Congratulations to Sarah Cooke ….. one of our graduates who has been selected as a UK finalist by the Case Management Society. Sarah shares her story with us…..

When did you study at YSJ?
I started studying OT at YSJ in 2004 and graduated in 2007. My youngest child had just started at primary school so the timing felt perfect because I could study whilst my children were at school.

What was your favourite aspect of OT at YSJ?
Being on placement! I loved being able to apply the knowledge and skills learnt at YSJ into the work place. I always thought I wanted to be a mental health OT but when my first placement was in an adult community physical setting I knew this area of OT was for me!
I must mention the support I received at YSJ – up until going to YSJ I had always struggled academically but was too stubborn to give up on my dream of a career as an OT. YSJ arranged for an assessment and I discovered I have dyslexia. The support I received from my tutors was amazing and a special thanks goes to the lovely Mary Craine (my study development tutor), who always believed in my abilities. I was delighted to qualify with a 2:1 in 2007

What are you up to now?
I left YSJ in 2007 and started my first band 5 temporary post with a community physical adult team. After 9 months I joined a physical hospital rotation working on the orthopaedic, rehabilitation and general medicine wards. After a year, a band 6 post came up with the community team so I jumped at the chance to go back to the team having a preference for community work. Over the years I developed a passion for working with individuals with neurological conditions and developing my skills in postural management.
Looking for a new challenge, I made the difficult decision last year to leave the NHS. I set myself up as self employed and started working in the private sector as a clinical case manager and independent occupational therapist. I was delighted to finish my first year as a Case Management Society UK finalist and was invited to attend the awards ceremony hosted by James Cracknell OBE double Gold Olympic rower. It was an honour to meet James and listen to his inspiring personal story about the brain injury he sustained when cycling across America, his recovery and the impact on his family. I would recommend reading his autobiography “Touching Distance”!

My advice to anybody thinking about making a career change is go for it!

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Our student-led OT society have arranged an exciting programme of sessions this year to compliment their programme of study.


One example is the Virtual Dementia Tour. In this blog, Emma Robinson, one of our final year students, shares her experience of engaging in this experiential workshop.

The virtual dementia tour (VDT) is an evidence based experience that gives participants a simulated idea of what it might be like to live with dementia. For me, it was the single most valuable extra-curricular experience I have undertaken throughout my training. No written account can do it justice, you simply need to experience it for yourself! It’s effectiveness lies in its surprise, so this piece will not describe the VDT as you might hope or expect; but will attempt to give you an account of how it made me feel and more importantly how it has developed my beliefs and practices.

It would be easy to assume that this experience is only relevant if you are interested in working with those with dementia. Wrong. I completed the session, having previously found it difficult to connect with my reflexive side, in a frame of mind to evaluate every contact I have ever made with any service user. I have worked with people with dementia, learning disabilities, autism, brain injuries, mental health conditions and many more, and truthfully this experience made me realise that I have never truly empathised with any one of them; what I thought was empathy, was actually a superficial speculation of how they might feel. I now realise that empathy is about more than “putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes” or “seeing things from their perspective”. I feel that it is about immersing yourself in someone’s physical, psychosocial and emotional being, and attempting to understand how the complex phenomenon of bodily sensations, social interactions, relationships and feelings creates a lens by which they processes their world.

Without giving too much away, during the VDT I was met by an overwhelming sense of fear, confusion and vulnerability – this was not what I was expecting. The challenges of simple tasks, and the following analysis and explanation have allowed me to view human behaviour as “deliberate” and “logical”, whereas I have previously heard behaviour termed “random” and “challenging”. After my experience I was met by comfort, relief, empathy and emotion. On reflection I felt guilty that I had not been able to truly empathise, and angry that so many people in caring or therapeutic roles were likely making false assumptions.

