments of Rural Health (UDRH) are celebrating the skilled and dedicated occupational therapists working in rural and remote communities across Australia.

Occupational therapy is one of the more than 20 allied health disciplines supported by the UDRHs. Each year hundreds of occupational therapy students undertake a rural or remote clinical placement as part of their degree and may spend up to three months studying and living in a rural or remote community.

The UDRHs also provide professional support to rurally-based occupational therapists by offering continuing education events, communities of practice and opportunities for research and further study.

Occupational therapists work with people of all ages and abilities to help them build the skills they need to live healthy, productive and independent lives and reduce the impact of illness, injury or disability. They work in a variety of health and community settings including hospitals, community health clinics, aged care, mental health, disability services, occupational rehabilitation and private practice.

Occupational therapist Sarah Miles, from the University Centre for Rural Health in Lismore, New South Wales, relishes the challenges and opportunities from living and working rurally.

‘Occupational therapy is a very satisfying and versatile career where you are working with people to help them to maximise their abilities and achieve their life goals.  Occupational therapists are skilled in treating the whole person and considering their physical, social, emotional and environmental needs.

Sarah joined the University Centre for Rural Health six years ago after working in both the public and private sectors in Australia and internationally. Sarah supervises students within small rural schools and aged care facilities on service-learning placements across the Far North Coast in NSW. Sarah is also the Team Leader of Clinical Education (Multidisciplinary Health) and completing a PhD looking at supervision and work readiness of occupational therapy students in their final placement.

‘I enjoy the variety and challenge of being a rural occupational therapist and academic.’ Sarah said.

‘Each day is different and the challenges of delivering services in diverse settings and over large distances requires me to be creative and solution-focused in my work. Watching occupational therapy students grow in confidence in themselves, their skills and the value and impact of their profession in these small rural communities inspires me every day.’

Sarah is also Chair of the ARHEN Service-Learning Staff Network and is working to promote the use of service-learning approaches in rural and remote locations.

‘Service-learning is an approach whereby health students work with community-based organisations to develop and deliver a project or service that meets the unique needs of that community that would otherwise be unavailable.

Service-learning placements support both student learning and community service goals. Learning practices are grounded in objectives, engage students in well-defined tasks, enhance disciplinary skills, and allow for both formative and summative assessment and promote work-ready skills. Service activities meet genuine community needs, provide meaningful tasks for students, and promote communication and collaboration with community members’ Sarah said.

ARHEN members look forward to continuing to build the multidisciplinary rural and remote health workforce and encouraging the next generation of occupational therapists to consider a rural or remote career.

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