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The Allied Health Nomad – Travelling Occupational Therapist Bec Rourke

If you thought being a modern day nomad was only possible for tech bros with a laptop on Lombok, think again.  Bec Rourke is an OT who has used her allied health qualification to travel the world. Her experiences have been both thrilling and rewarding –  and a little bit hectic! While awaiting a flight to Japan, Bec dropped us a line to share some of her allied-health-enabled adventures.

How has your career as an OT enabled you to follow your passions?

I’ve been an occupational therapist for eight years. Since graduating from the Uni of Newcastle, I’ve had ten different OT jobs in NSW, QLD, Tasmania and the UK. I’m about to move to New Zealand and may work over there, (basing my work around travel plans).

After graduating, I moved to Dubbo, NSW and took a role in inpatient rehabilitation. This was a fantastic way to start, being both rural and a varied caseload; all adults, but varied experience and opportunities to visit remote communities for home visits via the Royal Flying doctor service (Lightning Ridge and Bourke).

I then moved back to my hometown and lived with my parents for a year while saving up, and having some quality time! While there, I worked in a small 16 bed inpatient rehab, again giving me broad experience and autonomy.

Five jobs and 19 countries later… 

I moved to the UK in 2017, aged 23, and registered with OT agencies where I was inundated with job opportunities for work in the NHS. I had five different OT  jobs which I chose based on the location and experience and made fit around my travel plans. Most jobs usually went for three to six months, with a flexible schedule that meant I could plan long weekends or base my end dates on good hiking weather in Europe!

My UK roles were all in acute care—something I had no experience in—in Oxford, Bournemouth (south coast), Devon (west coast), Cambridge and London.  It was a big learning curve, but amazing to be fully dropped in the deep end!

I managed to travel to 19 countries in Europe and the UK,  and I explored a big chunk of England and Scotland. Every weekend I could jump on a plane and be in another country, and I even completed some of the world’s most epic hikes, including Tour du Mt Blanc and the GR20 Trail.

From Tasmania to the tropics

When I got back from the UK, I moved to Tasmania to continue exploring, spending two and a half years working across several roles in rehab (community and stroke unit), and I spent every weekend  hiking, biking and taking photos.

When COVID-19 hit the world, international travel options were off the cards, but after exploring as much of Tassie as possible and getting great OT experience, I moved to Cairns to chase new outdoorsy adventures. I worked in Cairns Hospital (rehab and stroke unit ) and then moved over to a private paediatric role with National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) clients.

I’ve been able to combine work with travel because OT is needed everywhere—it has allowed me live in small country towns as well as big cities, working normal hours, leaving weekends free to explore the world. Combining OT with travel has exposed me such a broad range of clients and scope, which keeps it forever interesting and challenging -in a good way!

 

occupational therapist bec rourke

 

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced during your career, or opportunities that you’ve had to really make a difference to patient or community outcomes?

The emotional side of OT can be tough at times.

I enjoy my job because it makes a difference to people’s lives, but it also means that I put a lot of emotional energy into the job, and listen to people’s stories. I am often  seeing people at their low point—after an accident, heath condition, or when they are going through a big change in their lives.

The paediatric role has been the most emotionally challenging for me – seeing some difficult circumstances that children come from that they have no control over.

However, the emotional side can also be a winning aspect of the role. Because you can make a difference! Many of my rehab patients have been wonderful to work with, and OT plays such a huge role: in re-teaching daily living skills such as dressing, cooking and getting around their home; scripting essential equipment to get them home and into the community; modifying their homes to make them accessible, educating family members to be able to look after their loved ones at home; to linking them in with the supports that they need. Sometimes it can be as simple as taking someone out into the sunshine after weeks in hospital and to start helping them to adjust to their new life.

What has been a defining event or highlight of your career so far?

The ability to travel and work is definitely a highlight!

OT skills are also so flexible, and help in all aspects of my life—just a holistic approach to viewing things and problem solving.

I have several patients who have spent months in hospital, and through OT support (as well as the wider team) have come in extremely vulnerable and needing support for every aspect of their life, and they leave smiling having the tools to be able to look after themselves, feeling like they have a sense of purpose in the world.

 

bec rourke occupational therapist

 

In terms of your experience in the paediatric OT workforce, what would you like to see done differently?

Well I’ve been in the paediatric OT workforce for seven months, so this is a new area of work for me.

While the NDIS has made a big difference in individuals’ ability to access the right supports, including OT, there are many OTs entering the NDIS paediatric space who don’t necessarily have supports to develop in this role, as well as less safeguarding and monitoring. I hope in the future this becomes tighter to ensure that the children receiving the supports receive the highest quality of care.

With everything you’ve experienced in your career, what advice would you give to graduates on the precipice of stepping into this profession?

Firstly, OT is awesome! There is always more to learn—OT is so broad, and has such a huge scope, servicing all ages and conditions, across the world. You will always feel like you are in the deep end if you try to learn it all, however the skills that you learn to be an OT will allow you to adapt to any role.

I would recommend for new graduates to aim for a hospital job—ideally public health—that offers good support, and in a rural area. This will allow you to get the maximum exposure to different caseloads and learn skills in being adaptable.

Private practice is also great, but you are more on your own (depending on the practice). I am very grateful to have my hospital experience as a platform to developing my skills in the private space.

Work with your team: the multidisciplinary team is essential for the best client outcomes.

Keep everything functional ! Don’t get bogged down in assessing everything for the sake of it. Take time to listen to the human first.

And, of course, self-care is important. OT can be emotionally exhausting at times—you need to look after yourself before you can take on other’s stories.

 

Bec Rourke, thank you so much for sharing these fascinating insights into your career. 

 

Check out our OT article: A-Z of Allied Health – Occupatoinal Therapy.

What are your thoughts on work-life balance as an OT or AHP? Please leave a comment below, or add to the conversation on our Community Forum. To receive regular updates on allied health topics, events, jobs and services, subscribe to our Allied Health Insights  newsletter.

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