In terms of my future practice I now feel very passionately about true empathy and communication. Whenever I can I will advocate for environmental adaption, both physically and communicatively to improve service user experiences. I appreciate the importance of a positive, patient, empathetic and enabling approach, and the importance of goal directed co-occupations even more than before. It may seem aloof, but I cannot recommend the experience more, as it has certainly had a positive impact on my future practice. I now truly believe that empathy is not something to learn, read, or discuss; but something to live.

Due to the success of this event, The OT Society is arranging another session for semester 2, 2018. Details to follow.

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40 Years of OT at York St John – Hannah Pearson

Hannah Pearson studied Occupational Therapy at York St John from 2010 – 2013. She has written a blog post updating us on what she is up to now and about her time on the programme to help commemorate OT’s 40 years at York St John.

Hannah Pearson

When did you study at YSJ?

I started my degree course at York St John in 2010 when I was 26. I had worked for 5 years previously in Marketing and had previously done a degree in Politics. However I’d got to a point in my career where I didn’t want to be desk based anymore and wanted to spend time working with people in a more hands on role. I knew a couple of people who were OTs and after speaking to them and shadowing some OTs in hospital settings, it felt like something that was much more suited to me and my personality.

What was your favourite aspect of OT at YSJ?

It’s hard to pinpoint my favourite aspect of the course, but I loved the opportunities that were presented to me as an undergraduate. It felt like there were so many career paths to choose from and so much potential with the role, something I hadn’t really considered until I started the course. I enjoyed each of my placements which were all very different and showcased the different skills of an OT; including a placement in stroke rehabilitation, an acute mental health hospital, social services and a community memory service working with older people with dementia. I found both students and staff to be very supportive throughout my studies and always approachable. It was a great place to study in a fantastic city. Once I started the course any worries I had about giving up full time work to study again soon disappeared.

What are you up to now? 

I’m currently working as a band 6 in a mental health rehabilitation unit. I work within a fantastic MDT and together we work with patients in their recovery journey. For some that can be working to develop their skills to live independently in their own homes, for others it might be working with them to develop their routines and looking into vocal rehabilitation, and other people may come to us for a more intensive period of assessment to determine where may be an appropriate place for them to live in future. Two days are never the same in this job and I love that I am now working with people and helping them to live the life they want and no longer chained to a desk!

Any favourite memories of your time with YSJOT?

One of the highlights would have to be our graduation ceremony at York Minster and having that feeling that the three years of hard work had all been worth it!

The YSJOT team is aiming to compile 40 blog posts, one from each cohort for the 40th anniversary. If you are interested in contributing please contact us via email: George Peat – , Maria Parks – or Kerry Sorby –

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A Student’s Perspective – Kimberley Dutton

Having just completed her Occupational Therapy studies at York St John university and looking forward to graduation in November, YSJOT student Kimberley Dutton has kindly written about her experiences on the programme, living in York and plans for the future.

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What did you do prior to studying at YSJ?

I began my first job as community care assistant when I was 18 for about a year before moving to a nursing home where I worked for five years. I also did lots of volunteer work as a community first responder.

Any favourite memories of your time at YSJ?

Too many to choose from! From making cups of teas in first year, singing Christmas carols in the Minster in second year, and having a bake-off in my dissertation group in the final year, it’s been an eventful three years! And of course finishing with the OT ball, a brilliant night celebrating all our achievements.

What has been your most enjoyable year at YSJ?

Third year has definitely been the best year for me. Dissertation, placement, helping organise the OT ball, celebrating handing in dissertation with beer and pizza, helping out at the YSJOT 40th Anniversary BBQ, attending the RCOT annual conference (and passing university!) have been some of the highlights.

The final year has certainly been challenging but in a good way; made me be more creative, think more critical and outside of the box. What I’ve really enjoyed is the group work; mixing and working with other students that we hadn’t had the chance to work with before. Considering we’re a large cohort of I think about 80/90, we’ve all gotten to know each other quite well and mixed in various social activities to suit everyone. Somehow we even managed to squeeze at least a quarter of the cohort into one house to have a giant Christmas dinner. Everyone bought crackers, cooked something festive and wore Christmas jumpers to get in the spirit!

