OT grad serving those who serve

UAlberta alumnus supports veterans as first occupational therapist awarded prestigious clinical fellowship.

Jeannine Guérette - 10 November 2014

(Edmonton) Mark Smith comes from a proud lineage of soldiers; his brother currently serves in the military, as did both his grandfathers. Not surprisingly, his passion is to 'serve those who serve'-work he's currently doing as the first-ever occupational therapist awarded a prestigious fellowship with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Connecticut and Yale University Department of Psychiatry.

Smith, a University of Alberta alumnus, was selected this past year for the Interprofessional Fellowship in Psychosocial Rehabilitation & Recovery Oriented Services, a clinical fellowship in West Haven, Conn. committed to the rehabilitation and recovery of veterans with serious mental illness. He is an integral part of two clinical programs that aim to improve the health of veterans by identifying and treating mental illness and helping those who are homeless obtain and maintain housing. The programs also look for ways to help veterans participate meaningfully within their communities.

"Being the first occupational therapist chosen for this fellowship is really exciting. I've always had an interest in working with veterans and I see a great need for the type of work OTs do in this field," says Smith, who in 2013 graduated with a master's degree in occupational therapy from the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

"My occupational therapy training has allowed me to take a holistic approach when assessing and addressing the functional abilities of my clients. Being able to consider a veteran's physical, cognitive, and affective functioning within the context of their environment, has better enabled me to provide recommendations in terms of what support a veteran might need to live independently," explains Smith.

From early on in his occupational therapy studies, Smith sensed that working with veterans was his calling.

"In my first year, I travelled down to the United States for reading week and heard a lot about veterans who were homeless and living with mental illness. That really struck me," says Smith. "That, coupled with working with Canadian veterans-in particular those who served as peacekeepers during the Yugoslav conflict-really inspired me to continue pursuing this work."

Smith also worked with Sharon Britnell, a professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy, to further his understanding of rehabilitation within the military context. Together they co-facilitated the Old Boots Veterans Association which conducts operational stress injury (OSI) research and provides services to veterans who live with OSI.

"Mark has always been focused and determined," Britnell says. "We in the department are very pleased about his success. It is to his credit and perseverance that he overcame a number of barriers to find this opportunity. I know he will give it his all and I am very proud of him."

"Veterans have made some pretty big sacrifices not only for our country, but for the people within it," adds Smith. "Being able to work with them and help them achieve what's meaningful to them is just one way I can show appreciation for their sacrifices."