The greatest gifts I got during my Level II Fieldwork didn’t come from a store!
I can’t believe it. It’s over!
…well, it’s almost over. On Friday, December 18, I will officially finish my first Level II Fieldwork and I will be a free woman once again! (At least until classes start in January…)
For the past week or so, my coworkers have been giving me Christmas cards and candy, well-wishes and thank-you’s. However, some of the best things I’ve gotten from this fieldwork experience don’t fit in an envelope or a box – things like mentorship, confidence, kindness, and a deep appreciation for the people and opportunities I’ve had in my life.
An Amazing Mentor
I was SUPER nervous to start my fieldwork, especially after hearing my FW supervisor refer to it as “VR at the ER” during our initial conversation (even if it was a 100% accurate description of the chaos that reigns throughout the office every day!). However, now that I’ve come to the end of my time here, I couldn’t be happier with my supervisor and the gifts of time, experience, and guidance she’s given me. My supervisor is amazing, and she has been largely responsible for helping me find opportunities to expand my knowledge and develop practice skills that will be instrumental as I continue through OT school and my career. Without her, I wouldn’t have had the chance to participate in OT driver evaluations, explore career opportunities that fit my non-traditional interests, and gain valuable insight into the kind of clinician I want to be. I know that not all students are fortunate enough to have a fieldwork supervisor they view as a mentor, or even a supervisor who they get along with for 12 weeks. So I’m super grateful that my supervisor and I turned out to be two like-minded peas in a non-traditional pod, and I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to continue cultivating the relationship we established in the years to come!
I’ve had the amazingly good fortune to complete my fieldwork in an office with 23 of the nicest people you’ll ever meet! All of my coworkers helped make it worth it to come to work every day, and they always lent a helping hand when I needed help or didn’t know what to do. They were even kind enough to decorate my door, give me gifts, and buy me lunch for my birthday, which was beyond amazing and super thoughtful, especially since I sent my birthday away from friends and family. Several people even gave me clothing they no longer wore, which is how I came to own several cashmere sweaters, lovely dresses, and a nice-as-new North Face coat that I never would have gotten on my own [as a budget-conscious grad student]!
I’m going to be sad to leave this place, but I’m super excited to keep in touch with the friends I’ve made even after I’m gone!
Before starting fieldwork, I wasn’t sure if I knew “enough.” I considered myself to be somewhat unqualified, and I didn’t have much faith in my ability to actually help clients. However, over the past three months I’ve learned that not only do I have the “book knowledge” I need to be successful, but I have gained other skills that can’t be taught in a classroom.
For example, when a diabetic client came in and wanted assistance finding out what kinds of jobs would be appropriate for him, I asked whether he experienced any diabetic neuropathy that could limit his ability to complete certain tasks (i.e. handling or manipulating objects, standing for long periods of time). He hadn’t mentioned it during our initial interview, but he admitted that he had poor standing endurance and poor sensation in his hands. Understanding how a client’s diagnosis (and other life factors) could potentially impact his ability to work was a key component of my fieldwork, and I’m glad I was able to gain experience with developing a holistic understanding of how a client’s physical, emotional, and mental health ultimately impacted his ability to participate in work and other valued occupations.
I’ve also had great success building rapport and relationships with clients and family members throughout my fieldwork, even if I don’t always have the answers they’re looking for. Many of my clients have extensive experience dealing with medical, mental health, and social services personnel, and they can be somewhat guarded when coming to our office to apply for services. However, I’ve learned that if you just take time to hear someone’s story, empathize with him, and let him know that you care, the rest will fall into place.
This fieldwork has afforded me so many opportunities to meet people from diverse backgrounds and gain practical experience serving clients with complex needs. For example, I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the challenges faced by people who are recently released inmates, who have severe mental illness, who are homeless, who are chronically unemployed, who are drivers with disabilities, and who need assistance making their homes accessible.
It’s one thing to read a journal article or watch a film about the issues people struggling with homelessness or unemployment face, and another thing entirely to be in an office with a person who is sleeping in her car in between meetings and figure out how to best assist her. And it’s entirely different reading about the discrimination people with disabilities face in hiring than experiencing the frustration and rejection felt by people with degrees and 10+ years of experience being passed over for jobs just because they use wheelchairs.
It’s truly been a sobering experience I’ve had here, and because I’ve never personally struggled with many of these issues, it’s been hard for me to fully understand the trials my clients face. I don’t know where else I could have completed a FWII rotation that would have given me the chance to learn from people in these situations, and I’m thankful that every week has given me a new perspective on the many kinds of people and problems there are in the world that occupational therapy can help.
These are just a few of the many tangible and intangible gifts my Level II Fieldwork experience has given me, and I’m hopeful that one day I will be able to give the same gifts to future coworkers or fieldwork students of my own – a friendly greeting every morning; an inspiring conversation about the possibilities for a budding career; wisdom and encouragement for working with difficult clients; a birthday present for somebody far away from home.
Above all, the greatest gift my fieldwork experience has given me is the opportunity to do what I love every day and make a difference for the people I’ve worked with.
So as I prepare to clear off my desk, pack my bags, and say goodbye to the many people – clients and coworkers alike – who have made this fieldwork experience one of the best yet, I will do my best to remember the gifts that were so freely given to me and be just as generous when sharing these gifts throughout my career.