My classmates and I have begun our first Level 1 occupational therapy fieldwork experiences. In our occupational therapy doctorate program (OTD), we have to go through three “Level I” placements and two “Level II” placements prior to completing the program. We are on our first psychosocial rotations and have been placed at some of our many community partner organizations. Our placements range from special education classes at local elementary schools to homeless shelters and local churches.
I have been placed at an organization called the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more commonly known as “NAMI”. NAMI is an organization that focuses on listening, educating, advocating and leading the path to help those who have experienced mental illness by ending stigma and encouraging others to share their stories. I would like to share one of the most meaningful experiences I have had while on my first fieldwork experience so far.
One major key in starting out a successful fieldwork or internship journey is to build a positive relationship with your clinical instructor (CI). I was very upfront with my CI, Karen, in what my strengths and interests were. Communication is key when it comes to building that relationship and I have been thankful to have found a mentor and role model in my CI. Upon talking about the needs of NAMI, we quickly determined how all of those components could come together for the benefit of both the organization and my own learning experience. My focus throughout my placement is advocacy. One way I have been doing this is through networking and educating anyone, from members of the community (such as parents) to health professionals on how to go about sharing stories related to mental illness. I have been working on an advocacy toolkit that is geared toward all populations. My toolkit is designed to be a stepping stone for those who want to be more involved on a personal level of advocacy or a state or federal level. This is a project that I am really proud of because I want to be able to spread my knowledge to others in order to promote social change. Another duty has been to create a list of community organizations that NAMI can collaborate with on various platforms and settings.
In knowing my passion for helping others share their stories, Karen invited me to a meeting/get-together at a judge’s home. The event consisted of a dinner and networking event which included of members of the community, such as parents, health professionals, legal representatives, as well as other community organizations. There were guest speakers who told stories of their experience with mental illness, from a parent talking about the difficulties that arise when noticing abnormal behavioral patterns in their children to an individual talking about how stigma impacts why people are afraid to get the help they need. Through having the opportunity to network and hear personal accounts of mental illness, I was able to really understand how important my future career as a mental health/early intervention occupational therapist is to not only restore function to my future clients, but to promote, advocate and raise awareness of mental health while also working with others to end stigma. Our hope is that others are inspired to open their homes to hold this type of casual event where we can discuss what we are doing to help end stigma and to have a safe place to talk about mental illness.
I am thankful for this experience in the sense that I have finally understood where I belong in terms of my future career. It has been something that I constantly struggled with due to having interests in so many areas of study. That night, I had the ability to recognize that every experience I have had to this point all happened for a reason. To be surrounded by so many different people who all came together for one cause really allowed me to see how important it is to listen to others and to speak up for causes that are important to not only myself, but for the wellbeing of my community members, and I am confident that this is what I want to continue to do for as long as I can.
Feel free to Email me! and thanks for being a part of my journey.
– Sue Ram