What do you think the OT programme excelled at?

Getting the students interested in research. I’ve been very fortunate this year to be involved in a great SCoRe project as part of my dissertation- ‘The value and meaning of a drop-in centre for asylum seekers and refugees’. It was a great experience being part of a research team and collecting and analysing real evidence. It really highlighted how important research and evidence based practice is needed for our profession, and something I would like to do again in the future. Never did I ever think I would want to get involved in research!

A few weeks ago I got to witness 3 members of the research team disseminate our findings at the RCOT annual conference in Birmingham. they did a fantastic job and really gave justice to the asylum seekers and refugees we worked with. It was also great to listen to fellow students and lecturers present their research.

Outside of the programme what are your interests?

This year I set myself a new challenge to get running. It started in January with another OT student to take our minds off of deadlines and dissertations. It definitely keeps me mentally and physically fit, it helps that York is a beautiful city to run around! Last week I completed the Humber Bridge half marathon which was fantastic and a big achievement for me.

Any plans for the future?

Tomorrow I am flying to South Africa for 6 weeks to volunteer with children, before moving down to Essex to begin my first job as an Occupational therapist!

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40 Years of OT at York St John – Senior Lecturer Stephen Wey

Next year’s Year 2 Coordinator Stephen Wey studied Occupational Therapy at York St John from 1990 – 1993 and returned as a lecturer here in 2006. He has kindly wrote a blog post for us sharing his memories of his time studying and working with YSJOT for the 40th anniversary.


When did you study at YSJ?

I specifically chose YSJ because at the time it was one of the few colleges offering a degree programme. I was in the very first cohort of the degree programme, we started out in 1990 when it was a diploma but with the aim of upgrading to honours degree as soon as it was accredited, which was in 1991.

What was your favourite aspect of OT at YSJ?

Many things, it was such an exciting and inspirational programme. Spending a whole module devoted to exploring the intersection of creativity and occupation in the arts faculty, inspirational seminars with Linda Finlay, writing a letter to Gary Kielhofner and getting a reply! Getting to complete a phenomenological study of multiple sclerosis for my dissertation. Being introduced to dance as a therapeutic medium in my second year on placement. And most of all the warmth and supportiveness of the whole teaching team, without whom I would never have got through it. I’m pleased to say YSJ has never lost its human touch!

After qualifying I spent a couple of years on a mixed rotation which was a wonderful grounding in all things OT, then chose to specialise with people with cognitive impairment, particularly dementia. Was privileged to be involved in developing some highly innovative services including a team pioneering intensive home-based treatment and rehabilitation services for people with dementia, telecare and falls services, and eventually got offered the chance to share some of my experience through CPD at YSJ, then eventually teaching on the undergraduate programme too.

What are you up to now?       

I have currently become a student again, just in my first year of a doctoral programme (research into dementia and occupation of course), my supervisor is Nick Pollard who will be delivering next year’s Casson Lecture at the annual conference. I continue to be interested in creative approaches, both as an artist and musician myself, and in dance groups with people with dementia here at YSJ in collaboration with a colleague from the dance faculty. I’m involved with initiatives to promote YSJ as a ‘dementia friendly’ campus and am just starting to deliver dementia friends information sessions as a dementia friends champion. I also continue to offer CPD events on enabling participation for people with dementia and falls interventions. I think it’s necessary for us practitioners to maintain a close connection with the wider community and practice contexts and believe that this outward focus and sense of connection has always been a central aspect of the ethos of YSJ as an institution.

The YSJOT team is aiming to compile 40 blog posts for the 40th anniversary, if you would be interested in contributing please contact us via email: George Peat – , Maria Parks – or Kerry Sorby –

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Spring Into Action

Soon to be third year student Becky Nicholls shares her experience on the 2OT504 module and how this inspired her and fellow students to setup the successful ‘Spring Into Action’ campaign.


