I give an honest insight into private practice and support therapists at every step - Sarah's story
Specialisms: Paediatric OT
Number of years as a qualified OT: 25
Length of time with The OT Practice: Almost 3 years
Interests: Going to the theatre, camping and travelling
After an extensive NHS career providing comprehensive paediatric experience of working with children with a wide range of needs and diagnoses Sarah brings her knowledge and skills to the private market and has been working as our lead Paediatric Client Manager for 2 and a half years. We spoke to Sarah in detail about her role as a Client Manager within The OT Practice clinical team, and why she would encourage others to take the leap into the world of private paediatric occupational therapy.
1. What is your paediatric OT career background?
I went into occupational therapy 25 years ago very much wanting to become a paediatric OT. I grew up in Africa and in my teenage years did a lot of voluntary work at children’s homes, working with many who had severe disabilities but had nothing; no food or clothes and lived in dreadful conditions. However, they really were the happiest of children and were so grateful for any help given, this was when I realised working with children was what I wanted to do.
After qualifying as an OT I moved in to paediatrics and my first role was in an NHS child development centre, I was supported and trained by a senior paediatric OT who was Bobath and Sensory Integration trained. This meant from the very beginning that I was working with children with a range of different needs from Autism and ADHD, to severe cerebral palsy and brain injury. I worked there for 5 years when in my area, there was a real push for children with physical disabilities to be included in mainstream schools. I really supported the initiative and felt I needed to be a part of it, so I became an Educational OT.
My family and I then decided to embark on an adventure and we moved to New Zealand. Systems were quite different here and because of the geographical nature of the country, children with quite complex disabilities generally attended mainstream schools as the nearest special needs school could have been five hours away. After a number of years we moved back to the UK and that was when I noticed how things here had changed. Whereas before I had been able to recommend and deliver all that was needed for the child, it now felt that perhaps the system was beginning to fail the families that needed it? My workload was quite high with many of my cases needing complex care, as well as managing a team of paediatric OT’s.
It was then that I discovered The OT Practice. Within 3 weeks of joining as a Client Manager, I remember sitting in the office and feeling like I was making a difference again. I’ve always had an immense passion for what I do, being able to make recommendations without restrictions in place, knowing that the child really was getting the necessary care, was quite exhilarating.
2. What does your typical day within The OT Practice look like?
At The OT Practice no two days are the same, my role largely consists of taking new enquiries, whether it be via telephone or email. I initially have a detailed conversation with each client in order to find out exactly what their needs are, where they are located, and what support they are hoping to gain. This then enables me to match the child with the most suitable therapist in their area, who has the clinical skills to meet their needs. During the day OT’s may contact me with questions about their cases, they may need my advice, or wish to talk through recommendations they are considering. As a clinical team we really are hands on and I very much support the therapists, as well as the clients, in order to make sure we are giving the best treatment plan to the child in question.
3. Can you outline the support you provide new therapists with when they first join The OT Practice paediatric team?
Quite often, before therapists consider joining The OT Practice they are keen to have a conversation with us, which usually starts with a call to our HR team. We give interested therapists an honest insight into private practice in comparison to what they are doing now. We give them a thorough overview of the resources available from within the office team, and the unique clinical support we provide them with. We also tell them about our IT system which has been specifically designed for The OT Practice to handle all of our referrals and cases.
One of the main areas we outline when joining The OT Practice, specifically within paediatrics, is how to plan and manage the time each case will take. For many therapists, especially when stepping out of statutory services this is a new concept, and so it is something we offer support within a lot of detail from day one.
4. How does this support then continue and what ongoing development opportunities can The OT Practice offer?
The support we offer is constant, with each case we are there alongside the therapist every step of the way, should they have any questions or need a second opinion. When therapists send in their reports, as an OT I always try to build a picture of that child, along with their families in my head, so that I can visualise what the OT has recommended as well as anything else that I feel may be of benefit.
One of the biggest advantages of private practice to our therapists is being able to express an interest and desire to professionally develop in a certain area. For example I had an OT who was experienced in working with young adults with learning disabilities but wanted to make the move into paediatrics, I agreed we could work towards this together at a gradual pace. I did this by firstly offering her cases with 16-17 year olds and then by moving down the ages, as appropriate. She developed her skills in a practical way catering to the needs of children of different ages, alongside some courses she undertook herself. I have now had a number of therapists who have advanced in this way and it’s proving to be a really successful method for them to develop and learn through a hands-on approach.
Similarly there have been paediatric OT’s who have asked if they can develop their skills when working with children with more physical disabilities. We started off with cases where the child has mild physical disabilities and then gradually over time began to increase the complexity of the caseload that I offer them. With this phased approach they gain the hands-on physical experience, to go alongside their own professional development plan and courses they choose to attend. We always say through each case you find the children teach you and to be out there experiencing first-hand the needs of those different cases is invaluable to our OT’s development and sense of fulfilment.
5. Who are the clients I might be working with and how do they refer into The OT Practice?
Many of the clients we work with are parents of children that are actively seeking alternative avenues of help. For OT’s, this gives you a chance to write an honest report of what that child needs in order to support their disability or difficulty. This does not have to eliminate statutory services support, but it gives the parents additional informed options. Parents tend to do a Google search and come across The OT Practice via the internet. Some do come through word of mouth as many parents who have a child with a disability can belong to a support group and know other families in a similar situation to them.
We also receive many repeat referrals from professional relationships we have built such as local education authorities, solicitors, case managers, schools and charities. We work hard to maintain these relationships and work efficiently with them in order to guarantee that they want to continue to work with us in the future.
Here at The OT Practice we make it very clear to anyone who books an assessment with us that this is a totally independent report. The OT will do an assessment of the child and their recommendations will be honest and based on their clinical, professional opinion on the child’s needs, regardless of who’s made that referral.
6. Some therapists may be attracted to the flexibility of working in the private sector but feel they do not have the right experience. How do you support this transition and encourage therapists to be confident in their skills for private practice?
This comes down to our initial conversation with the therapist, where we can gain an insight into their skill set, and what their experience is. I can then reassure them in relation to the types of cases they will be working on with us. The main difference is that they can build their confidence with our cases because they have more time! They may take on a small number of children to begin with, but that means they will have the time to research beforehand, perhaps spending an afternoon with the child getting to know every part of their day to day life.
I often give new therapists an idea of some of our live cases and recommendations to show them that they do have the skills and knowledge required and how we can easily work with them to build on areas that they may have less experience. There may be research to do in their own time in order to make the best recommendations, but many OT’s really enjoy this as they have never had that time before.
7. If you could give someone thinking about working within the paediatric team at The OT Practice one piece of advice, what would it be?
Don’t let your wings be clipped and just FLY!!! Try private practice, if you have a day a week available, take some cases with us and see how you feel afterwards. You can then compare this to the work you are currently doing, and see the quality of work that you can deliver along with your increased job satisfaction. Then be honest with yourself on which you prefer and which is going to give you the best ability to progress as a paediatric OT.