Summer placement confirms Rehab Med student's dream job in cancer rehabilitation

OT student Sheena Moodie has a passion for palliative and supportive care in oncology

Amanda McCarthy - 28 July 2016

'What do I want to do?' - A popular question among future and current university students that is not always easily answered. It can be a hard decision, picking the career path that you will follow for the rest of your life. But for Sheena Moodie, the question was answered before she even had to ask it.

"My personal experience with friends and family members who have been impacted by cancer inspired my initial interest in palliative care," says Moodie, a Master of Science in Occupational Therapy (OT) student in the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine.

Moodie was chosen for the Satore Multidisciplinary Summer Studentship program, a six-week clinical placement at the Cross Cancer Institute that introduces students to the many experiences that go along with working in palliative care and oncology.

"During my time in the OT program, I found that the coursework in palliative care and oncology, and the therapists that I met while practicing in these areas were especially inspiring to me," she says. "Palliative care and oncology seemed to be an area that occupational therapists might be called on to holistically support the needs of clients and their families. Supporting people to live as fully as they can while their bodies and minds continue to change is something that that really interests me."

Moodie is currently one of two students completing the studentship, and the only student from Rehab Med. While she is excited for the opportunity to work in her desired field, her days are often made up of a jam-packed schedule.

"My weekly schedule consists of eight-hour days," she explains. "Although that seems pretty straightforward, there's really no typical or average day at the institute. Each day I am paired with different health professionals in order to better understand both the spectrum of oncology care as well as the contributions of each discipline.

A wide team of professionals offer support in the journey of cancer care. I'm given opportunities to observe and work with physicians, including radiation oncologists, palliative care specialists and surgeons, as well as nurses, pharmacists, patient educators, social workers and more. I also get to work with rehab professionals such as physical therapists, speech-language pathologists and other occupational therapists."

Working with the different health professionals allows her to gain experience in many different areas. "I get to work on understanding and supporting other professionals' roles, as well as understanding patient and client perspectives-gaining the knowledge needed to be sensitive when it comes to palliative situations.

As an occupational therapy student, I am focusing on learning more about approaching client support from a functional standpoint-looking for practical ways to support people to engage more fully and comfortably in their lives while balancing the physical, mental and psychological changes that come alongside the experience of living with cancer. I'm also interested in exploring the gap between the referrals for occupational therapy services and the potential supports we could provide."

Due to the wide range of experience Moodie is able to gain during her placement, and the great wealth of knowledge she is learning from her clients and other health professionals, she sees this as an opportunity to further her skills when it comes to the field of palliative care and oncology.

"This is definitely the beginning of my journey in both areas. Because cancer touches so many people's lives and the outcomes are so diverse, I believe my learning here will be valuable in all aspects of my future work in occupational therapy."

But while her journey may just be beginning, she has already seen some great highlights from her time in the field.

"I'm so thankful for the opportunity to connect with so many inspiring individuals and families who are living with cancer and learn about their oncology and palliative experiences," she says. "I'm also grateful to be able to work with multidisciplinary teams in specialty oncology clinics to address complex symptoms that clients with cancer can face."

Moodie began her placement on June 27 and will finish on August 5. Although her time at the Cross Cancer Institute may be coming to an end, she has more exciting opportunities on the horizon.

"I have a placement at the Rockyview Hospital in Calgary this fall. It's pretty exciting because that will be the final stage of my OT degree," she smiles.

Moodie is set to convocate in the spring of 2017, but will write her occupational therapy practice exam in November 2016 along with her classmates.

"I'm really looking forward to graduating and moving forward, hopefully becoming part of a multi-disciplinary health-care team in Alberta. I hope to apply what I've learned from this placement to occupational therapy practice in a community-based or acute care setting.

I've definitely learned a lot about the impact of cancer as well as the potential roles of occupational therapy. I've learned a lot about myself, too, and hope that my experiences will allow me to be a more effective and supportive OT professional."