As part of one of our level 2 modules, 2OT504 Health Well-being and Participation: Communities, a volunteer from the Stockton-based Refugee and Asylum Seekers Project (RASP) came into talk to students about marginalised groups of people and the contribution that occupational therapy can make to their participation.

RASP is a charity that provides refugees and asylum seekers with the practical and emotional support they need to integrate into the local community. The speaker was assisted in their presentation by three service users who had bravely volunteered to recount their displacement and asylum-seeking experiences.  I don’t believe any amount of preliminary reading or seminar work could truly have prepared us for hearing these narratives.  The three individuals had different occupational and cultural backgrounds but had all witnessed and been in very real danger of persecution and violence in their home countries.  Terrorism; religious war; repressive political regimes; forced marriage…the list goes on.  Ultimately, the terrible details that force a person to flee across continents in a cramped fridge cannot really be conveyed in a blog post written from a position of relative safety and privilege. Such details were visibly challenging even for the service users to reflect back on.

An emergent theme from their narratives was the dissonance between what they had hoped life in the UK would be like, and the harsher realities of being an asylum seeker.  Their British lives had few material comforts and many hardships: damp, sub-standard accommodation; no income bar restrictive payment cards for food; legal preclusion from employment; aggressive and confusing correspondence from the authorities; and long periods of living in uncertainty, waiting for court hearings or the outcomes of tribunals.  Bound and gagged in this way, none of the individuals were able to participate in the meaningful activities that characterised their former occupational lives.  One had been studying plasma physics at doctoral level.  Another had been a qualified teacher.  Another had parented a number of children.  Their position as asylum seekers in the UK required them to spend long hours – days – months – quite literally doing nothing whilst waiting to hear whether they had been granted refugee status.

My friends and I left the presentation brooding on a cocktail of emotions that we had not quite anticipated.  We felt angry with the social and political structures that simultaneously create and conceal such injustices.  We felt frustrated with media rhetoric that frames asylum seekers and refugees as opportunistic.  We felt sad that these skilled and willing individuals are prevented from living life to its fullest.  We felt ashamed that a wealthy country like the UK does not provide more adequately – or, dare I say it, humanely – for its vulnerable members.  Perhaps most soberingly, we reflected that we had no similar points of reference in our own lives.  None of us could quite fathom the enormity of leaving behind everything that’s familiar and heading into the complete unknown.

The volunteers at RASP do tremendous work in supporting asylum seekers and refugees to navigate the bureaucratic minefield of asylum.  There is not the scope within this blog post to detail the many ways in which RASP attempts to plug the chasms left by statutory social provision.  Its charitable role ranges from the practical to the pastoral: assisting individuals with tribunal preparation and travel; providing the everyday sundries that a weekly food payment card cannot buy; and offering much-needed kindness and emotional support.  The charity does what it can within a complex and obstructive policy landscape.

It was off the back of this talk that a group of YSJ occupational therapy students put their heads together and decided to launch a university-wide campaign to collect toiletries, stationery and other miscellanies for RASP’s service users.  ‘Spring into Action’ was launched on the 8th May with the particular support of Dr Hannah Spring, Frances Dodd and other staff members who have been faithfully spreading the word via social media.  It is to the library’s immense credit that they allowed a collection box and balloons to be placed at the service desk for the remainder of the academic year.  In just over a fortnight we have seen generous donations filling up this box, to the extent that it has already had to be emptied twice.  I cannot write this post without taking the opportunity to thank those of you who have taken the time and trouble to contribute to this excellent cause.  If there’s one thing that occupational therapy has taught us, it’s that seemingly small things can make the biggest difference to a person’s sense of dignity and quality of life.

