Mediaplanet: What advice would you offer to students working towards completing a degree in healthcare? 

Heather Moyse: A career in healthcare can be extremely rewarding. You are put in a position to see people in their most vulnerable state — a position of utmost trust and respect. You are, therefore, put in a position to help people when they may need it the most. You can help people overcome obstacles. You can change lives. You can help make those lives better.

MP: An Olympic Gold Medalist, Certified Occupational Therapist, and a motivational speaker, how do you engage and inspire students who are unsure of what career path to pursue?

HM: People should follow a path in an area of their strength, and about which they are passionate. Everyone has an area (or areas) of strength. And it's a matter of discovering what that is, and then finding a career that excites them and aligns with that strength.

MP: Why Occupational Therapy? 

HM: I was always an empathetic person and, for some reason, was drawn to working with people with disabilities or those less fortunate than myself. In doing so, I learned more from some of those people than I ever could have otherwise; that the potential of people is astounding, that mental barriers can be more disabling than physical ones, that we are all capable of way more than we give ourselves credit for, and I found it inspiring.

“A career in healthcare can be extremely rewarding. You are put in a position to see people in their most vulnerable state — a position of utmost trust and respect.”

My mother first introduced me to the career of occupational therapy because of what she saw in me. I loved how it addressed the physical, mental, emotional, and cognitive aspects of life and occupation. The cognitive part was the most exciting part for me. I find the brain so fascinating, how it controls all functioning of the body and mind.     

Practicing as an occupational therapist would allow me the opportunity to inspire and motivate my clients to see their situations in a different perspective, and to help them identify the goals that are important to them, and help them break those goals down to make each progressive step achievable. (Could also be an answer to question number one, if the question were reworded not to imply that I am currently practicing.)

MP: Having worked with various therapists in the past through your journey to recovery, what are three indicators that qualify a good therapists? Amongst the various types of therapists?

HM: Besides being trained appropriately and meeting all local and/or provincial guidelines for providing therapy, there are many indicators of being a good therapist. These signs may differ between types of services, however (ie. physical therapy, occupational therapy, chiropractics, massage therapy, etc.).

"A good therapist would not treat the symptom, but would look for and treat the problem."

First, someone who has credentials beyond the basic requirements to practice, someone who believes in ongoing education to make themselves better and more knowledgeable. They will be able to recognize atypical situations, and more quickly apply new skills and procedures learned during their ongoing professional development.

Second, someone that looks beyond where the symptoms are presenting themselves. Because not all conditions present the same for all patients, critical thinking is an essential. With physical issues, for example, pain in a shoulder may actually be resulting from an issue in the lower back. Or pain in a knee might be resulting from a problem in the hip. So a good therapist would not treat the symptom, but would look for and treat the problem.

A major problem with some clinics, however, is that appointments slots do not allow for enough time to locate and treat the problem, and patients are anxious to feel results, so therapists often end up putting a ‘band-aid’ solution on the symptom. Looking beyond where the symptoms are also means a therapist who asks about previous injuries, surgeries, illnesses to see if there are any connections between past and current problems.

Finally, someone who asks you what your goals are, and helps you find a way to continue pursuing those goals. This type of therapist will see their clients as people, and not just a symptom to be fixed.

Inspiring others to pursue their dreams
As a motivational speaker, Heather inspires others through her experience as a certified occupational therapist and Olympic athlete

MP: Can you share any success stories of clients you have worked with?

HM: Before I became on occupational therapist, I worked as a Service Worker in the Home for a little five year old girl with cerebral palsy. I was told that she'd never be able to walk. Although she primarily used her wheelchair, we had her walking with a walker by the time she was six!

MP: What is your clinical specialty?

HM: My father had brain surgery to resect a large brain tumor when I was 12 years old. When I went to university, I became very interested in studying the brain, and so my focus in occupational therapy was in working in neuro-rehabilitation. At times I was torn between neuro and working in pediatrics.

"Focusing on small steps ensures control by preventing you from becoming overwhelmed by the big picture."

MP: What's your #1 tip for someone who's trying to overcome a physical barrier?

HM: There are so many tips I'd like to share, but I think one of the most important is to break this seemingly 'lofty' goal — overcoming whatever physical barrier you may be facing — down into small manageable pieces. You can then work on each piece one or two at a time, building day by day, until you successfully reach your desired outcome. Focusing on small steps ensures control by preventing you from becoming overwhelmed by the big picture.

MP: Any tips for applying to a Master's of Occupational Therapy?

HM: Go to the school where you'll be the most happy with the environment.

Go to a school that is known for a good practical program with a lot of options. The practical placements are where your academic learning gets integrated with application, and you become a stronger and more confident practitioner before going out to practice on your own.

You might also be able contact the OT department of your choice and ask for a peer evaluation of what you need to improve your application.