Karen Nunn is a second year Occupational Therapy student.
Setting for practicum
The Warrnambool City Council has a strong commitment of community and empowerment towards the region that encompasses a population of 29,500. The services offered by the council are varied and diverse that range from health, tourism and town planning.
Karen’s practicum was a Rural Centre Placement (RCP) and took place in Warranambool during the first two weeks of the mid-semester break during semester one. Her role on the practicum was as a team member for the streetscape project that was overseen by an employee of the Warrnambool City Council who works in the area of Resident Services and Rural Access.
The project involved working as a team to gather and analyse data on the streetscapes of central Warrnambool and the smaller towns in neighbouring shires. The streetscape data was varied and diverse and included information on footpaths, pedestrian crossings and front shop access. This data was then assessed from a disability access point of view, whilst keeping in mind the value of accessible streetscapes to all members of the community.
Once the data was analysed, recommendations of change were formally presented to council members at the conclusion of the practicum. In addition to the project, all students undertaking their RCP participated in a one day cultural awareness program in Heywood.
Karen experienced a variety of highlights during her practicum experience, especially the rural setting from a non-medical perspective. Karen also gained a greater awareness in how the features of both built and natural environments impact a person's ability to participate in everyday activities and be involved in their local community.
The practicum also gave Karen a sense of belonging that was achieved by working with other students and council members and also knowing that their research and work will be potentially used in an ongoing project to benefit all members of the community.
Communicating with local residents with disabilities also gave Karen a real-world insight into how the environment affects them personally and how they manage to overcome these obstacles in their day-to-day life.
The final highlight for Karen was the opportunity to attend the final presentation of a community and council project called WAVE (Warrnambool Action Vision for Everyone) that encourages residents to be empowered and supported by their council in order to address issues facing their local area.
Karen experienced a variety of challenges during her practicum with the first obstacle of her placement learning her way around Warrnambool and the surrounding shires. The data collection also poised Karen another challenge as she had to figure out how to compile large amounts of data into a professional and interesting presentation.
As the presentation involved challenging existing ideas and identifying issues needing to be addressed, it was difficult to know how to present this information to professionals who worked in the field for many years.
Another challenge faced by Karen was her limited knowledge of the field of practice and access to related research which made it difficult in answering the questions of the professionals when they became defensive about previously implemented programs and completed work.
Karen gained many personal and professional rewards during her practicum, particularly in communication and teamwork. She was also encouraged to take more initiative when approaching and dealing with both challenging and ordinary situations that assisted in developing a greater level of confidence in her abilities.
It also broadened her view of the value of occupational therapy and the potential areas an occupational therapist can work in and also supported Karen in a better understanding of the difficulties faced by many people in the community and how they may be supported.
The foundational knowledge relating to community access and inclusion for all people will assist Karen as a future occupational therapist.