A spring 2015 story highlighted an initiative led by Professor Sara Saunders and Professor Hiba Zafran of McGill’s School of Physical & Occupational Therapy (SPOT), to lead a group of master’s students, as they performed workplace evaluations across the McGill campus. Having completed the first iteration of the initiative, we look now at the impact the group had on one of the sites they visited and have a conversation with participating students to get their perspective on the experience.
A typical day for Jo-Ann Bader and her colleagues at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre Histology Core Facility consists of several hours spent sitting, cutting and preparing histological slides for clients. They sit in the same position – at the edge of their seat leaning over and concentrating on what they are doing. Time passes and before they know it they have been hunched over for hours.
Suffering from various degrees of back, neck and shoulder pain, Jo-Ann and her colleagues knew that they their pain was work-related but they did not know where to start to make improvements. So, when they heard about the ergonomics program through a colleague they jumped at the opportunity to participate.
At their first meeting, the SPOT students sat down with the lab staff to learn what their typical day looked like and about the aches and pains they were experiencing. They discussed what was important or concerning to them individually. “It would be really great to find a way to not be hurting all the time,” explains Jo-Ann. “After so many years it really gets to you!”
Following the initial meeting, four students visited the lab over the course of several days to observe and videotape Jo-Ann and her colleagues at work, taking steps to ensure that their presence was not intrusive and did not impede the work being done in the lab.
The students then returned with a report full of recommendations and readings for the lab workers, as well as a poster they created with stretches that are now used daily. “There are many examples on the poster and we do use them, because we find they really focus on the pains we encounter,” says Jo-Ann. “It is hard to change our habits but with the poster, and with each other for support, we are able to do it, and we feel the difference! We are so grateful for the experience, and I think the students were able to experience a different type of work environment too.”
SPOT students share their experience
While awaiting acceptance to present to other Occupational Therapy students in Canada at the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapy (CAOT) Conference, to be held in Banff, Alberta, four of the students who participated in this initiative- Bengisu Gonul, Virginia Kenyon, Alexander Masser and Ashlea Watkin – sit down to reflect on their experience.
Overall, how did you feel about the experience?
Ashlea Watkin (AW): We felt really proud about initiating a change so close to home, within our community, the McGill University Community.
Bengisu Gonul (BG): It’s nice that there was a need and demand already established and we were able to come in and really help. It was very self-directed which allowed us to learn a lot.
Virginia Kenyon (VK): I feel it opened doors for the role of Occupational Therapy within the McGill community and I personally found it rewarding to be able to advocate for the OT here at the University.
AW: It was a great opportunity to advocate for our profession, especially in a domain where it is more than ergonomic applications. We were able to show the holistic approach of occupational therapy including mental health and well- being. It’s something that came up with all of our clients over the summer – they really appreciated learning and knowing about this aspect.
Alexander Masser (AM): This experience was a rich learning opportunity for us and for our clients. From our perspective, we learned in a hands-on way about how to assess and potentially help individuals in a work environment, and also about how diverse and holistic the role of OT is in this setting. Our clients learned a lot about staying healthy and preventing future harm in their work lives, while gaining an awareness of the existence and value OT has in the work setting.
As part of this initiative, the students spent their first week researching and creating a pool of resources before visiting the different locations and evaluating the different clients and locations across campus.
They managed to tailor the tools they provided to each specific department, and each received different recommendations and brochures. Groups received posters with exercises, interactive workshops or focus groups with hands on advice, brochures, handouts and physical adjustments of the workplace in an effort to meet the needs identified in the assessment.
Tell us about what you did in your role-emerging placement?
BG: People were very open and keen to learn and implement our recommendations in their daily routine at work. They were very open to see the broader picture. All the clients we had learned a lot and appreciated our efforts. I felt like we reached our goal of getting the message across to introduce the opportunity of wellness in the workplace. Though some may have been resistant in the beginning in the end they understood the reasoning.
AW: We tried to give tools for health promotion through prevention. I felt our clients were expecting only physical and ergonomic adjustments, but we were also able to show mental health and well-being in the workplace – this was very significant and really very enriching for us.
BG: Something that was more rewarding than what we had expected was when the clients realized the significance of mental health and well-being in their workplace. This is a whole layer which is not always as evident to the client and was nice for us to see them understand it – the connection of well-being to their work environment.
AM: This placement had a great balance of being mostly self-directed, combined with the necessary supervision of our professors. Our supervisors each had an incredible wealth of knowledge that they shared with us, but also allowed us to go out in a real-world setting to learn and reflect on our own.
Would you recommend this placement to other students?
VK: I would absolutely recommend this to other students. Professor Saunders and Professor Zafran were so supportive and really amazing to work with. The self-directed learning style worked really well for us and the overall project was very rewarding especially because we were able to give back to the McGill community.
BG: We feel we were able to establish a place for OT in the McGill community, a great moment to advocate for this role of our profession.
AW: We hope that future students will continue to do this placement and continue to help other work environments in the McGill community. It was an exceptional fieldwork opportunity in health promotion through a preventative lens. Hopefully we were able to help at the societal and financial level as well.
AM: Yes. This is a unique learning opportunity. I would recommend it to students who are comfortable being self-directed and just diving right in!
Any final comments?
BG: We can’t stress enough how purposeful and rewarding this role emerging placement was and how much of a great experience the projects were for us, including the supervisors! We worked extremely well as one big team.
Three tips for the workplace:
- Culture of Movement: Find ways to integrate movements into your day, for example: walk to meetings, fill your water bottle half way, and promote active breaks.
- Body Awareness: Listen and be aware of your body and what it’s telling you before aches and pains set in.
- Ensure that your work station is adjusted to your needs rather than you adjusting yourself to your work station.
Nov. 27, 2015