Canadian placement in the snow

Before leaving for placement, I felt both excited and a little bit anxious about heading off to a location where nobody from UQ had been on placement before. During the Christmas break of 2015, I travelled to Canada to complete a five week placement in an occupational rehabilitation clinic called Kootenay Health Services (KHS). I had researched the placement location extensively and had been regularly in touch with the clinic so I felt very reassured that they were well-equipped to support me as a student.

One of the main reasons I chose to complete my placement in Canada, in the small town of Nelson, was that one day I would love to live and practise there. This placement experience was therefore really helpful for me to gain some understanding of how occupational therapists (OTs) work in Canada and gave me the perfect opportunity to network and meet local people. As an added bonus I love winter and winter sports so I was able to get my shred fix at the same time. I must admit I was constantly keeping my eye on the snow forecast prior to leaving and was getting really excited about the heavy snowfalls and low temperatures.

My advice for those considering an overseas placement;

  1. In my opinion, it’s worth every penny to venture overseas and experience another country’s professional processes. If you can commit to saving the money to put towards the experience, then it’s well worth it.
  2. Leave some time at the end of your placement to experience the area you’re in without having placement commitments. It also means that you have some time to make up for any days off if you end up encountering unforeseen circumstances.
  3. Show your tutor/education manager that you are serious and mature about what you are undertaking. I had to organise my own placement location so I made sure I did some quality groundwork and investigation before I put together my proposal to my clinical education liaison manager (CELM). This showed her that I had fully considered my decision and had thought through the smaller details of the overseas placement. As an added benefit I had some good friends of mine who offered for me to stay with them, which made my CELM and I feel confident in my support network overseas.

One of the many exciting components of my placement with KHS was that they also often collaborated in clinical research. Although based in Canada, KHS participates as a research collaborator with Professor Michael Sullivan, a current Professor at UQ and Director of the Recover Injury Research Centre. Professor Sullivan’s international research has been focused on developing evidence-based treatment programs targeting psychosocial barriers to recovery and rehabilitation for clients suffering from debilitating health or mental health conditions.

One of the intervention programs that KHS provided was the Progressive Goal Attainment Program (PGAP). The PGAP is a standardized, empirically supported intervention that has been shown to reduce disability and contribute to successful return-to-work in individuals with back pain, whiplash, fibromyalgia, cancer, depression, and PTSD. One of the advantages of the PGAP is that it can be offered by clinicians from a variety of rehabilitation disciplines including OT. In the PGAP, ‘disability reduction’ is the central objective of treatment as opposed to symptom management. To have the opportunity to work collaboratively with a variety of rehabilitation providers, all looking at the client with a similar philosophical orientation to rehabilitation and function was unique and a fabulous learning experience.

During the placement I also got to take part in on-site and home visits in the community which provided many new experiences. As Nelson is a regional town, a few of the sites we visited were several hours drive away through the Canadian Rockies.

One of the site visits which stands out in my mind was in small town about three hours away. The drive was over a mountain pass, which was closed because of avalanche risk. Therefore we couldn’t get through that day. We had to wait until the next day for the snow patrol to blast the snow off the mountainside. The drive was absolutely spectacular. We broke through the clouds at the top of the mountain pass and there were blue skies and snow everywhere.

One client which I visited was a ski instructor, who had been instructing for over 20 years and was injured by an out of control skier while working. It was really cool to gain some insight into his job and how we could help him recover and return to doing what he loves. This was certainly an experience which I might not have encountered in Australia.

I absolutely loved living in a winter wonderland for the season. I met such lovely people and the outdoor winter sporting opportunities were too good to be true! One of the highlights was receiving a call from my supervisor one morning and him saying, “It’s snowed 10 centimetres overnight. If we can help it, we don’t go into work on powder days until noon. So go snowboarding then come in at 12pm today”. Finding time for leisure activities around placement shifts was also not hard. There was more than one time that I got home from a shift and headed up the mountain for night skiing or snowboarding, followed by après beer and nachos.

I feel very fortunate to have had this opportunity and I am so grateful for having the chance to explore the OT profession in another part of the world while getting to enjoy snowboarding, and exploring the mountains in winter. If you are ever considering placement in Canada, I would highly recommend it!

If you are a current UQ health student considering overseas study or placement, please contact your school specific academic or placement staff regarding eligibility conditions and requirements. Alternatively, if you would like to be involved in an exchange program visit the UQ Advantage Office website for further details.

Meet the Author…

Hi, I’m Hannah, and I am studying a Master of Occupational Therapy (I am in my final year). I love all types of sport and anything that’s outdoors. I am passionate about helping people achieve their best and feel strongly about utilising physical activity as medicine. Prior to returning to university to complete my masters, I have enjoyed opportunities to work with small children in physical literacy through to older adults in cardiac rehabilitation. I really look forward to applying my existing knowledge and skills to enhance my future occupational therapy practice.

Last updated:
1 September 2016