A day in the life of Occupational Therapists in the CAF

October 1, 2020 - Defence Stories


An Occupational Therapist practices a Test of Everyday Attention with a Physiotherapist Assistant. Photo credit: Capt. Eric Fagan

LCol Markus Besemann, Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Canadian Forces Health Services Group

For those who are not familiar with this branch of health care, an Occupational therapist (OT) is not a Career Counselor or an Occupational Health & Safety officer. An OT helps people across the lifespan participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities. The demand for OTs is rising as the role is more widely understood. The cost-effectiveness of occupational therapy has been demonstrated in multiple studies involving multidisciplinary team-based approaches to complex healthcare problems.

Occupational Therapists in Canadian Forces Health Centres & Headquarters

The CAF currently have eight OTs across Canadian Forces Health Services (CFHS) clinics and two at CFHSG headquarters. 33 CFHS Centre (CFB Kingston) and 24 CFHS Centre (CFB Trenton) have had occupational therapists integrated into their clinics since March 2020. Even though the hiring of new rehabilitation team members at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic confinement was not part of the original plan, the pandemic has not stopped OTs from providing care to our members. From the beginning of the pandemic, just like many other health care providers in the CAF, the OTs across CFHS clinics recognized the need to adapt to provide continuity of care and rehabilitative services. They established both telehealth and home-based rehabilitation plans and were able to provide safe in-person services when required.

Role of the Occupational Therapist during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has re-emphasized the need for these rehabilitation healthcare professionals. Although the CAF have been fortunate in regards to the numbers of severe cases of COVID-19, for those affected, bed rest and the after-effects of the virus can have many detrimental consequences including muscle atrophy, reduced joint mobility, pressure sores, nerve damage and long term respiratory issues. OTs work with members to ensure they can safely get out of bed, move to a chair, get into a shower, and also build endurance to resume daily activities and work. Through a comprehensive assessment, OTs help members identify barriers (personal, environmental and occupational) and tackle what gets in the way of a life worth living. OTs do not simply manage symptoms.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, the pandemic has also resulted in many CAF members working from home. We have all experienced the challenges of alternate places of work to varying degrees and have been required to make significant adjustments to our daily routines, which may have created some occupational turbulence. Many had to juggle with the demands of work while taking care of children who weren’t in school, how to properly setup a home office to prevent injury, live with general uncertainty, grieve the loss of loved ones and find ways to safely socially engage with others. Occupational balance is fundamental for our health and well-being. OTs apply these concepts to their assessments and intervention plans by helping individuals balance meaningful occupation, needs and priorities.

October is Occupational Therapy Month in Canada

The Canadian Occupational Therapy Association has declared the month of October as Occupational Therapy Month. The profession of occupational therapy makes valuable contributions in helping people "Live Life to Its Fullest" after an illness or injury. The health and well-being of our members depend upon the effective use of scarce health care resources, including the judicious utilization of OTs. Therefore, as Occupational Therapy Month is upon us, we would like to recognize the achievements and contributions of these valued health professionals.

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