OT grad see opportunities to apply her skills in diverse environments, including the Canadian Forces

25 November 2010

By the look of things, it would seem that the Canadian Forces' "there's no life like it" recruiting slogan has stuck with Tonya Corry since her childhood.

Corry crossed the stage to receive her master's degree in occupational therapy last week, which she obtained while working two very different jobs: as a medic with a reserve unit in her hometown of Victoria, B.C., and as a weekend flight attendant for WestJet. While the roles of student, soldier and flight attendant would seem to be incongruous, Corry says her studies at the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine have helped her see opportunities to apply her skills and knowledge more effectively in all three of those environments.

But how-or why-does one take on such a heavy workload when faced with a demanding program like occupational therapy? According to Corry, it all comes down to making choices. And since deciding to embark on her graduate studies in the rehab faculty, she has made more than a few that have helped her mould a career path that was very different than the one she started out on.

A uniformed approach

A love of travel convinced Corry to take on the airline attendant role after her undergraduate studies were complete. She says that she had already applied to the U of A program but was convinced that she would not get in the first time. When she did, she had to decide whether to give up working for WestJet or continue her studies.

"I thought, 'you only live once; you may as well enjoy it now,' so I declined my acceptance to university and flew with WestJet for a year," said Corry. "I re-applied to the university when I was able to go part-time with WestJet."

Not one to let the grass grow under her feet, Corry also enlisted with 11 Field Ambulance as a means to explore a possible career in medicine. She re-applied to the U of A and was on her basic training course when she got the news from the department the second time: she was rejected.

"I joked that was the only time I cried at basic training-when I couldn't get into the program," said Corry. "I sent an email to the administrator asking what I could do to improve my application. I got an email a week later saying they had received some extra funding so I was now accepted."

Projects in paradise

While Corry's self-described emotional rollercoaster happily ended, the mental challenge of juggling the demands of her chosen worlds were her next test. She worked with her unit when she made her way home for visits or field work and continued to book her weekend schedules with WestJet. However, she says, both employers were extremely accommodating and very flexible with allowing her to continue with her "careers" while completing her master's.

But while jetting off to various destinations may sound like fun, Corry says sometimes her studies overlapped into opportune moments of her travel gig.

"I was in St. Lucia once and I was on a group meeting because we had a project due in about a week," said Corry. "For me, it wasn't about being in St. Lucia, it was, 'I have to get this project done.'"

Don't think for a second, though, that she has slowed down since she completed her studies. In fact, her tempo has increased to four jobs now that she has completed her degree. Aside from continuing to fly with WestJet (where she is also building a case for how the airline could strategically employ their own occupational therapist), Corry is working as an occupational therapist in both public and private practice.

Hastening aid to the wounded warriors

She is also moving her way towards a more important role with the military. Corry, whose graduate research focused on the effectiveness of occupational therapy in treating military members with operational stress and traumatic brain injuries, is awaiting her commission to an officer's rank to become a health-care administrator where she hopes to promote occupational therapy as a viable military trade.

"I'm promoting occupational therapy, attending conferences, using my research paper as evidence for why these interventions and why our trade is so effective," she said. "When occupational therapy comes in (as a military career), I will know the military health-care system and be an effective occupational therapist to military members.

"It's a different job, but I now have a new focus and it's a way to use my degree within the military and to help enable change."

About the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine
As the only free standing faculty of rehabilitation in Canada, the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine balances its activities among learning, discovery and citizenship (including clinical practice). A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries and common spinal disorders (back pain), the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to improve the quality of life of citizens in our community. The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Speech Pathology and Audiology (SPA) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.