Springintoaction1Most importantly, the end of term does not herald the end of Spring into Action, since the Occupational Therapy Society at York St John has voted to carry out further fundraising activity for RASP next academic year.  We hope for and intend these endeavours to be occupation-focused and aimed at facilitating service users’ participation in activities.  Current ideas in the pipeline include the provision of sports equipment to offer an outlet for pent-up energy; toys to add colour to the lives of the many children who access RASP; and educational resources to aid any eventual forays into further education or employment.  These ideas are still relatively nebulous and will no doubt benefit from the time and thinking-space afforded by a long summer break!  In the meantime, we welcome any related ideas and encourage initiatives that will make this charitable partnership a long-term one.

Thank you, once again, to everyone who has backed this campaign and made it the success that it has been.  Thank you to the RASP volunteers for the amazing work they do in supporting vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees.  And thank you to the three service users for so courageously sharing your stories; we take our hats off to you.

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YSJOT40 Anniversary BBQ

On the 3rd June York St John hosted a barbeque to celebrate 40 years of the Occupational Therapy programme being taught at the university. Social Media Graduate Intern George Peat has written a blog post covering the day.


With the sun shining and bunting strewn across the university grounds the scene was set for a jovial day of celebrating the Occupational Therapy course. Doors opened at Holgate reception at 12:00 where a steady stream of guests consisting of alumni, current students and their families. Guests could collect their YSJOT40 commemorative badges, grab a complimentary glass of prosecco and reminisce with old friends. There was also plenty to do such as observe current student’s posters, note down memories of their time at YSJ on the Memory Board and look through the archive photo album which contained some humorous pictures.


Now that everybody was settled in, Vice Chancellor Karen Stanton began the speeches by discussing how the university has grown over the years and its role in the community; Head of Health Sciences Frances Dodd then spoke about her experiences with the OT team, proceeding to thank staff members and mentioning notable members present in the audience, then Director of Occupational Therapy at YSJ Alison Wadey spoke about how the programme continues to grow. Frances then invited members of staff who helped organise the event to the front and gave them a present each (which was really appreciated, thank you Frances!). Throughout all of the speeches the audience were happy to chip in by cheering and applauding the numerous cohorts mentioned which created a buoyant, light hearted mood. Accompanying the speeches was a rolling stream of photos depicting our rich heritage.


With the speeches over the barbeque could begin on the Student Union’s lawn allowing everybody to relax listening to a range of musicians in the sun whilst eating a burger and later on a YSJ cupcake or two. The York St John African drummers kicked off proceedings featuring OT lecturer Karen Wilson!, followed by Josh Makuch (my social media predecessor), Jodie Kime (level 2 student) and Jonny, Waifs and Strays  (Maria Parkes – senior lecturer and Diane Neville-Beck – YSJ graduate OT) and the Ukulele Sunshine Band finishing off the day.


Tours of the campus were also available being led by current OT students. They lead their groups to the Library, De Grey to see the current OT teaching rooms, and Phoenix Court (the original OT teaching quarters). It was great to hear the guests talking about their memories of the old York St John building such as how the Crush café was the place to be, there used to be a swimming pool, and how much Phoenix had changed from ‘back in the day’. I was also pleased to overhear a guest say that ‘it’s a pleasure to hear enthusiasm about OT from our young tour guides’. Phoenix Court was clearly the favourite destination with official photographer inundated with requests for group photos outside the building.


At 4pm the day came to a close. It was a delight to see so many generations of OT’s come together to celebrate the programme’s anniversary at York St John. I would like to say thank you to all who were involved in making the event happen, there are too many to name but you know who you are, but most importantly to the guests who created a really lovely atmosphere and were a pleasure to meet. We will hopefully see you at the 50th in ten years time!

To view all of the photos from the 40th anniversary event you can find them on our YSJOT Facebook page.


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End of Year Evaluations: How do level one students’ describe their student experience?

At the end of each academic year, students are asked to provide feedback to staff about their experience of being on the Programme.  In this week’s post Kerry Sorby (as level one co-ordinator) summarises the recent level one review day (Cohort 2017).

