At last, I can finally call myself a Newly Qualified Occupational Therapist!!
I know what some of you are thinking, but couldn’t you say that back in June? No, I couldn’t. In the UK you cannot call yourself an Occupational Therapist or practice as an Occupational Therapist until you’re registered.
Now, the scene is set let the story begin…
As soon as I received confirmation of my qualification in July I downloaded the online application for the register and started to collocate everything. Within a week or 2 it was done.
I did get confused about the fitness to practice section. Does my Cerebral Palsy affect my fitness to practice? Do I need to disclose?
I decided to tick the box, and send the form off. After 21 and half years of being disabled I knew that there would be some additional follow up questions. As at this point, I hadn’t shared anything about my disability or even disclosed my disability. I must admit, I did think about the principle of disclosing my disability. Did I need to be specific about my CP? I’d just thought I’d wait to see my next steps.
About 3-week later I received an email from the HCPC register saying “sorry to hear that your health condition may affect your ability to practice” and that I haven’t provided any evidence about how this affects me and therefore I needed to provide some.
Okay, let’s unpick this…
“Sorry to hear.” Really?
Language and terminology is a huge part of disability misconceptions and ableism and I found this phrase very ableist. I’m not sorry I’m disabled, nor should anyone else be sorry for me. Yes, I am disability confident, yet, I knew what I was getting into when I applied to go to university in 2017. So, I’ve had plenty of time to get my head around the fact that the way I practice will look different to others.
On another note, I also was made to feel that it was my fault that I didn’t give any evidence of my disability. Correct me if I am wrong, I am new to this, I read the form multiple times and the guide to filling it out and there was nowhere that I could see to provide evidence of my disability.
The email was very frustrating, but to be honest, wasn’t surprising. Therefore, I decided to get on with it and get my evidence together.
I was asked to inform the HCPC register how I think my disability will affect my practice.
Anyone who reads my blogs will know how much I dislike this process. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. How can you judge how your disability will affect you without the knowledge of the environment? Any Occupational Therapist will know you can’t judge occupational performance without knowing the environment!
So, I phoned up the HCPC register, to ask for guidance as well as looking through some examples online. When I phoned I got told “whatever you think” which wasn’t helpful. The online examples helped but not many had disclosed their disability and named their condition/s and this is when I started questioning disclosure. So I had a conversation with my fellow advocates at AbleOTUK (thank you cheerleaders) on how to approach this.
I also emailed my lecturers at university who were not happy about my situation. They advised me to start by looking at my pre-placement learning agreement. Therefore, I decided I would tell them some of the adjustments I needed on previous placements.
Time to send the email… I did disclose my Cerebral Palsy, I’d already been waiting long enough, I didn’t want to slow the process down. Also, I’m always for positive disclosure!
Fast forward 4-week and I’d still not heard anything back. I understand that this is a busy time for the HCPC register. Yet, knowing that I could have already been on the register for now what would have been over a month was frustrating. I had also seen a few potential jobs that I wanted to apply for, one of which seemed very accessible for me and yet I couldn’t apply because I wasn’t registered. I even emailed to explain my situation, but I was told I had to be registered. Side note- you can get a job and work as an Occupational Therapy Assistant until you’re registered.
I rang up HCPC again… which wasn’t easy and took many attempts over a few days. Luckily, I managed to get through and even luckier my Dad had just walked through the door- talk about perfect timing. I wanted to be independent at this moment more than ever to prove my capabilities. But, phone calls are not the easiest option for me due to my speech impairment yet, after waiting so long for emails I had no other option.
I was told I had a case manager and that they would ring me up later that day, which they did and in all fairness acted quickly as they also emailed me a few days later.
After contacting the Royal College of Occupational Therapists (RCOT) about my situation (who were very supportive) whilst waiting to hear the results of my ‘evidence’. I and the lovely person I emailed at RCOT realised I had disclosed my disability positively not because I thought it would affect my ability to practice. Therefore, during the phone call, I wanted to make sure the HCPC register knew about this.
The email I received a few days later told me not to respond unless I had a specific need, so, it was back to waiting. But, at least I knew the ball was rolling faster than it was a few weeks ago.
After more radio silence for almost 3 weeks, I decided to email them to find out what was happening (I’m nearly finished now, I’m sorry). Yes, it was a very long, drawn-out and exhausting process. I got an email informing me that my supporting information regarding my fitness to practice had been accepted and that I would soon be registered!
A huge weight had been lifted, however, I also got reminded that I couldn’t call myself an Occupational Therapist yet. After waiting for over 2 months more than everyone else in my cohort, who had also been able to apply for jobs during this time it did feel like a bit of a kick in the teeth.
A few days after that I was finally registered as an Occupational Therapist on the HCPC register.
I understand that my registration process was never going to be straightforward, but 3-long months of waiting had, had a massive impact on my mental health, heightening my internalised ableism. I had questioned my ability to practice, taking me right back to the ableist experience I faced at occupational health 3 years earlier. Some processes have to be different for disabled people/people with disabilities to ensure equity. But no future disabled healthcare graduate should be made to feel how I have felt during what should have been the most exciting time in my career.
I hope this system changes so no one experiences this ableism and disability discrimination. Sorry for a long, tough and controversial read, but I am a Disabled Activist as well as an Occupational Therapist, and I will do my best to reduce and hopefully dismantle the ableism faced along the way.
Good luck to all those in a similar position to what I was in, no matter what profession you’re heading into.
If you’re an Allied Healthcare Professional and have had a similar experience please do get in touch with me! ~ We are stronger together. ~
Thank you for reading,