After schooling in Gibraltar I went on to have an amazing experience in university in the UK. I completed my degree, a BA in community management and then decided to specialise and gain a professional qualification so I completed my postgraduate diploma in Occupational Therapy (OT) and MSc in Health Through Occupation. This took five years and I loved every minute of it.
I obtained my PGDip and MSc at the University of Brighton's Eastbourne campus. I was so comfortable there because of the friendly atmosphere of the university itself and the town. The course was challenging in all the right ways – we experienced a mixture of theory-based learning in the campus and practical-based on a wide range of fieldwork placements. The course mainly centred on the problem based learning (PBL) approach, which seemed to be a very modern way of learning. We were also well supported there. The course was tough – I had my moments! It was however well worth the hard work. Without it, I wouldn't be where I am today.
Eastbourne was such a convenient place to live – I used to pop to London whenever I wanted, shop in the cute town, or in Brighton, walk down to the beach, and visit the stunning surrounding countryside and villages. I lived with three other OT students (one of them – Hannah – is coming out to stay with me here in Gibraltar next week for some sunshine!) in the best student accommodation I had ever lived in! I couldn't believe my luck when I arrived. I met wonderful people, enjoyed exciting times and learned so much. People ask me if I recommend people to go to study at the University of Brighton and be based at Eastbourne, and I say 'absolutely!'
Having qualified, I lived in Dublin for a year with friendly people, great city life and beautiful Irish countryside nearby. There I worked in an adult psychiatric in-patient hospital and a psychiatric day hospital. I assessed and treated the needs of patients with acute to moderate mental health illnesses and specialised in anxiety management. This was a challenging and valued learning experience as a professional.
I then decided to live in Singapore. I did not know anyone there and had never stepped foot in Asia! Still, I felt the urge to go. There I worked in a mainstream school within the special needs department. I ran the occupational therapy department and treated children of all ages and disabilities, from mild learning difficulties to severe disabilities. I lived a fantastic life, with a dream job and luxury life style. When not at work I was a lady of leisure!
After a couple of years in Asia I decided to return home to Gibraltar. I started private work for local clinics and for the Ministry of Defence, mainly working with learning disabilities. I was also employed as a part-time assistant special educational needs coordinator for a middle school. In addition to this I was a part-time ChildLine Gibraltar manager. I now work with ChildLine as a helpline volunteer. The variety involved in the nature of the work I did helped me to continue to develop my management skills and broaden my experience of working with people with a diverse range of needs.
As with any health care profession, OT is challenging. Some therapists find it difficult to 'switch off' when out of work but it is so important to have balance in your life. Ultimately for the client's sake, it is essential to look after our general well being, to avoid stress and the pressures of work. We must practise what we preach!
I absolutely love what I do and one of the main reasons I became involved in this line of work is because I worked voluntarily at a centre for adults with learning disabilities, St. Bernadette's OT Centre, since I was about 14 years old and continued to help out when I was home in Gibraltar from university doing my degree. I then realised that I loved this type of work and thought why not go into a health care profession and do it full time?! So I moved on from the management focus of my degree and qualified in a profession that is interesting, rewarding and something that I am passionate about.
I am now the occupational therapist/strategy coordinator for the Gibraltar social services agency and I'm based at St. Bernadette's – so my career has come around in a full circle! It was meant to be!
I manage a staff of around 35 people but I try to be as hands on as possible and still work with service users in groups running sessions and in 1:1 sessions. I can be working with a kid with autism helping him manage his behaviour to an adult with profound developmental delay providing the appropriate stimulation, equipment etc. I also provide a consultation service to families and staff. The job is a huge challenge but, so far, I wouldn't change it for the world!