GCU students come together through innovative Fiji placement

Fri, 13 Aug 2021 16:19:00 BST
Jennie and Laura are both delighted to have had the opportunity to get involved
Jennie and Laura are both delighted to have had the opportunity to get involved

Occupational Therapy Undergraduate and Masters students have joined forces for a mixed cohort placement, providing them with the opportunity to support people over nine thousand miles away in Fiji. 

Facilitated by Think Pacific, the six-week placement brought together four BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy students and four MSc Occupational Therapy students. 

Thnew initiative saw students learn about the culture of Fiji through work with NGOs, (Non-Government Organisations) while providing them with the opportunity to try and implement meaningful change across some of the country’s 333 islands.   

Those involved were required to use Think Pacific’s “5 Ds” approach throughout (Discover, Discussion, Decide, Design and Deliver) and had to link their own personal project back to occupational therapy in order to meet the 1000 hours of placement required for their programme at GCU. 

GCU Occupational Therapy Lecturer, Anita Volkert explained more around the origins of the placement.  

She said: “The opportunity crossed our desks as an internship offered for students over the summer, and as we have been experiencing placement constraints due to the pandemic, we thought it might be something we could turn into an innovative project placement opportunity.   

I was leading a placement module at the time in which we needed more offers, and Katie Thomson as international lead was able to gain some funding to support students with the registration fee for the internship from the international office. The internship met our placement learning outcomes with some tweaks and components we added in, so we went full steam ahead! 

Due to the covid situation, the placement was 100% online. Students were provided with a mentor from Think Pacific and also given supervision from myself throughout the placement.”   

We caught up with MSc Occupational Therapy 2nd year student Jennie Webster and BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy 3rd year student Laura McInnes, to hear about their personal experience as part of the placement: 


What was your initial thoughts when you first heard about this opportunity? 

Jennie: “Wow – how do I apply?! It cropped up by accident during a discussion with Anita and I knew I had to get involved. It was just the novelty of it and the fact it covered a country I knew nothing about. I was also intrigued by how it would all work virtually from our spare rooms or kitchen and how we would be able to complete occupational therapy from so far away.” 

Laura: “I have a disabled son, so I was a bit worried about going to an on-site placement in case I picked something up. This option came up through Anita and it just sounded so different to anything else. The idea of working with a foreign country from home was pretty mind-blowing. It was too good an opportunity to pass up, both personally and professionally.”

How did you feel about it taking place online? 

Jennie: “I really enjoyed it! We had a check-in every morning with our team and originally I thought doing that every single day would be a bind but it actually really helped us feel more connected as a team, because we knew there were other people out there doing similar work. 

Laura: “I’m looking to do something non-traditional with my career, I don’t personally want to work in a clinic-based practice. I felt this was a really good programme for someone wanting to do something outside clinical practice. I didn’t struggle mentally with working online at all, we were prepared really well and provided with great support.” 

Tell me a bit about your specific project and why you chose it? 

Jennie: “I worked with a charity who focused on trying to prevent abuse and suicide. The youngest person to take their own life in Fiji is seven years old and one person attempts suicide every 36 hours across the country. That was why I chose to work with Youth Champs 4 Mental Health, they’re doing amazing work and their aim is basically to bring down suicides in their specific region. 

They make the brief up and give it to Think Pacific, who passes it onto the intern. The charity has a Twitter and Facebook account but they’re so busy doing work on the ground that they don’t really have the time to post on social. I decided that I would try to get them 12 months of content that they could use and also made some resources – which linked into the occupational therapy side of things.” 

Laura: “Well, the Northern islands of Fiji is really isolated from the rest of the country, so there’s a lot more poverty and diseaseI found it a bit upsetting and distressing to hear, so I looked at a plan to implement sustainable hygiene and waste disposal facilities in remote areas.  I’m interested in policy writing and had the opportunity to write a project proposal through this - it was the perfect fit for me.  

How did you feel the whole project went? 

Jennie“There were times I was making graphics on Canva and I was thinking that I wasn’t really studying occupational therapy. I felt like I was playing rather than working but that was a good thing because I was doing really important work, while enjoying myself at the same time. I then went on to present my resources to the organisation and I’m really hoping that they use them to carry on their good work. 

The whole experience was amazing and we were all just really grateful to be chosen. All of us have tried to show how grateful we are in every piece of written reflection we’ve done since. I think they’re hoping to repeat it in future because it’s been so successful.” 

Laura: “I would give the whole experience a nine out of ten! I was left to my own devices a bit too much by my mentor but Anita and all the other students involved were an amazing support. I suffer quite badly from anxiety and I was able to talk to them and have great discussions. The best part for me was the way we all bonded and looked after each other – I felt really safe in the group.” 

Do you feel this experience will help benefit you in future? 

Jennie: “100%, because there are so many transferable skills. We had to run our diaries really tightly, so time-management and self-management were crucial. For some people that can be quite challenging but I think within the team we were all quite motivated – we weren’t sitting watching Netflix! At one point Anita said that we had to be careful not to over-work because we were enjoying it so much. I also thought that I already had good team-working skills but they have definitely developed massively through being involved in this. 

The mixed cohort approach was also great. At first I didn’t think it would work but it was absolutely brilliant because we all learned so much from each other.” 

Laura: “In all honesty, it’s been life-changing and definitely the best placement I’ve done. I’m so grateful for the experience and I’ve made some great friends.  

I knew I wanted to do something non-traditional but this has solidified that for me. It’s made me realise I want to work in policy and because of this placement I’ve decided to do a Masters in Public Health in future. It’s really helped steer me towards my future career.” 

You can read more about the experience of the students involved on the GCU Occupational Therapy Blog through two separate articles. 


By Ross Clark    
Got an SHLS or GSBS story? Email or connect with me on Twitter