A true passion for Occupational Therapy – from treating snake bites in rural South Africa, to leading our Inpatient OT team

5 July 2022

A true passion for Occupational Therapy – from treating snake bites in rural South Africa, to leading our Inpatient OT team

From life in South Africa to moving to the UK, Sarah talks about her experiences as an Occupational Therapist (OT) and Inpatient OT Lead at Kingston Hospital and why she is so passionate about the profession.

“I was born and grew up in Durban on the East Coast of South Africa. It can be incredibly humid and hot there. It’s rainy in the winter but has beautiful summers. My parents still live in Durban, and I have two sisters – both of whom have recently relocated to the UK. I’m part South African and have a Mauritian mother, so I’ve got a bit of French in me too!”

“Part of the reason why I love occupational therapy is looking at a person not only medically, but in terms of how they are set up socially and in the environments that they spend time in.”

Before moving to the UK nine years ago, Sarah worked for a number of years in South Africa. She says: “I started my career in a rural placement in Port Shepstone, because in South Africa you have to do community service as a health professional. It was a rural district hospital which didn’t have a working x-ray machine. We held clinics in very rural towns, and we used to drive to places that I didn’t even know existed.”

“Once I was given a live chicken as a thank you from a patient at one of our clinics! That was the best gift ever.”

“At our clinics, we had a doctor, an OT and then either the speech and language therapist or a physio. The OTs used to run paediatric and stroke groups under the trees and we saw a lot of hand injuries as a result of snake bites. These were treated with fasciotomies which resulted in a lot of scarring and difficulty with movement in the hands. We used to run a hands group, where we supported patients with exercises and showed them how to manage the development of scars. Many people worked in farming, or had to farm for a food source, so it was really important to be able to use their hands.”

“In South Africa, we also made sensory toys from anything old. We used to make balls out of rocks, sand and plastic bags, so the children could play soccer. As well as working in the rural clinics, I worked in acute inpatient care in hospitals, a rehabilitation centre, a school, vocational assessments, and private paediatrics. In the UK, I’ve worked at a few different hospitals, in both the private and public sector. I have had the privilege of working in palliative care, care of the elderly, neonatal ITU, paediatric neurology and paediatric oncology.”

When asked about her role, Sarah says: “I love my job – being an Occupational Therapist means everything to me. It’s a very different kind of occupational therapy in the UK, so that took some time to get used to. In South Africa, we had to be more creative with problem solving and equipment provision, while the NHS has so many specialist areas and resources. I also enjoy the NHS team approach to healthcare and working in the NHS has given me the opportunity to learn new sets of skills.”

“For me it’s about being able to make a change, and to fly the OT flag. I think Kingston has provided me the opportunity to really be able to do that in terms of what my vision for occupational therapy is and my passion for it. I just absolutely love being an OT and like the uniform, my blood is green.”

Explaining how her journey to becoming an OT all started, Sarah explains: “I did a four-year undergrad BSc Hons in occupational therapy, straight out of school. I was thinking of becoming a physiotherapist but enjoyed the varied and individualised approach of OT more.”

“I feel like it’s the ‘Mary Poppins’ of jobs, as it has incredible potential and we can do amazing things like whip lampshades out of bags, but nobody knows about it. I think physiotherapy and occupational therapy are often amalgamated in certain healthcare settings because of some of the work we do, but it’s a bit like having an electrician and a plumber – you need both to keep your house functioning.”

An avid beach walker and a fan of ice cream and coffee, Sarah tells us what it is that keeps her going: “I think there’s a variety of things. I absolutely love people more than anything else – I love their complexity, and their experiences. I love the relationships that I have with my friends, my family, and the people that I’m really close with. I love being able to see them and just being a part of their day to day lives.”

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