New graduate reflects on career change during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has made some people rethink their career path, and this was certainly true for Beth Reynolds who graduated from Georgian’s Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant program on June 14.

“During this time, I questioned if I wanted to sit behind a desk for the rest of my career,” says Beth. “I wanted to help people in real life – so now I’ll be working in health care and helping people improve their daily functioning.”

Meaningful placements

Beth had a variety of placements during her program including a Georgian College Occupational Therapy Paediatric fine motor skills clinic, working in a long-term care facility and a spinal cord recovery clinic.

Her final placement at the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre (SLMHC) was extra special.

“When the news came out about the residential school graves, it hit me hard being a parent. I knew I had to be more aware of Indigenous culture and wondered if I could learn and help in some small way as a occupational therapy/physiotherapist assistant student. My placement officer asked if I’d be willing to go to Sioux Lookout as their hospital service area includes 28 First Nation communities.”

Beth jumped at the opportunity and made the 18-hour road trip north. This is the first time SLMHC had a Georgian Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant student on clinical placement.

Working and learning at SLMHC

Beth says SLMHC was a wonderful experience because her duties were so varied.

It’s a small hospital with a large area and population to cover, so I was able to see a wide range of conditions from below-the-knee amputation to long-haul COVID-19. I was able to put everything I learned in class into practice with hands-on experience with real patients.

Beth adds that 90 per cent of her caseload was with Indigenous people of Canada and she worked with interpreters to communicate effectively with patients in their own language.

“It was rewarding working with people who have faced adversity in their lives and still remain so positive. I was happy to participate in their rehabilitation and help make positive gains in their progress.”

The SLMHC rehab department was very welcoming, and Beth’s placement preceptor Nicole Wooden made sure Beth learned everything she could about inpatient physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

“I can’t thank her enough for the knowledge and her approach to patient care that she shared with me. It’s an experience that will never leave me, and I hope to keep sharing what I’ve learned any chance I get.”

Other lessons learned up north

The SLMHC activity calendar included drumming circles and a sweat lodge, however, these were cancelled during Beth’s placement due to COVID-19. Instead, Nicole connected her with the hospital’s Community Liaison, Renee Southwind, who invited Beth to visit the Lac Seul First Nation where she grew up. She learned about the area’s ongoing struggles and poor treatment over a past flooding incident. Renee also shared about her time in residential schools and touched on the trauma this has caused across generations.

SLMHC offers workshops and classes including language courses.

“Anishinaabemowin teachings included Ojibwe words and phrases to help positively impact patient recovery by using familiar language. I was also given medical dictionaries in Ojibwe, Cree and Oji-Cree to use as needed.”

Beth also learned a bit about the way of life in the north.

“It’s very different than what I’m used to. I was shocked at food prices, communities with no road access and the amount of long-distance travel. Some of the SLMHC patients must be flown to the hospital. It’s mindboggling and the struggles are very real. But everyone is very friendly and it was such a worthwhile experience. I encourage other students to do a placement up north.”

What’s next for Beth?

Beth is still working part-time at her pre-pandemic advertising job and is taking the summer to reflect on where she wants to work in the field.

“I did so many different things during my placements so I haven’t decided what setting I want to work in. I really liked paediatrics and working in Sioux Lookout, and I’d like to find something close to home where my experiences would be put to good use.”

Beth would recommend the Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant program as a career to other students.

“You need to enjoy being active, and as an assistant you get to carry out interventions and be more hands-on with patients, which I thought was a great opportunity.”

A female with dark hair wearing a blue graduation gown standing outside against a brick wall. She is flanked by two young males.
Beth’s sons Wyatt (left) and Finley helped celebrate her special day.

As a mature student, Academic Career Preparation helped Beth upgrade

Beth, who graduated from Georgian’s Advertising program (Class of 1999), needed biology to get into the Occupational Therapist Assistant and Physiotherapist Assistant program so she upgraded through Academic Career Preparation at the college.

The prospect of heading back to school as a mature student made Beth a bit nervous. As a single parent to two teenagers (aged 14 and 17) she needed to apply for OSAP and ensure she could cover all her expenses.

“I’d just bought a house in Barrie and would only be working part-time so I wanted to make sure I could juggle everything. But once I had everything organized it went well.”

Beth encourages other mature students to explore college.

It seems scary to go back to school in your middle age but the time just flew by! If you’re on the fence, once you get everything in order, it’s worth it. I definitely would do it again.

Need to upgrade before heading to college?

We can help! Learn more about Academic Career Preparation (ACP) at Georgian.

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