  • 96% students were satisfied with the quality of their course.
  • 92% felt that the course had challenged them to produce their best work.

Students were asked to use three words to sum up their experience of their first year on the programme. Student responses were used to create the word cloud below. The most consistently used words were: challenging, interesting, enjoyable, exciting and fun!

Level One word cloud

Students shared their highlights of their programme so far. Interestingly, these include a range of social activities from across the whole of the YSJOT community- staff, student, student union and OT society.

Y1 review day highlights

Finally, students also shared a range of constructive ideas that can be used by the programme team to inform the design of future teaching and learning sessions. These include more social interaction between year groups, more opportunities for small group discussions/debates and more regular academic tutor meetings.

At the end of each review day students will be a given this badge to honour 40 years of Occupational therapy education at the University

At the end of each review day students will be a given this badge to honour 40 years of Occupational Therapy education at the University

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SOTLS Conference – Kathleen Renwick

Third year student Kathleen Renwick attended the Student Occupational Therapy Links Scotland conference on the 3rd March 2017 where her contribution won ‘Best Poster’. She has kindly written about her experience at the conference for us.

Kathleen Renwick Poster

What were you presenting?

I presented a poster on the occupational injustice issues that transgender people may face in terms of employment in the UK. I looked at the social and legislative barriers to employment and how these barriers can result detrimentally effect health and well-being in relation to occupational science theory. My poster was the result of our second year module, Health, Well-being and Participation: Groups and Communities.

What did you hope to gain from attending the conference?

This was my first experience of presenting at a conference and I felt quite out of my comfort zone but was excited to have the opportunity.

I was looking forward to the keynote speeches; finally laying eyes on Jennifer Creek and Edward Duncan, some of the big names from the past three years study.

What were you main points of reflection from the day?

Applying for the conference required a surge of confidence and opened the door to a new challenge. I had a wonderful time and went away winning the “Best Poster’ award.

Attending the conference gave me the opportunity to see Jennifer Creek speaking about the transformations that she has observed and experienced in occupational therapy throughout her career. She raised the point that occupational therapists must be flexible in their roles and investigate new emerging roles for the profession, which was an inspiring end to my day.

Highlight from the day

It was exciting to speak to so many enthusiastic occupational therapy students who attended Sarah Kantartzis’ workshop. It was a challenging workshop exploring participatory citizenship, critiquing how ‘person-centred’ practice applies across cultures.



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40 Years of OT at York St John – Sarah-Jayne Berry

Sarah studied Occupational Therapy at York St John and has very kindly wrote a blog post for us about her time on the programme and what she is up to now.Sarah Jayne Berry
When did you study at YSJ?I completed my Occupational Therapy degree 2005-2008 however, I had already been a student at the university completing the counselling studies degree prior.

What was your favourite aspect of OT at YSJ?

In comparison to other universities YSJ is a small compact campus which I believe gives it a community feel. You often passed other members of the programme and lecturers which gave a real sense of belonging. Even though the OT programme is a very large programme I feel the staff team clearly worked closely together and this was evident in the support offered as a student.

What are you up to now?

Since completing the programme I have moved around Yorkshire and the Humber region a great deal to try and improve my knowledge and skill. All of my posts however, have been within mental health as this is the area I feel most passionately about. Within the latter few years I have specialised into Mental Health Services for Older People and this has led to me becoming the Occupational Therapy Clinical Lead for North Yorkshire.

I still try to maintain my links with the university and yearly attend as a clinical assessor for them when students are completing their assessments.


Any favourite memories of your time at YSJ / with YSJOT?

YSJ will always be a special place to me and I feel it has set me onto the career path I was looking for.

The YSJOT team is aiming to compile 40 blog posts, one from each cohort for the 40th anniversary, if you would be interested in contributing please contact us via email: George Peat – , Maria Parks – or Kerry Sorby –

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